Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives

Ep14: "I Can't Achieve My Way Out of This" - Workplace Racism in Switzerland and Canada, with Miriam Njoku

June 08, 2021 Season 2 Episode 14
Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives
Ep14: "I Can't Achieve My Way Out of This" - Workplace Racism in Switzerland and Canada, with Miriam Njoku
Show Notes Transcript

“I will always be the Black girl first, before Miriam Njoku. I cannot achieve my way out of being seen with prejudice. That's how they view people like me.”

In this episode, Miriam Njoku changes our lens to reveal the racism she experienced working and living in Canada and Switzerland.

Does that surprise you? These two countries are probably not the first that comes to mind when you think about racism. After all, Canada prides itself on being a haven for many refugees, and Switzerland is a neutral country that hosts the United Nations.

But Miriam, a Master’s graduate from the London School of Economics, who worked at the World Economic Forum and JP Morgan Chase, was still seen as a Black African girl first. She had to overcome significant prejudice to finally be seen as a qualified high calibre professional in banking and international development. When she finally started to be recognized just a little bit, she was told she’s not like the others. It’s as though Miriam was either too African or not African enough. 

So as you listen to Miriam’s personal story, challenge yourself. What’s your immediate visceral reaction? Have you heard similar comments from business colleagues as part of normal small talk? Are you wondering, if everyday comments have no racist intent, can they still be racist? 

If you do have questions, and want to discuss with like-minded people who genuinely want to understand, you’re welcome to join our free Facebook group. It’s a private online community for safe and respectful discussions about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Contact me and find more JEDI resources at:  https://www.changinglenses.ca/

Full transcript available here

In this episode, we talk about:

[06:03] Miriam’s experience as a Black African working in Switzerland.
[10:31] How reporting racism to HR can fail the victim.
[11:27] Ways that workplace abuse can manifest (with or without intent).
[16:50] Prejudice at the intersection of  racism and sexism.
[19:32] Switzerland’s dark side.
[20:57] White moms racism in Canada.
[25:13] Capitalism: a driving force for exploitation.
[29:00] Creating a safe work environment for people with trauma.
[32:18] When the oppressed try to escape racism by becoming the Model Minority.

Content warning: this episode contains references to sexual harassment, racism, and workplace discrimination which some listeners may find disturbing.

Guest Bio and References/Links


About Miriam Njoku:

Miriam is a Trauma Informed Coach, an African, a mom of three daughters, a blogger and writer.  After graduating from the London School of Economics, she built her international career in the fields of banking and international development, working for organizations such as the World Economic Forum, Lombard Odier Private Bank, JP Morgan, the Mastercard Foundation and the United Nations. She now uses her passion for psychology and dedicates her time to coaching others to free themselves from the burden of childhood trauma through sharing the knowledge she acquired on her own healing journey and storytelling.

If you enjoy the podcast and want deeper ways to Change your Lens in work and business, check out the free resources on my website, changinglenses.ca. I also offer workshops and keynote speeches on JEDI topics like Decolonizing Corporate Workplaces, recruiting more inclusively, anti-Asian racism, and many more. How can I  support your JEDI journey? Contact me at changinglenses.ca.

Please note: the transcripts attempt to stay true to the essence of each conversation, while maintaining clarity and readability. As a result, certain "filler" words, and nuances of tone, emotion and emphasis will be missing.

If you're able, you're strongly encouraged to listen to the audio podcast. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors, and may contain errors.

 

Ep14: "I Can't Achieve My Way Out of This" - Workplace Racism in Switzerland and Canada

Miriam: I feel as if the capitalist system oppresses us so much that sometimes we fight each other instead of being a support system for each other. We want to kind of distance ourselves from the prejudice by showing that we are not like the others, you know. I hated it when people told me you're not like the others, I'm like, no, no, no. I'm like the others, you see those people taking the boat to come to Europe. Those Africans crossing on these boats to come to Europe because they're desperate. They don't see any future. Those are my people. Don't tell me because I speak like you because I've learned to not show you how I really speak, I have fancy degrees like you, and then now you say, no, you are not like the others. I'm like, no, it's survival. I'm exactly like the others. 

