A Personal Journey of Identity, Resilience, and Belonging in the Corporate World

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As an immigrant from Nigeria and someone who grew up and spent more than half of my life in England, my exposure to American history was limited. Only after moving to the United States over 7 years ago did I learn about Juneteenth–the celebration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. This newfound knowledge ignited my curiosity, prompting me to delve deeper into the significance of this day and its impact on the African American community. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when enslaved people in Texas finally learned of their freedom, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. This delay in delivering the news was a painful reminder of the persistent oppression and systemic injustice endured by African Americans. Originally from a country where slaves were forcibly taken to America and where colonization had a lasting impact, I arrived in the United States with a profound awareness of the historical struggles faced by marginalized communities worldwide. While Juneteenth was new to me, the echoes of slavery and oppression resonated deeply, connecting my personal history with the experiences of African Americans, especially as someone with a deep understanding of slavery and colonization, rooted in the history of my own country, my reflection on Juneteenth takes on a unique perspective.

My journey encompasses various dimensions of identity. Being Nigerian roots me in a vibrant and diverse cultural heritage, while embracing Islam provides me with a strong spiritual foundation. As a Hijabi, my faith is intricately woven into my identity, serving as a reminder of my values, modesty, and commitment to social justice. Acknowledging my blackness amplifies my connection to the struggles and triumphs of the African diaspora.

In the corporate world, where homogeneity often prevails, being a black Muslim Hijabi woman presents unique challenges. The pressure to conform to mainstream norms can be overwhelming and often undermines my sense of self and leaves me feeling isolated. Embracing my cultural and religious identity becomes a journey of self-empowerment, defying stereotypes, and championing diversity, leading to a constant struggle to find a place where my voice is heard and valued. It’s essential to acknowledge the systemic biases perpetuating these challenges and work towards a more inclusive environment that embraces diversity. Finding a sense of belonging requires courage, self-acceptance, and resilience. Embracing my identity as a black Muslim Hijabi woman has been a journey of self-discovery, self-advocacy, and self-empowerment. By seeking out spaces and communities that value and celebrate diverse voices, I have been able to build networks of support and find empowerment within myself.

As a black Hijabi Muslim woman in corporate America, I have experienced the challenges of being a minority and faced my fair share of stereotypes and prejudices. As a black Hijabi woman, I frequently encounter difficulties when employers struggle to connect my resume with my identity during interviews. It leaves me uncertain whether their surprise stems from my hijab, my race, or both and raises doubts about their perception of my ability to achieve notable accomplishments. As a black Hijabi woman, there are always assumptions about my language skills before they even hear me speak. I constantly find myself confronted with the question of whether I speak proficient English, which seems to arise in nearly 90% of the situations I encounter. And then there are my personal favorites: tokenism, and double discrimination. As a black Hijabi woman, you are constantly tokenized and treated as a diversity checkbox rather than being acknowledged for your individual talents, skills, and qualifications. Additionally, being at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, I face a combination of racism, Islamophobia, and sexism, leading to increased challenges and barriers to professional growth.

As we reflect on the significance of Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, it becomes essential to address the interconnectedness between unconscious bias, the struggles faced by marginalized communities, and the experiences of BIPOC individuals.

Juneteenth stands as a powerful reminder of the fight for freedom, equality, and justice. However, it also brings to light the ongoing challenges faced by BIPOC communities, which continue to confront systemic biases and discrimination. Unconscious bias, often ingrained in society, plays a role in perpetuating these injustices. It is crucial that we acknowledge and address these biases to create a more inclusive and equitable future.

By exploring the history and significance of Juneteenth, we deepen our understanding of the long-standing struggles faced by marginalized communities. It serves as a call to action, compelling us to actively challenge and dismantle unconscious biases that perpetuate inequities, both within our own minds and within society. Through education, empathy, and collective action, we can work towards creating a society that honors and uplifts the experiences, voices, and contributions of all individuals, irrespective of their racial or ethnic backgrounds.

As we commemorate Juneteenth, let us remember the importance of confronting unconscious biases, amplifying marginalized voices, and striving for a more inclusive future for all. Juneteenth serves as a reminder that the fight for equality, justice, and respect transcends borders and requires collective action.

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