Losing my smile

There is an increasingly widely reported phenomenon in popular culture called the “resting bitch face”. This is when your neutral facial expression looks unfriendly and unwelcoming. According to the Urban dictionary, resting bitch face is “a person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without meaning to.”

Well, I suffer from the opposite. My neutral facial expression is a smile. I am just a very happy person, I am always thinking of funny thoughts and I get excited about very little things (e.g. if a traffic light is already green when I walk to it – this is a cause for celebration) so 9/10 when you see me – I will be smiling.

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Smiling through life…

However, I have recently been noticing the detriments of being a visibly happy person. I feel as though it makes me appear to be approachable. Whilst this in itself is a positive thing – I love talking to new people! I live my life by the premise that strangers are just people who are not yet my friend. I pretty much assume I could be friends with anyone. Nevertheless, this perception of approach-ability also often makes me susceptible to unwelcome attention and uncomfortable bordering on dangerous situations.

As I write this, I realise that there is not a week that I have not suffered from microaggressions. You may think I’m exaggerating but let me just give a couple of examples of things that have happened over the past month:

Whilst I was on my way back from an internship in London, there was a man on the tube. I smiled at him, like I do to anyone who I make eye contact with (I once read this really moving article about how a smile can save a life. You never know what someone might be going through so I always felt showing you care even if it is just superficially through a smile was important!). Yet after smiling at this man, he kept staring at me. I began to feel uncomfortable. He moved to sit next to me and kept asking for my number, telling me he wanted to take me out that night. I said no. My stop on the tube came and I got off and so did he. He became aggressive, kept pressuring me to give my number, accusing me of not giving him a chance.

Just yesterday I came home from a long day spent revising in the library. I stop off at the local corner shop to buy peppers to cook dinner. As I’m paying, there are two men behind me. I’m smiling because I’m so excited about these peppers (they had just begun stocking scotch bonnet chilli peppers which made me really happy as they remind me of home!). These men took my smile as an invitation to talk to me (what in itself is not a bad thing).They begin asking me all these questions and as I try to leave the store they begin to follow me. One of the men tells me he is “in to black girls” as they begin leering towards me.

As I leave the store, hurrying home, willing my legs to move faster, reaching for my phone to call a friend for protection – my mind drifts to the worst case scenario – what if something bad did happen to me? I look back and still see these men nearing calling after me. I suddenly get flashes of newspaper articles with my face on the cover. And I think, what would it say? I was walking home from the library (not that it should matter) I’m wearing baggy harem pants, no makeup, a high necked long-sleeved sweater. The only skin on show is my face and my hands, it is barely 10pm…and I wonder, if anything were to happen to me, how would the newspapers twist the situation to make it my fault? How would society figure that I was “asking for it”?

And that is how I lost my smile.

I began thinking of all these situations I have been in where I have been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable. And I think: what if that stranger on the tube mistook the smile on my face for an indication I was interested? Even when I explicitly state that I am not, what if they mistook my friendly demeanour for “playing hard to get”. Lastly, I think of all the different people my path crosses on a daily basis within my standard walking route who I smile, wave or nod at – do they realise I am just being friendly?

Dear strangers, who behave in this way – you took away my smile. You have clipped my wings, reduced my vitality and put fear in my heart. Now when I walk – I look down with a dead pan face so as not to attract unwelcome attention. And whilst I do not want to internalise misogyny or accept male entitlement and normalise this behaviour. This is self-preservation. I do not want to be that girl in the newspaper.

I am sometimes brought into feminist debates where people ask my opinion on campaigns like “free the nipple” or “reclaim the night”. Whilst, I generally have a personal preference to be fully clothed rather than exposed, movements like these are so important. We live in a society where women’s bodies are policed and are unnecessarily sexualised. We live in a society of victim blaming, where we ask a woman what she was wearing when she was assaulted, essentially asking her to avoid being raped instead of telling men not to rape.

There have been countless incidents of women being victims of violence for rejecting advances from men. For example, Christopher Plaskon who killed a classmate after  rejecting his prom date proposal. There was Christopher O’Kroley who killed his co-worker for saying no to his romantic advances. Also,  Elliot Rodger who went on a killing spree for girls not fancying him. On Reddit, there’s even a whole subreddit called “Incels” and “Truecels” for men who are involuntarily celibate which is full of the most toxic and misogynist display of entitlement.

After every phone call home, I am told to “be safe”. And most parents say this, especially to their daughters, because they care about their children and have wonderful intentions. And I listen to them, I am safe – I try to make wise choices and avoid dangerous situations. Safety is so important but this is futile if this does not go hand in hand with teaching men not to feel entitled. What did all the aforementioned women who were killed by men do wrong? They said no. They were uninterested. They were living their lives.