Rosie: Ah, the Model Minority Myth. When people deceive themselves into believing they’ve fully accepted a Black person, an Asian person, or any racialized person, into a predominantly white society. When we say to each other, “We’re not racist, our organization is so diverse – look at all the different coloured people that work here!” But the reality is, we’ve assimilated those people to act and speak like white people, even if they don’t look the part. And we call that diversity.

On today’s episode, Miriam Njoku changes our lens to reveal the racism – both blatant and subtle – she personally experienced working and living in Canada and Switzerland. Now these two countries are probably not the first that come to mind when you think about racism. After all, Canada prides itself to be a safe haven for many refugees; and Switzerland is a “neutral” country that hosts the United Nations.

But Miriam, a Masters graduate from the London School of Economics who worked at the World Economic Forum and JP Morgan Chase, was still seen as a Black African girl first. She had to overcome significant prejudice to finally be seen as a qualified, a high-calibre professional in banking and international development. And when she finally started to be recognized, just a little bit – she was told she’s “not like the others”. It’s as though Miriam was either too African, or not African enough.

With Miriam’s financial background, she also saw the direct influence of capitalism on racism and discrimination. It’s not an either/or; diversity and inclusion isn’t just an HR issue, and money isn’t just a finance issue. How we choose to do business, the value we place on profit, and what qualities we value in people, intersect to create the society in which we work and live.

So as you listen to Miriam’s personal story, challenge yourself. What’s your immediate, visceral reaction? Have you heard similar comments from business colleagues as part of normal small talk? Have you observed similar behaviours by parents at your child’s ballet class or hockey practice, and didn’t think twice? Are you wondering, if normal, everyday comments have no racist intent – can they still be racist?

These are mind-stretching questions that invite uncomfortable but life-changing conversations. And you don’t have to ponder these alone – you’re welcome to join our free Facebook group, a private online community for safe and respectful discussions about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Ask your questions, share ideas, and interact directly with me, Rosie Yeung. The link to the group is in the shownotes, or you can search for Changing Lenses in Facebook Groups.

[Content Warning]

By the way, this episode is part two of Miriam’s experiences with trauma and racism; listen to episode 13, “Breaking the Chains of Trauma”, for the backstory to this one. Before we start, I do need to warn you, this episode contains references to sexual harassment, racism, and workplace discrimination. 

But first – a quick intro and land acknowledgment.

 

[intro music plays]

Rosie: Welcome to Changing Lenses. You’re invited to step into the lives of people on the front lines of discrimination, racism, and exclusion; to see the world through their eyes; and to hear their personal story of their fight for social justice.

I’m your host, Rosie Yeung, a Chinese-Canadian, immigrant, cis-straight female with invisible disabilities, and I’m passionate about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Do you also want to see social change happen? Then please join me in Changing Lenses.

Each episode is hosted on colonized land that was taken from many Indigenous nations, including the Anishinaabe, the Huron-Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I seek Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Turtle Island, and I call upon us all to decolonize our thinking, not just our systems. Learn more on my website, changinglenses.ca.

Now please, enjoy the episode.

[intro music ends]

 

Rosie: Alright. Welcome back, Miriam. Hello again. It's so lovely to see you. Welcome to part two of our amazing episodes together.

Miriam: Thank you, Rosie. I'm glad to be back. And thank you for the space you're creating.

Rosie: Yes, your first episode was so chock full of deep and personal stories. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about your work experiences and some of the differences living in different countries. But before we get into that I also want to remind you and remind our listeners that I want you to feel safe and comfortable. To be honest, real, and vulnerable in our conversations. So I commit to you and our listeners that this is a safe space and I invite you to keep me accountable. To being respectful and non-judgemental and to definitely let me know if I say or pronounce anything incorrectly. 

Miriam: Thank you, Rosie. I know this is very important to you and it is a safe space. I can feel it.

