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In my words: Simi Pam

To mark Black History Month, Simi Pam speaks about what Black History Month means to her, personal experiences of racism, the importance of diversity and loving who you are. 

Written by: Simi Pam

As a Nigerian-British woman who has been raised in the UK since the age of three, I am thankful that I have only had a few encounters with racism, but each encounter has hurt me so deeply, and always has a lasting impact. I find racism particularly difficult to process especially because I am proudly a dual national; I love being British, I love that I have been raised and educated here, I love that I work in our NHS, I love that I have represented this country previously in athletics, and I definitely have aspirations to wear the Red Rose jersey and sing the national anthem one day at Twickenham. So why am I still singled out, or mistreated because I am black?

Racism isn’t always the use of obscenities and racial epithets, and racial experiences are not always as obvious as people may think, particularly in the UK. Racism can manifest insidiously as micro-aggressions; those snide comments about your natural hair looking weird, ugly, or unprofessional, or being told your nose is too flat, or that your lips are too big, or that backhanded compliment of “you’re good looking… for a black girl.” These comments (whether consciously or subconsciously) are designed to make you feel less than about characteristics that you have no control over, and they resulted in me hating my blackness for a very long time.

Simi Pam in action for Bristol Bears Women (JMPUK)

I used to work in a pub over university summer holidays. I remember a white couple talking loudly about me when I was clearing their table, speaking about how “uneducated, underqualified, and inadequate” I was, and that I “didn’t deserve to be in their country.” The only thing this couple knew about me was that I was a black woman. Racism has also affected me in my professional career. As a medical student, I remember being mercilessly mistreated for months by a ward clerk in the hospital, who treated all of my contemporaries with respect and kindness. I was the only black girl in this cohort… coincidence? I think not. Even now as a doctor, I have been questioned by patients and their families on my knowledge, clinical decisions, and competence because “I don’t look like a doctor,” or “I don’t look like I am from here.” I have even been questioned about whether I am who I say I am, or whether I even belong on the ward! Is it really that hard to imagine a young black female doctor working in the hospital, who is good at what she does?

These experiences are completely degrading, and although my initial reaction is typically one of annoyance or anger, this always subsides into a deep sorrow. I hate to admit it, but sometimes, being a black woman (especially in a predominantly white environment) is exhausting. I feel like I always have to defend my existence, work hard to overcome the stereotypes and biases that face me (both as a black person, and as a woman), and prove that I belong in the circles that I’ve worked so hard to get into. I hate that if I express myself or am emotive, I’m instantly categorised as being angry, or sassy, or aggressive, or rude, without there being any consideration into what has made me feel this way in the first place. Sometimes it feels like no matter what I do, the world does not want me to succeed. No matter how much good I do, or how much I achieve, to some people, my race means that I will never be good enough. I will always be fighting a losing battle to dispel their pre-existing thoughts and prejudices about black women, and they will always find ways of focusing on the bad about me (whilst completely disregarding the good). That thought is soul destroying.

As tiring and difficult as it may be to face racism, I have decided to not let other people’s preconceptions affect how I see myself or affect the goals I set myself for the future. Ultimately, I love being black; I love everything about my roots, my heritage, and my culture. The reason I have decided to be so vocal about my experiences with racism is so that people can identify and acknowledge these occurrences. If you know what day-to-day racism looks like, there is no excuse to perpetuate it, or let it continue to exist around you. I am passionate about changing the perceptions that surround black people, and this starts by having a positive impact on my environment. Rugby has never been a place where I have been discriminated against, and I am proud of the commitment that the Bristol Bears rugby community has made to tacking racism and discrimination. My experiences have shaped me into who I am today, but it’s time to make a lasting change, because no one should have to go through what I have (and will continue) to go through. I know that permanent change may take time, so in the meantime, I will continue to proudly live my best black life, both on and off the pitch.


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