So next time you question why we need feminism, after all, women can vote now? Remember that there is a girl out in the world questioning whether to even smile.

It’s just me, Dammy, learning to smile again

xxx

Don’t close that door…

So I have been considering some of the reasons that certain groups experience disadvantage. For example, I’ve talked about daily microagressions in The Everyday Racist, stereotypes in I am not your maid, and privilege in Check your privilege.

Whilst there are definitely many systemic issues and wider societal institutionally ingrained discrepancies. In certain situations, I think it’s important for marginalised groups take ownership for acting as catalysts for our own disadvantage. This is not necessarily about allocating blame but about offering an alternate explanation.

As a black woman, time and time again, I am in environments that lack representation. I look around and do not see faces that look like mine. Whilst there is a whole plethora of research that goes into the nuances of why that it is. One of the reasons that I have experienced that have not seen covered in great depth, is that we as disadvantaged people do not facilitate each others success.

I have frequently seen the analogy that success is not like an elevator, it is the stairs. It takes hard work and determination, it rarely gets handed to you. Whilst, I get why referring to success as an elevator is problematic. Bare with me for a second and let me suggest….

If success were an elevator…you need to send it back down to bring other people up

This is a premise that has been instilled in me from a young age. Yet, often I see that when people from marginalised groups (predominantly in race and gender), do actually make it to the top, they then close the door behind them. There seems to be the mentality that once people overcome adversity and reach a certain level, they feel as though they have worked so hard to reach where they are. Therefore, if other people are struggling to reach that level, it’s because they are not working hard enough.

For example, in my first year of University I was assigned a mentor in the year above. I would frequently ask her for guidance with essays or general advice, the usual type of thing a mentor is supposed to help their mentee with. And every time I was met with unresponded to messages or simply the undertone of an unwillingness to help. The topic came up with another friend and she told me that’s just how my mentor always behaved, she felt that if people wanted to do well then they needed to work hard for themselves.

Then about a year and a half later, the tables turn. I am in a situation where I am ahead and she needs my help with an application for a firm that I have already worked for. And this was a pivotal moment where I had a choice. I could act in the same way this girl had behaved towards me and tell her to help herself. I chose the opposite. And this is not because I am an inherently nice person. Because lord knows I can be really petty sometimes.

It was because I realised the importance of bringing people up with you. There is already a lack of black girls in these fields. Helping a fellow black girl smash these barriers to entry can only ever be a good thing. When I graduate and I’m in my city job trying to fulfil all my dreams – I want to be surrounded by other people like me. It is so important there is representation in all facets of society. Therefore, I have a duty to help as many people as I can.

Whilst intelligence, hard work and all that good stuff is important and contributes to our human capital. We also have a social capital which can either aide or hinder us. This is the area that many people from marginalised groups lack in. For example, this is the equivalent of the “old boys network” where other men from a particular socio-economic and educational background give each other a leg up. What leg up do black people give each other? What leg up do women give each other? We are actually more likely to tear each other down.

I feel as though this issue is one of the main reasons I struggled to be friends with other black girls when I was younger. Growing up in predominantly white area, I was often the only black girl in many situations. My sisters and I were the first black people in each our respective schools at the time. Therefore, it is easy to see why you might become threatened when there is another black girl. It can often feel like there is not enough space for people like you.

For example, at University I used to be really involved in the musical theatre society. And I remember there was another black girl and we didn’t really click at first. It always felt like we were being compared or in direct competition with each other. And often we probably were, there is already a lack of diversity in theatre so often we would actually be up against each other. I remember a particular scenario where we both got call backs for the same character and we essentially had this weird sing-off against. We both look back and laugh about this now, because we were able to realise that we could both exist in the same space and be fabulous. And we are now such good friends because of it.

And this is not a particularly new phenomenon. This issue of an unwillingness to help each other out is deeply embedded into history. For example, take this issue of race. During the slave trade, often slave masters would choose a few black slaves to be guards and watch over the other black slaves whilst they worked. These guards were still still slaves but they had some power, they were encouraged to whip other slaves and granted certain advantages. Likewise, light and dark skinned slaves were also segregated to either be the field or house slaves.

Already you can see a hierarchy emerging even within slaves. Whilst I am not arguing these guards should have helped the other slaves – of course, the situation made that inappropriate and self-preservation was important. However, I feel as though many black people still have this slave mentality now. When they become successful and rise through the ranks, it is almost as though they feel that by distancing themselves from other disadvantaged people, there is the hope they will not be treated like them. Just like in the slave trade with the guards, in doing so, they limit the benefits of having diversity as they merely offer a mirrored version of their slave masters.