 Rosie: Wonderful. So Miriam in our last episode, we talked a lot about your background growing up in Cameroon, you moved to Switzerland, you talked a lot about schooling and the racism that you experienced. I want to now talk about kind of the next phase of your life and specifically around the workplace particularly in North America where this racism is quite rampant, but people don't always realize how it shows up and some people are even still asking the question. Why do we need to have more diversity, inclusion and equity at work? So if we start with your life in Switzerland. What was your first experiences working? What was that like for you as a strong African woman?

Miriam: So I graduated in 2009, just after the economic crisis of 2008 so it was kind of difficult to find a position, but I found a temporary position at the World Economic Forum. My boss was this blonde, beautiful, American woman. And she was a good boss, you know, she was relatable. She was an economist. She was a good boss in that I was not scared of her. With trauma, we have this fear of authority, you know, so I wanted to do well and she created that space where I felt comfortable. I felt I belonged to the team. I was happy seeing when she was coming into the office because she created that space. And since it was a temporary position, I was looking for work elsewhere and I found work in a Swiss bank.

That was a totally different atmosphere. Yeah. Because the thing is, my trauma translated also in a lack of self-esteem. So I kept applying to jobs that I was overqualified for because I was so scared to apply to the jobs I was qualified for. I was like, no way I cannot do this because I was doubting myself so much, right. And since we are in a capitalistic system and people expect you to look out for yourself, they don't care. So people were just happy when I applied to certain jobs, because they knew I could apply to a professional job. And In that job it was a back office role. And I got there because I still don't have any backup. I don't have any funds to fall on after the economic crisis. And so I get this job, I'm so happy. I get there, and the first day I realized I made a big mistake. It was just not what I wanted to be doing. And the environment for a Black person, I heard things like, you should be happy as a Black woman to have a job, you know?

Rosie: They actually said that.

Miriam: Yeah, yeah. It was okay to say that. So I just became very disillusioned. And I fell into like total procrastination, depression, but I wouldn't quit. I was still there and then at one point they decided to just change me from one team to another without telling me in advance. I was away for sick leave and two days when I came back, there was someone sitting on my desk. My things were packed and put away. I think it triggered some, like, rejection feeling in me, very strong and I cried and cried and cried. And I decided that it wasn't okay anymore. And I went to HR, trying to explain to them. I asked for a meeting and as soon as I started talking, I just started crying. I said, how can you treat a human being like that? How can you pack my stuff? And they apologized.

Rosie: Did your boss apologize?

Miriam: He did apologize. But I told him I was still going to speak to HR.

And from there we parted ways, you know, so I kept getting into these positions where I was overqualified for because that's the problem with trauma. You get maybe abused at work and you don't realize it even, you don't realize it because you come from a space where people treat you bad and then when you start realizing it then you become rebellious inside. I think the workplace should become trauma informed. Trauma informed just means non-toxic in that, there's a place where you can go and say when something is wrong and there will not be retaliation. The issue will be addressed, you know, in a way that you feel safe. In my workplaces I didn't feel as if I could say something was wrong. I felt as if there would be retaliation. And sometimes I went to the HR, they say, Oh yeah, but you know, this person is in this position. You cannot do anything . Against them.

Rosie: HR, but I thought should be. They should be helping you. They should be facilitating this, right. And mediating these things. And do you think they also felt scared that they would be retaliated against? Like, why would they say that you can't do anything?

Miriam: For some people who had high positions, they're like, if you should make an official complaint,  you will be fired. You will lose your job. You cannot do anything against this person. You're just gonna hope that things get better or they change or something. And these kinds of situations where you try to reach out for help like going to the HR, it's already so stressful, right. And then you hear that. And it just makes you feel hopeless. And then so you retreat back because you know, if they tell you, okay, if you make an official complaint, it would come back and then you will be the one to lose your job. You don't do anything. And I don't think it's okay.

Rosie: And I just want to remind people too, that you said this is  shortly after the economic disaster of 2008, 2009. So at the time we're recording this this was just over 10 years ago. We're not talking, you know, 1950s, we're not talking 30 years ago. This is 10 years ago that this was happening. And I can picture especially white bosses, employers saying, oh, but what do you mean abusive? We're not abusive. Cause they picture abuse as physically beating people or maybe cursing at people. And I'm guessing they didn't actually use profanity against you, but it is still abusive. And even that whole packing up your stuff and moving it, it was like, oh no, that's just a normal department transfer, right. That's okay. How would you show people that are kind of oblivious to the ways that they are abusive why certain things are not okay? Like maybe some examples you can give of how you felt abused by your employers, but they may not have seen it as abuse.

Miriam: For example let's say on the first day of work there's a little party for for the new employees. And one of the owners of the bank stands there in front of everyone and says Mademoiselle, where are you from? Then everybody stops talking because they are curious. They want to know. I was the only Black person. Wow, you know, he stood and made like a loud statement for the whole room. "Mademoiselle, where are you from?" Everybody stopped talking. There was no chatter anymore.  Everyone was waiting for my answer. My mind just came up with something. I said, "Oh me? Oh, I'm just from London. I just finished from the London School of Economics", you know, because I knew he wouldn't dare ask me, but no where are you really from? 

How do you feel safe? When in a room of 40 new employees you're put on the spot like that. And many other instances at one point we had like a ski weekend that work organized for everyone.  So as soon as we entered the venue, one of the associates of the bank came to me and told me in English, oh, we are so happy when our colleagues from Nassau, Bahamas come to the ski weekend. Because for her, in Geneva, there were no Black people. If there was any Black person in the bank, they must come from The Bahamas because they had an office there. But actually there are many Black people in Geneva. The UN is in Geneva.

And I was with the only other Black colleague another woman. I said, oh, thank you actually we are from Geneva. And I told her that in French, you know what, she went silent. Because all the bias. All what she thought. All what she assumed was just floating in the air. As we stood there, she didn't know what to say. She just stood there looking at us. So I don't know, these are little things, but it makes you wonder, you know, if your leaders they're like that, how can you flourish in such a place? I just had the impression that when I was in university, I felt as if my achievements could make me transcend prejudice and racism. And when I came to the workplace it caught up with me without telling me beforehand it was coming. I saw that actually I will never be Miriam. I will always be the Black girl first, before Miriam Njoku. And that put me in a deep depression. I wouldn't lie to you because I said, okay, there's actually nothing I can do.

I cannot achieve my way out of this. Out of being seen with prejudice. I cannot speak French perfectly and whatever. Actually, I understood that there is nothing I could do to escape this prejudice that they had built. And that's how they view people like me.

One other thing I want to make important is that I learned to distinguish between people who only saw me through the prejudice and people who saw the real me. So at work I would only get close to people who saw me as a human being, as I saw them as human beings. My closest friend was this Swiss girl. Her family had immigrated from Vietnam. Celine, she was like my sister. We created a little space where we could be ourselves because even at the public functions of the bank, you would have men say really nasty things to you that they wouldn't dare tell a white female colleague. They would come and say how you look like this. Or like, really

Rosie: Sexist and things? 

Miriam: Yes, so we had a space where we could talk about those things together. We could process what was going on around us together. We needed it to stay like that because if not, then the self doubt is just drowning us because we always wonder, is it me? Am I too sensitive? Maybe this is normal. Maybe it's just me. And then actually it's not normal. And we had that space we could debrief. 

Rosie: I think it's really important to note what you said about how you were treated as women. Where, people in Switzerland, people in Canada, Europe, North America. "Well, you know, we've come a long way in women's rights, in equality. There is no more sexism or, you know, sexism is treated very seriously now." But that intersection of your race identity, as well as your gender identity, maybe white Swiss men were not overtly, sexually harassing white Swiss women, but they felt for some reason that they could do that to you and to your friends that were not white. Like somehow that made it acceptable. And then, so for white women speaking about women's issues. I'm not trying to discredit all white women. That's not the point of this, but there's an additional layer when you're not white, or when you add some other traumatic identity, something that's not part of the common. And that is why it's important to talk about intersectionality and how these layers make things more complicated. It's not just on the surface. Bring any woman or bring any man or even any Black man. He can't talk necessarily about all the things that a Black woman faces. So thank you for bringing that up. I think that's really important for people to know.