We are no longer slaves…

This can often lead to them feeling the need to assimilate and mimic the behaviour of the privileged, be it stereotypical  Caucasian traits or in the case of women, exhibiting male traits. In itself this is not an issue, as ultimately I do not believe there is a specific “black” or “white” or even “male or “female” personality type, only stereotypes. However, this assimilation does become problematic when it results in marginalised groups who have become successful or are in a position of advancement turning their heads to the problems other marginalised groups face.

I feel as though there can also be a culture of self-hate amongst marginalised groups where they hate themselves for the thing that makes the marginalised e.g. black, woman, etc. Thus, they hate other people who remind them of themselves. This perpetuates a feeling of not wanting to support people like you which further facilitates marginalisation. Whilst, police brutality is a massive issue, a massive amount of black people are also killing black people. We heavily criticise each other which in turn sets the tone for how other people treat us. As Chris Rock said: “Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people,”

As with all these type of posts, this comes with a small caveat. Yes, bring people up with you. But this advice is for a very specific scenario and you need to be strategic with it. It’s not for when you’re in direct competition with someone at a given time. It’s for when you are already ahead, so you have the ability look back and drag others up with you. Helping others should not come at the expense of your own progression. It is so important to be wise as I wrote in talk less, smile more.

For example, when I was still considering whether I wanted to be a solicitor or barrister. I was fortunate enough to secure a mini pupillage and this led to attending an event where I had the amazing opportunity to speak to the awe inspiring Baroness Hale.

I really wanted to absorb all her knowledge and understand how she as a woman had smashed the patriarchy and succeeded in such a male dominated field. And she gave me a whole wealth of advice which all these years later, I still draw upon when making life choices. They help me place myself in the best position for success.

Baroness Hale is clearly already ahead of me, she has no reason to close the door to me. I am not her competitor. Likewise, my mentor was a whole year ahead of me, she had completed those modules and already gotten her grades. We were not academic competitors.

This is not to invalidate the wider issues that due exist in society. But I feel like it is so easy to blame “The System” for all the problems because its an abstract entity far away. But what if you are part of the problem?

It’s just me, Dammy, there’s space in the elevator for you

xxx

Check your privilege

About a year ago, I took a Buzzfeed quiz called “how privilege are you?“. It was during exam season and fellow procrastinators, will know how enticing these quizzes can be when they pop up on your timeline especially when you’re avoiding writing that essay you’ve been working on all day.

So I took the quiz and I think I got approximately 47%  of the privilege in the quiz. Which is not particularly high but is definitely not that low either.

According to the Oxford dictionary Privilege is…

A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Therefore, when you think about it anyone can experience privilege in some shape or form.

For example, I experience disadvantages for not being white on varying levels everyday. Whether this is by not being able to find a single colour to match my skin tone at the make up counter at my local drug store, or wondering how “random” the random selection of my Dad at security in the airport was, or the fact that I even to have to consider “does he even like black girls though?” when talking to a guy I like.

If you do not have to consider the impact of your skin colour then chances are you have privilege. For example, I saw this premise encapsulated in its purest form in an instagram post of one of my friends a couple of days ago. It was a photo of her posing in the back of a police car, smiling from ear to ear with the caption: “Reading about the police force is more exciting when you’ve been to a police department and realised how uncomfortable the back of a cop car is”.

Wow. I had to sit there for a minute pondering whether this was real life. The post just screamed insensitivity and privilege. As a white female, her experience with police in America was exciting – just an opportunity for a good insta post. Yet, considering the political context of police brutality and #Blacklivesmatter…it’s easy to see the disparity in experience. What is a fun experience for a white female is as a scary reality for many black men. That is white privilege for you.

And what was particularly farcical about the whole post is that she would most likely identify as a feminist. So as a female she is aware of the disadvantage women face yet, as a white female cannot quite tap into the disadvantage others face for not being white.

However, that’s the wonderful thing about intersectionality, it means you can experience privilege in one area but be losing out in other areas. And it is so important we understand the muli-faceted layers of disadvantage others might face when understanding our own privilege.

Intersectionality is a word that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw and has recently become increasingly popular, especially within the context of femism. In a nutshell, it explains that all of an individual’s separate identities come together to create their overall identity. This overall identity includes things like gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age and disability.

This just means that each individual has many layers of their life they have to deal with. Therefore, it is impossible to truly see each part e.g. race separately and it is important to look at these issues holistically. This allows us to examine the varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination people face.

I tend to think of it as a jigsaw puzzle to make it a bit easier to process the concept…

Intersectionality

As a black female, there are definitely opportunities that are unavailable to me because I am not white or male. So often I suffer from racism and sexism. Likewise, there are so many ways that I am privileged. For example, I am able bodied, I come from a good background, I am cisgendered, heterosexual….the list could go on into all the nuances of the ways I benefit merely by belonging to a certain group.