Miriam: And thank you for saying that because what was shocking there was that it was happening at work. I knew that it was because of the prejudice. These ideas they have about us because outside of work, men propositioning me. It was all the time. Even when I was pregnant with my daughter. 

Rosie: What!? 

Miriam: How much? Yes, in Switzerland. How much is it? And do you take 100? The first time I was a teenager, I was eating a burger at the McDonald's at 4:00 PM. A guy comes to me and says, do you take 100? I went home. I didn't understand. I went home. I told my mother, I said, a guy came and just told me to take 100. 100 what? So my mom explained to me that he thought I was a prostitute. I was so sad, but that was not the only time. It happened time and time again, when I was doing my groceries, someone would follow me around and ask me do you take 100? So I became so self conscious. I wouldn't wear a dress because with the trauma, I was like, there must be something I'm doing. I would stop in shop windows and look at myself. Do I have too much makeup. Why was I propositioned? But it was not me. It has never been me, you know?

Rosie: No, it's not you at all. Like, I'm shocked. I'm horrified.

Miriam: Yeah, no, it was even at work where we have set rules. It still happens, you know. 

Rosie: Comments about your body and 

Miriam: Yeah, yeah.

Rosie: Wow. I can't believe, I mean, I shouldn't be surprised, but you are surprising me. You know what I'm thinking of? This is what I'm picturing, Miriam. Every Christmas time, in North America anyway, The Sound of Music always comes on as the Christmas movie. And I think about the end when Switzerland is seen as a sanctuary, right? The safe zone, oh, you know, terrible Nazis are persecuting people, but go to Switzerland and you'll be safe. But that Von Trapp family was white and they probably felt safe because they were white people going to a white country. So the Nazis were made out to be the bad guys. Switzerland was made out to be this hero, this rescuer. And not trying to say that all Swiss people are bad or all white Swiss people are bad, that is not the point either. But it is very important that we get rid of this stereotype about Switzerland being all good. You know, only welcoming and neutral. No prejudices one way or the other. That's not true. 

Miriam: No, it's not. It's absolutely not. I did not only have negative experiences in Switzerland. I had scholarships, I had many opportunities to be myself. But there was no space for me to exist. To thrive, to be free as a Black woman, that space didn't exist for me in Switzerland. 

Rosie: All, that changed when you came to Canada, right? Because we don't have sexism and racism in Canada and 

Miriam: You made me cough.

Rosie: Yeah, you might need to take another drink before you

Miriam: Yeah. Let me do that.

Rosie: Because you never experienced racism again. Isn't that true? Miriam, right?

Miriam: Well, not exactly.

Rosie: Oh, tell us about that please.

Miriam: Yeah, so first I I lived in, Parkdale in Toronto. There are many immigrant families there. I loved it there in Parkdale. I felt freer than in Switzerland. I was not on guard every time I left my house to behave like a model citizen because, you know, as a Black person, there's always someone who would tell you that's not how you do it. You don't walk on the lawn as they used to do in Switzerland all the time. So I dropped this stress of being a model citizen because you're observed and you know, that stress slowly went away, which I really appreciate. I didn't feel the need to look perfect all the time. But, I realize that there's racism in Canada.

 I can give you an example. In Parkdale, there's one part where you have those condos, immigrant families, and there's a part where you have houses. It's not far from Roncesville. My daughter was doing a ballet class. It was $300 a year for the class. And when we went to the end of year recital, you saw that most of the kids were white. 90, 95%, I would say were white kids. So that's when already I said, oh, here it's a bit more subtle, but there's racism here too. Because I wondered, why did the kids who live there around this community center, where these classes were, were not enrolled in ballet. I'm like, okay, maybe for some families that fee of $300 is already too much, you know? Maybe their parents are already working at that time. They cannot bring their kids to ballet. And then even in the moms who came there, there were some we became great friends and we are still in touch today, you know. But there were some, you would say, Hi, they wouldn't say Hi back to you. They wouldn't reply to you.

Rosie: They wouldn't even answer?

Miriam: They wouldn't answer. And some, they wouldn't answer, but when they heard me speak French to my daughter, then I became interesting. I was worthy of them trying to say Hi to me. And in that case, I never say Hi back.  Because I saw that in capitalism, that's something that always disturbed me. The human being is not valued. Someone sees you, they have a prejudice of what they think you are. And then maybe they see that, oh, you went to this school, you speak this language then you have value. Then now they want to speak to you. That for me is, oh my goodness. Repulsive. Repulsive. I feel you should give a human being a chance. You can connect or not connect, that's fine, you know? But not that you give them a chance or whatever, based on things that you define as making a valuable human being. Because in my upbringing, my great grandmother, she couldn't read and write. I can tell you that she was a very valuable human being. And many other people I know who cannot read and write, but it doesn't make them less valuable. They have other things they bring to the world. Their instincts, their knowledge, their ancestral knowledge. So when I made those encounters where people initially, they don't want to speak to you and then maybe they see that, oh, you're educated. Oh, you can speak French, your in Toronto, but then all of a sudden you're, oh yeah, my child is studying French school maybe; you know I don't want to practice. No, sorry. I don't want my daughter to practice French with your daughter. No. But I noticed those differences that I live in a neighborhood where mostly immigrant families live in, but when it comes to this ballet school and the recitals. Most of the kids, 95% of the kids were white, you know, not reflecting the neighborhood, but reflecting more, the other side where you had houses.  

 Rosie: That is such a powerful example. There's so many implications in there because I completely agree with you too about another intersection, right? How capitalism only sees people as tools or human resources literally to make money. And so those white women they didn't want to talk to you until they had use for you. And that use for you was that you could help their daughters get ahead by practicing French. And there's capitalism behind that too. I think this is also where people need to recognize that people say, oh, I'm not racist. I have Black friends, or I know Black people. I work with Asian people, Black people, whatever it is. But I wonder in what context they have what they think are friends or that they work with people. Like, you certainly wouldn't consider those women, your friends, or even, oh yes, I'm in a group, a ballet group with other white people. Like, you are, but that doesn't mean that they accept you.

Miriam, I want to ask you about another intersectional layer. Like when we add on some of your past trauma, you've spoken before about your workaholism, right. And I am connecting between what you've said around your perfectionism, you want to perform well for people. Your identity coming from your intelligence, your education and whatnot. Can you talk a bit about how that all came together for you and what it was like for you working in Canada? 

Miriam: I think in my work, in my job description, there was, being able to manage ambiguity. Maybe I should have inquired more because it turned out that was not my thing. Let's just put it mildly like that. Because when you don't know what is expected of you exactly. You keep making suggestions and then you hear, no, that's not it, but no one can tell you, this is what we are looking for. It's really very confusing. There's still a part of you that always doubts that maybe it's you not understanding. Maybe the problem comes from you, right. And then I find myself again in that position where I know I'm not seen as a person. I know I'm not seen as a human being. I was hired with the notion that I didn't know my value. I didn't know what I was worth in the workplace. And I wouldn't say to be exploited, but that's how it kind of felt like. And when I started speaking up and telling my truth. I'm like, I know that this is not the position I should have been hired in. I know the work that I do is two levels above this position I was hired in. At one point I told myself, oh my God, one of my Swiss bosses and my Canadian boss is using the same language. It must be the capitalist language, but I'm just fed up of this bullshit to say the least, you know. This is not serving me.

Rosie: What kind of language?