Yet it is important to note that you cannot have privilege in an area you are disadvantaged. For example, you cannot have black privilege or female privilege or poor privilege. As these groups do not have institutional power. Likewise, privilege is not necessarily special treatment but things you get as a right, things you are entitled to purely because you belong to a certain demographic.

Acknowledging all these things does not make me a bad person. For the longest time, certain peers in secondary school would make me feel bad because of the advantages they perceived I had. I never did, but I always wanted to explain to them the sacrifices my parents have made for me to have a the opportunities I have today. All the missed Christmases, the late pick ups from school and the endless stress. But now I realise I don’t have to explain or make excuses for my privilege, I just need to have an awareness of it. And use the privilege that I experience to bring others up.

It’s the realisation that some people have to work a lot more to get what I often take for granted. This doesn’t mean I’m not working hard, it just means others have to work harder. For example, I wrote the post University: to go on not to go, a while ago. I’m so pleased it was able to help so many people but retrospectively, the post oozes out with privilege.

I worked so hard for my A level results and to get into University in general so of course, if someone else insinuated that I did not get there through sheer determination and diligence, it would be easy to see why I would be offended. However, every single member of my family have gone to University so for me, going to University was an expectation. Yet, lots of people do not have this privilege.

I imagine this must be what it must feel like for some of the Trump voters in America who keep being told about their “white privilege” yet feel like they’ve been left behind. It’s hard to see the privilege gained from your race when you’re struggling to pay rent or buy food. And then you see these seemingly disadvantaged immigrants in better jobs. This “white privilege” rhetoric can be difficult to understand when coming from a place of poverty. Yet being oppressed by poverty does not cancel out white privilege.

However, there are multiple oppressions at work and not all discrimination is the same. You cannot do comparative suffering. For example, you cannot compare the experience of white women to that of black men. Both groups suffer in many ways but it is not the same. 

I feel as though the reason people are so reluctant to accept their privilege is because we live in a culture of “one-upping” where we always want to out-do the last person. So let’s stop with the game of “whose suffered more?” as the hinders progression.Whilst I’m not trying to create a hierarchy of disadvantage, clearly some have a greater impact on your life that others.

So whilst I am not trying to demonise every white middle-classed cisgendered able bodied man because of the advantages they were born with. But it is so important to check your privilege. And by that, I mean you need to have an awareness of it.

Then take that awareness and do something about it. Educate yourself, talk about privilege no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, challenge the systems that privilege some and oppress others and become an an active ally, call people out on discrimination. Be aware and take action.

It’s me, Dammy, advantaged and disadvantaged all at the same time.

xxx

I am not your maid

So it has been over a year since I wrote Don’t Trust a Black Girl and even longer since I wrote The Everyday Racist. Collectively, those have been my most read posts and I am constantly surprised that they are still getting so many views and shares so long after they were written. I think it is so great that sharing my personal experiences of “blackness” have garnered the most interaction, because those type of posts are always the ones I tend to be the most nervous about and I spend the longest time hovering over the “publish” button.

But honestly, I am tired. I am so done with needing to talk about being black. Don’t get me wrong, this blog makes me so unbelievably happy and the “big issues” I tackle are my favourites. Yet, it is so tiring having to constantly think about being black. I genuinely (probably a little naively) thought that since writing The Everyday Racist, I would be done.

I was of the mentality that I could just be like, “Yo friends, racism still exists, these daily microaggressions against black people are harmful. Please stop doing these things. K, thanks, bye”. And then I could go about my merry way and dance into the sunset (well, I wasn’t quite this idealistic but you catch my drift).

That was until exactly 12 days ago and I had one of the most eye-opening racial experiences I have had in a long time. And this was when I truly realised the importance of instigating dialogue and utilising this platform to discuss race despite how uncomfortable it can and does make me feel.

So, it was by sister’s birthday and my family had come together to celebrate over the weekend in London. I made a vlog of the weekend here, and as you can see we had such a great time. We are hardly ever all together at the same time, so occasions like this are always so special.

Yet this one white American man nearly tarnished the whole memory for me. We were staying at the Hilton Hotel on Edgeware Road and I had gone to knock on my parent’s room to see if they were ready for breakfast (lol, they weren’t, classic mum and dad). And then on my way back to my hotel room, I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by the aforementioned white american man.

I am met with two towels which are thrust in my face. He then mumbles something about needing new towels, blah blah blah…

I stare at him confused. He then proceeds to place said towels in my hand and tells me that I need to come clean his room and change the towels. It still takes me a while to process what is going. Surely, it could not be, could it?

So I tentatively ask him: “You don’t think I am the maid, do you?”