Miriam: Oh no, you still have to, you still have to work harder. I mean, I just feel as if some bosses they know when you suffer from low self-esteem and if you're like me you're scared that you cannot do the job. You're doubting yourself. They will just exploit you because you just put yourself in that position. And when you start asking, so I see that these other people, they do this, but I do this. Maybe we should change my job title, they say, oh no, no, you're not there yet. You think you're doing well but you're not doing well. And the difference is that this time I didn't believe it. The self-doubt did not shut me down. I'm like, no, no. I know. I work with other people. I see what I do. I see what they do. I see what is asked of me and so it cannot be that. 

Rosie: I completely can understand. And especially with your point about it. It feels exploitative. And I can also picture the reaction, the instinctive reaction from many employers and white people saying, no, I'm not exploiting. To help them understand, like, how would you respond to a employer saying, well, how are we supposed to know? Like, we don't know that this person had all this trauma in their past and there's all this stuff that comes with it. Like, are we supposed to read people's minds and cater to every person's situation? Like how are we supposed to know?

Miriam: I would say if you want to know you can create a safe space for an employee who has trauma to tell you. They wouldn't tell all your trauma, but they can tell you for example, they suffer from anxiety. I did share that at work because I felt the need to say that. I couldn't just hide and try to be perfect anymore. It was really eating me up inside. Actually the hiding comes from not feeling safe to say something. You know,  I didn't want to say anything. 

I always feared retaliation and retaliation there was, if I tried to say something. So when you don't have a backup, you don't have money to fall back on or a parent if you lose your job, you can go stay with. You try to not say anything because you want to keep your livelihood, you know, especially if you have children. One of my bosses wanted me to work till I gave birth because another woman had worked until she gave birth. So a man, a white man telling me I should work untiI I was ready to go to the hospital.

Rosie: And you know what? I bet you if your water burst on his carpet, he would have yelled at you for that too. So,

Miriam: Yeah. You know, I'm like, you don't know my circumstances. I have diabetes. I am struggling with lots of stuff, you know. I don't tell you because I don't trust you and you think I should work, you know better, of course you've been pregnant before, right. You know better, you know what I should do. So that just doesn't build trust. That doesn't build safety, like a feeling of belonging doesn't build out of that. I'm not saying that work people should all be my friends, but I think really, yeah. If we want people to perform, we have to take into account the people they are. In situations where I felt understood by my bosses, I went above and beyond. I went above and beyond.

Rosie: And how did they make you feel like they understood you?

Miriam: I had a boss at one point who was super strict, but he was fair, you know? And I knew this person was fair. I wrote a report. He told me it was not good enough. I believed him because I knew he was a fair person and I rewrote the report until it was good enough. And he told me it was good enough. So when we had things to do, I would anticipate things, do more things and bring them to him and say, hey, there's a situation here. We have to tackle it. But he was open. I could go speak to him.

Rosie: And he was a white man?

Miriam: No.

Rosie: Okay. But he was a man.

Miriam: Yeah, he was a man.

Rosie: I want to ask you about this because we talk about support and openness and creating safe environments. And a lot of times is it's about white on other races, prejudice and cetera. But sometimes I have felt this. I don't know if you felt this, that even within my own culture community, with like Asians and other Asians and women with other women, are not as supportive, especially when you think, you're a woman or you're Asian, surely you would understand my situation. But I have you know, my close Chinese friends saying, well, I don't know. I've never experienced racism. I think, I don't, I haven't felt that in Canada before. Or women professional coaches, I've heard this too, where like, oh no, it's the data shows that women only apply for jobs that they feel 90% qualified for. Whereas men apply for jobs they feel 30% qualified for. So you just need to get out there and apply for those jobs. You need to get over your limiting beliefs, right. Just do it. And I was like, have you not gone through the same things? What are your experiences with other women or other Africans and feeling support from them? 