He stops in his tracks, looks puzzled and then begins to laugh. He laughed. In between his guffaws, with a shrug of his shoulders, he merely asserts that he just assumed I was the maid.

As I sit here a couple of weeks after the incident, I can still feel the echoes of the burning behind my eyes and the heat on my skin as this man continued to laugh in my face at this “funny” situation. A laugh that evoked images of colonialism and slavery. A laugh that whispered the memory of subservience and the diaspora of a nation.

I boldly responded, “what about me made you assume I was the maid? Am I wearing a maid’s uniform? Am I pushing a maid’s trolley? What made you think I was a maid in the hotel rather than a guest”.

He had no response. No shame. No apology. Nothing. He just stood ambivalent to the magnitude of what he had just done.

I am not your maid…

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My “maids” uniform…

The whole situation frustrated me and made me question how some people might perceive me. The issue was and is, what about seeing a young black woman approaching, made this white man jump to the conclusion that I could not be a guest at the hotel so I had to be the maid?

Interestingly, the following weekend it was my mum’s birthday and I met up in London with my family again (this time, staying at the Hilton hotel in Paddington) and in the afternoon we watched the movie Hidden Figures, about the black women who helped NASA send John Glenn into space.

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It was such a great movie which I would definitely recommend for everyone to go and watch.  In the movie, there was a similar scene where Katherine G. Johnson brilliantly played by  Taraji P. Henson comes in for her first day at NASA and is handed a trash can to empty by a white man. She poignantly whispers: “I’m sorry. I’m … not the custodian.”

Of course, this black woman could not actually work at NASA in an academic capacity. Surely, she had to be the cleaner. Hidden Figures was set in 1961, it is now 2017. Whilst so much has changed since the 60’s, the journey is not over. If equality is the destination, then we are definitely not there yet. Usually racism today is not as overt as it used to be, modern day racism is much more nuanced as I wrote about in The Everyday Racist.

Yet, how can a situation so similar to one that happened in 1961, play out in 2017? I may be allowed to use the same bathrooms as my white counterparts but that does not mean I am equal. Whilst assumptions are still being made because of a persons skin colour, equality will never truly exist.

So don’t be that guy at the hotel, do not stereotype people. Stereotyping is harmful because it leads to largely unjustified and discriminatory decisions being made about a person solely because that person belongs to a certain demographic.

Do not be lazy. Stereotypes are the cowards way out of thinking critically and actually being present in situations. People naturally categorise people all the time based on arbitrary factors. I am acutely aware that I sometimes mentally do the same thing myself.

But just because we frequently do something does not make it the right thing to do. Together, we must unlearn these biases we hold against one and other. Regardless of whether they may seem to be a superficially positive entity or not.

All that hotel guest had to do was open his eyes and look at me, look beyond my skin colour at the actual situation and it would have been so clear that I was not the maid.

I get it, talking about equality all the time gets tiring. Trust me, I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to write about racism anymore. I wish being black did not feel like a heavy load that I have to carry everyday. Likewise, I understand that being constantly reminded of your privilege can be a tough pill to swallow.

In some ways, I definitely experience privilege myself – not everyone has the benefit of having two supportive and loving parents or can have cute weekends away so I know I have a lot to be thankful for. But it’s 2017 and black lives still matter, so let us keep moving forward.

It’s just me, Dammy, and I am not your maid

xxx

Before him, there was you

So today is International Woman’s Day. What a time to be alive! I have loved seeing people posting all over my social media accounts celebrating all these inspirational women, sharing their own experiences and pushing for a more equal society.

I had been wondering if I had anything to contribute to the existing rhetoric and all day  these 2 sentences have been floating around in my head:

After all, before you there was a me, and she was okay.

So right now I will learn to love myself first. Because being on my own does not make me alone.

Those are actually quotes from a spoken word poem I wrote last year called “Closure” (by the way, if you are interested in listening to my poetry, then just hit me up and I’ll send you a link – they’re currently unlisted on YouTube)

So round and round, those sentences have been spinning  in my head which was was weird as they are from a poem I wrote so long ago and had completely forgotten about. In lectures, in seminars, whilst I was making lunch…I couldn’t push these words I had written out on my mind.

Before YOU there was ME and she was OKAY

As I sit in bed towards the end of the day, I consider the importance of these words in relation to International Women’s Day and realise that there is a lot that can be learnt from them.

It seems as though from a young age, women tend to be painted this idyllic picture of a husband, marriage and a family. Now, don’t get me wrong – I can see why this can be conceptually appealing to some. However, this can often lead to women prioritising the wrong things in their life and often their happiness is dependent on a man.

Michelle Obama once touched on this subject in an interview, she said: “A lot of times we slip pretty low on our own priority list because we’re so busy caring for everyone else. One of the things that I want to model for my girls is investing in themselves as much as they invest in others.”

I feel as though women are often expected to serve others and are taught to be nurturing and empathetic. These are all ostensibly positive traits. However, if they do not go hand in hand with self-love and empowerment, then I don’t believe a truly egalitarian society can ever truly exist.

Similarly, when “feminism” is depicted in the media, women are shown as these strong almost caricature super-hero type women. Whilst, this often has good intentions and can be great for empowerment but it can come at the expense of allowing women to be “human” and show weakness.

It can be tiring always having to consider others first and I can tell you from experience the “strong black woman ” mantra gets old after a while. Empirical evidence shows women’s mental health is deteriorating. Likewise, it also shows that women are more likely to prioritise their partner over themselves opting for the “mummy track”.

I do appreciate that not all women have the same ambitions (hey, would you believe that, not all women are the same. Shock, horror!). And I am certainly, not saying women who choose more traditional pathways are any less powerful. But in all spheres of life, it truly is important for women to begin to prioritise themselves.

I know for sure that my mother did not carry me for nine months so I can just be a shell of a woman or a ladder that others can climb up to boost themselves up.

So I guess this is just a call to action to all women. Whatever your situation. Your worth should not be dictated to you or be in relation to any man. Learn to prioritise yourself because after all, before him there was you, and she was okay. You are the key to your own happiness, no man can save you from your life and your worth needs to come from within.

It’s just me, Dammy, happy international women’s day!

xxx

Talk less, smile more

I was recently in a seminar on company law at university when the seminar tutor told me to be quiet and let others speak. He said I should “give a chance to those who needed to spend more time thinking before they answered and did not want to impulsively put their hands up”.

Anyone in that seminar or who had subsequently spoken to me about it will know how much the comment offended me. Honestly, it really hurt me. I am the type of person that will spend hours pouring over the required reading, completely throw myself into everything I do and I genuinely love the law and all of its intricacies. So his comment cut right to the core of who I am as a person and every thing I stand for.

After a couple of weeks of feeling like I could not answer questions in lectures and seminars, I realised that as with all unpleasant situations, there was something that I could learn from it. Instead of being petty, I could use the experience to better myself!

So here is some advice for all my fellow extroverts and overly keen students:

Talk less, smile more

Bonus points for anyone who noticed the “Hamilton” reference in the title! Talk less, smile more – this is what Aaron Burr advises  Alexander Hamilton to do in the hit-musical.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you should not talk at all. I do not think you should have to lessen yourself to make others feel comfortable. But it does not always have to be you talking all the time. 

This is not about being less, it’s about being strategic. Do not think of it as hiding your light under a bushel, it’s more like upgrading to super efficient LED light bulbs that automatically adjust to the setting. 

I actually really enjoy silence but I’ve written before on how I find awkward silences uncomfortable. So naturally, when a seminar tutor asks a question and they are met with a sea of blank stares and I know the answer – I feel as though I have to speak.

But in reality, I don’t. It does not not always have to be you. It does not always have to be me. This is the stark reality of life – it is a hard lesson but it is beneficial to learn.

Sometimes, it can actually be really good to take a step back and let others do the work. Often when you are the one who always takes on a leadership role and are answering the questions, others are able to learn from you. But what do you gain? Yes, of course explaining things to others can help to consolidate knowledge.

However, you miss out on the insight others might bring. We all think in different ways and sometimes other people can add value to a certain topic. Look at it this way – if you already know 10 things, person A adds 3 things and person B adds 2 more things – you now know 15 things! But if you are the one speaking all the time – you are constantly giving and never receiving.

For example, if you give away the 10 things you know but no-one else speaks and you don’t learn anything from others. Then person A now knows 13 things and person B now knows 12 things but you still only have your 10! So don’t be surprised if people around you start doing better than you if you are not taking the time to learn from them.

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” – Francis Bacon

In addition, talking less can lead to people valuing your input more. When people get used to you always answering all the time then it can get taken for granted. Be it by your peers or your lecturers. Have you ever been in a situation where someone who usually does not speak adds a seemingly minute angle on something and everyone starts raving about it? Yep, sucks doesn’t it?

For example, in that same seminar another student was asked for an answer to a question and they told the seminar tutor that they had not done any of the work and had just come to absorb knowledge. And the seminar tutor offered him cookies and said he liked his response!

It’s basic economics – it’s about supply and demand. If there is endless supply of you and you are constantly offering your opinions then no-one will seek it out but if you speak less then it will generally have more weight.

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” – Leonardo Da Vinci

So if you make sure everything you say is gold dust then invariably you will be able to add more value to all situations you are in. Make sure every contribution is of quality. We live in a society that equates speaking a lot with a lack of thought. In reality, I probably overthink everything I do and if I feel as though I have not conducted myself in the appropriate way or said the right thing then it can haunt me for months.