Miriam: I think they would think that we're already lucky we have a job. We should not rock the boat too much sometimes. I've heard that. And I have a theory about that. I feel as if the capitalist system oppresses us so much that sometimes we fight each other instead of being a support system for each other. We want to kind of distance ourself from the prejudice by showing that we are not like the others, you know. I hated it when people told me you're not like the others, I'm like, no, no, no. I'm like the others. You see those people taking the boat to come to Europe? Those Africans crossing on these boats to come to Europe because they're desperate. They don't see any future. Those are my people. Don't tell me because I speak like you because I've learned to not show you how I really speak. I have fancy degrees like you, and then now you say, no, you are not like the others. I'm like, no, it's survival. I'm exactly like the others. Because it's a kind of denying us our humanity, you know? Not many people come to this conclusion. It's also like a personal thing they want to feel they're different. They're a model. What people think it looks like, you know. We have to get rid of that. It doesn't save us. It doesn't serve us. 

I've seen sometimes other African women who are harsher to people who look like them than to other people, you know. They would give more grace to other people because maybe they don't want people to think like we are a group together or they have this kind of mechanism to show that no, I don't want to be kind to her just because she's a Black woman like me, you know? And I find that very sad because it's kind of a system thing. So it's really important to understand these dynamics. To not fall in it, you know? Yeah.

Rosie: That was very rich and deep. And you have so much to offer Miriam. We could probably do five hours worth of podcasts and not cover everything that you have of value. The value you bring is way beyond anything that can be captured by a degree or a certification. And so I encourage people because there's so much more that Miriam has to say, please go and listen to her podcast which also just scratches the surface again, because these things run very deep. But you can find out a lot more from her podcasts where she shares even more detail about her thinking and her ideas and her past and her website MiriamNjoku.com. All of these links will be on our show notes page. And you can also find some more ideas and support for what we could do to change on the changinglenses.ca page as well. 

Miriam: Thank you, Rosie I wanted to thank you for this work, because it's so brave of you. You've had a wonderful career and to stand up and speak on these issues that are so important to you. This is how we're going to undo these systems that oppress certain people . We have to change. We should not be the only people advocating for this. We need more people along and someone like you speaking up, it gives a lot of power to that. So Merci.

Rosie: Merci Miriam. That means a lot especially coming from you because we just, we have to speak to power. We need to reclaim power that's been taken away from us, right. And I'm especially glad that you talked about capitalism as well, because you've been in the banking sector. You've been in financial systems that are all about giving to people who already have, and making the rich, even richer. So we're going to have to investigate that further in other episodes and in other ways, but yes. It doesn't mean we're against money. We need to make money, right. You're a mother of three I've got to pay for my condo, right. So we have to make money, but we don't have to be the richest people in the world. That's not what it's about. 

Miriam: Or we don't have to lose ourselves altogether to make money. We should be able to be ourselves and make money, 

Rosie: Yes. 

Miriam: Yeah. Yeah.

Rosie: Thank you. Thank you for gracing us with your love. Just the rich blessings of everything you have to offer us. Your vulnerability and your courage. I love you as my sister. I love what you're doing. And I hope that many people will be inspired and take away a lot from what you do. And if people want to follow up with you, Miriam, I know you're on all the social channels. What's the best social channel to get a hold of you today.

Miriam: Instagram, @_MiramNjoku or LinkedIn. Yeah, I'm also on all of them, like, Twitter, Facebook.

Rosie: Yes. Wherever you are listeners that's where Miriam is too. 

Miriam: Yeah. 

Rosie: Go find her. Ask her your questions. Find out how she can help you if you're also on your healing journey or wanted to share, just to share stories. Like we need to also talk more safely, right. About the truth that we see, that we can't talk about at work, because we are afraid of losing our jobs or whatever. So yeah, we're here. We're here to listen.

Miriam: Yes, definitely.

Rosie: Alright, Miriam. Well, I hope that we get to do this again and I support your work and , I know you support mine and we're going to make changes together.

Miriam: Thank you so much. Thank you, Rosie. 

 

[outro music plays]

Rosie: Thanks for joining us! I hope we helped to change your lens, and expand your worldview. And if you want to talk about today’s episode with a safe community, or ask me questions directly, please join our Changing Lenses Facebook Group – the link is in the shownotes. This episode was produced and hosted by me, with associate production by William Loo, and post-production by Cue9. Until next time, I’m Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.

[outro music ends]