But recently in society, “extroverts” have been demonised and traits that are associated with this group of people are sometimes made to look like a negative thing. There is a new wave of appreciation for introverts, which is actually a positive thing, it’s about time people who prefer to be quiet got their chance to shine! However, this should not come at a cost to people who are just not like that. Celebrating the excellence of those who don’t like to talk should not come at the expense of making assumptions about those who do like to talk. It’s not one or the other.

TOP TIP: So this is something I started doing at the beginning of second year – I have a “word quota”. No, I am not suggesting you count your words- that would be ridiculous. But I do try to mentally judge the proportion of time I am spending talking and after a while a little voice in my head will say: “you have reached your quota” in a somewhat Gandalf-like “you shall not pass” type of voice. And then that’s it- I will stop talking and spend the rest of the time listening.

Just because other people do not know that you know the answer does not make you any less intelligent. Sometimes, I will even write the answer down on a piece of paper or internally whisper it in my head and then smile inwardly if I get it right. The fact no-one knows you would have gotten it right does not take anything away from you!

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”  – Plato

As a very enthusiastic person, when it’s a topic I am passionate about (which is most things!) it’s easy to get carried away. But when you get used to keeping track on how much you are speaking then it gets more intuitive.

 

Of course, all of this advice is contextual and you have to learn to judge each situation on an individual basis. There are times where you do need to show off your skill to get ahead and it might even be necessary to talk a lot. And in reality, most seminar tutors in the past have loved me as they usually find it nice that somebody has done the reading and has formed an opinion. But not everyone will like that! And that is not something you should take personally – just something you need to learn to adapt to.

Ultimately, university is a microcosm of what it will be like in the “real world”. There will be people who think confident or extroverted people are too full on or are arrogant. You will encounter people like this in the work place, they might be your colleagues or even your boss. You might find people like this in your friendship circles.

Sometimes you will need to justify yourself when people make unfair character judgements. Like when my seminar tutor spoke to me in a overtly harsh and mocking tone, I called him out for being rude. I am not saying we should all become passive and lay down whilst people walk all over us.

However, not everything has to be fight and you need to learn to play the game. Sometimes you just need to talk less and smile more! Perhaps if Alexander Hamilton had learnt to be a bit more strategic with this earlier on his career it wouldn’t have ended so…abruptly.

It’s just me, Dammy, talking less but always smiling

xxx

 

 

Ode to 2016

Dear 2017 – you have come around so quickly, it feels like only yesterday it was 2016! And whilst I am so excited for the new year and all it will bring, as I move forward I think it is also important to take a look back…

2016 has been branded my many as the “worst year ever”. There’s political unrest – the UK is leaving the EU. Racial tension is at a high – Trump is the US President Elect. People are dying in Syria and terrorism is at a high. Our favourite celebrities are dying, Samsung galaxy phones were exploding, Harambe got shot dead! What more could go wrong?

All of this got me thinking, was 2016 actually all bad? For me, 2016 has been the best year of my life so far. So I thought I would be a little self-indulgent and highlight all the reasons why I am so thankful for 2016…

Ode to 2016

2016 was the year that I caught flights and not feelings #WasteHisTime2016. I saved up all through 2015 (Check out my post on some of the jobs I did) and travelled to eight countries.

My travelling escapades began with a brief visit to Paris over the Easter holidays.

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If you look closely, you can see the Eiffel Tower in the background…

I then had a dry spell to focus on my degree (yawn!) before I had an incredible summer travelling. It began with backpacking around South-East Asia with my sister. I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos (click the links to see the individual blog posts on the countries).

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Me and my sister before our flights to Thailand…

Backpacking around South-East Asia was honestly the best experience of my life so far. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and I squeezed in so much into those 5 weeks which you can watch in the vlog I made here. Documenting the experience led to a wave of new followers, so if you found itsmedammy.com through my travel vlogs, HELLO and thank you for reading! ❤

I then went on a family holiday to Dubai and Abu Dhabi…

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Frolicking in the deserts in Dubai…

This trip was the best time I have ever had with my family. We are all so busy so it was amazing to have everyone in one place and I made memories that will last a life time, like the time a camel literally bit my dad’s foot and he nearly fell off the camel! Check it out on my Dubai vlog!

My last trip of 2016 was to Portugal. I went for one of my close friend’s 21st birthday and we stayed in this adorable resort and it was just so great to take a break from studying.  I even organised these super cute matching t-shirts with her name on it for us to wear.

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You can just feel the black girl magic radiating…

2016 was also the year I began to feel closer to achieving all my post-university dreams. 2015 was filled with making endless applications, attending talks and suchlike (yawn!) and it was so nice to begin to reap some of the rewards from all that hard work.

Facing rejections was a humbling experience and made me realise that with hard work and by just being a nice person I can forge my own “luck”. Eventually no’s become yes’s and that made me appreciate them a lot more and not take opportunities for granted.

I do did two vacation schemes over Easter in London…

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Vac Scheme friends…

Over the schemes, I learnt so many new things, developed skills and got a better idea of which areas of Law I would potentially want to go into in the future.

I also made lots of really great friends…

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On the way to one of the evening socials…

These experiences led to a summer internship, multiple training contract offers and a scholarship. SO much to be thankful for in 2016!

2016 was where I learnt to say NO to the things I did not want to do and learned to value my time more. I wrote all about that here. I also learnt not to underestimate the power of a good nights sleep!

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Big smiles after sleeping…

In 2016, I finished my term as President of the Law & Business society at my university and handed over to a new team. I took a picture on my first day as President and a year later on my last day as President and thankfully I did not age as much as Barack Obama did in his term (I think I may actually look younger? #blackdontcrack). Clearly running a society is not as stressful as running the USA. Even thought it was one of the most challenging experiences.

With a lot less on my plate, I decided to try a few new things…

I auditioned to be in a play called Fallen Petals and was cast in it. It was so much fun to get back on stage after spending so much time working on the Production side of things. It was also a very different character to anything I’ve ever played before. I was playing an abusive mother, as a naturally cheerful person who is always smiling, this was really tough role. I had to work on characterisation and also learnt how to do a southern american accent for it!

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Promo for the show…

2016 was the year that I developed my love for radio. I started a show called Beyond Broadway on the university radio station RaW1251AM at the end of 2015 and I had so much fun doing it. For an hour a week I get to share my passion – Musical Theatre.

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2016, was the year I won an award for “Best Female Presenter” at the radio station awards. Honestly, starting a radio show was just something to do for fun and to get recognised for that felt so amazing. I also got into contact with Elaine Paige, one of my musical theatre idols, and she agreed to be interviewed on my show.

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Radio station awards evening…

2016 was also the year I rekindled my love for writing and began to actively look for opportunities to write more. I started writing for my university newspaper and it’s been such a great experience. I’ve been able to write about some really interesting topics some of which have been quite controversial. For example, I did a behind the scenes piece on the type of initiations sports clubs and societies do.

I mainly write for the News section so I’m writing about facts or reporting what other people think about a particular thing on both sides. So it’s really interesting when people get rude or aggressive towards me personally. This has allowed me to learn what it might be like to be a proper journalist. These experiences also led to two internship opportunities at major News publications.

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I still get excited every time an article I write gets published…

2016, was the year I learnt you can actually be allergic to SITUATIONS. I randomly developed a condition that is triggered my certain environments. Like a delicate little snowflake, anything from stress to hot weather to rain can set me off. Whilst this may not sound like a good thing, the experience taught me to look on the bright side of things and made me put things in perspective. Nothing makes you appreciate being healthy like momentarily being ill.

2016, was the year I tried to be more spontaneous, less set in my ways and say YES to random opportunities. From random trips to London to see a show on West End to hopping on a train to surprise a friend at university to club nights.
I got back involved with Scouting (Don’t judge me, Scouts are cool, okay?) and I went to an event called YouShape and helped with the presenting.

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YouShape…

I also was a panellist for the Sabbatical officer elections at my uni on the live stream. It’s actually crazy how seriously people take student politics so it was so exciting to be right in the centre of it. It was mad, I had people tweeting me about things I was saying throughout the night!

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Me and the 2 other panellists..

2016, was the year I turned twenty and officially stopped being a teenager. In true Dammy fashion, I made a big deal over hitting the big 20 as I felt really old. I made a spotify playlist called “mourning my childhood” with all the nostalgic songs that reminded me of growing up. Yep, very dramatic.

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Big TWENTY…

In reality, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. It was actually pretty anticlimactic.My friends are family did make a massive effort to make the day special though. My friends took me on a really cute trip to the Spa and then they organised a surprise dinner with all my close friends in the evening. You can watch the whole day in my birthing vlog.

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Birthday cake

2016, was also the year I solidified old friendships, made some new ones and learned to turn away from people who  were detrimental to me. 2016, taught me some really important lessons in this regard. Lessons that will set the standard for future friendships in 2017.

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Whilst 2016, has definitely had it’s downfalls especially when I look at the socio-economic climate. However, I can’t help but be thankful for all the good things that have happened in my life. Hope it’s been an interesting read!

How have all your 2016 been? Would love for you guys to comment what you have to be thankful for…

It’s just me, Dammy, looking forward to the next 365 days

xxx