Bhamika Bhudia portrait

Written by Bhamika Bhudia

English teacher and lead teacher in a mixed comprehensive secondary school in North-West London. She tweets as MissMika_Eng

Does the “aggressive” Woman of Colour trope lead to a generation of toothless lionesses?

Women of colour have to navigate the western world with careful footing. Sidelined and stereotyped within the media and underrepresented at leadership tables, conducting herself in offices, classrooms and meetings is a difficult, political affair. Managing standing up for herself, being heard, demanding a seat at the table all the while not being deemed too aggressive, requires strategizing but at what cost? Surely this lack of freedom to express herself honestly and fully has detrimental effects on her confidence, self worth and identity as a whole? 

In my quest to make my workplace and environment a more celebratory and inclusive place, I have had to take a real look inwards at my role as a woman of colour (a term I am still uncomfortable with), and I have had a rude awakening!   

I have always considered myself (and I think have been considered) to be a confident woman. I am able to stand up for what I believe in, I have carved myself a seat at the table and my voice is one that is heard. But as policies are put into practice and ideologies around celebrating culture and acknowledging diversity are being discussed at that very table, I have come to question how many waves I actually make, how often I quietly avoid a stir and how many self-sabotory behaviours I demonstrate.

Diversity-hire:

According to the School Workforce Consensus (2019) only, 6.2% of assistant heads and deputies are from ethnic minorities and while women comprise 67% of the country’s headteachers, a mere 3.9% of them identify as non-white. The statistics speak for themselves, yet despite knowing this, every job and promotion I have ever gotten has been followed by inner doubt questioning whether I was a diversity hire. The odds are clearly stacked against me, but this toxic imposter syndrome based solely on my demographic is obviously very damaging. And it can’t be just me – I didn’t invent this notion or phrasing, it has to come from somewhere. I am very doubtful that I am the only one who has felt this way yet my achievements are continually downplayed in my mind because I happen to fit this box that ironically enough, isn’t actually getting filled in the real world!

Say my name!

It is now widely acknowledged that continual mispronunciation of people’s names is a microaggression and is damaging. Spending my entire life as Bhamika Bhudia has been tricky. I have always expected people not to get my name right to begin with – it’s an unusual name – and I take absolutely no offense when people don’t get it right away. I have been quick to correct them, the first, second and third time but after that, I drop it. I have worked with people for years that have continued to call me by some other moniker. Until this last year, I have let these aggressions slide for fear of being rude, making things awkward or making other people feel bad. It is not ok, and should not have taken me 37 years of life to realise this. It is my duty as a role model for children to address this but for my entire life, I have placed the feelings or others ahead of my own; clearly I did not feel my name was worthy enough of causing a stir.

Bite your lip:

On the same note, causing that stir is a real predicament for those in my demographic in far more contentious circumstances than pronunciations. I have heard many a story of meetings, conflicts and general grievances of women who look like me, shut down because they were deemed too “aggressive”. Conducting myself in sensitive circumstances is a tight-rope I tread very carefully on. I always say, with a strong hint or irony and an even stronger note of bitterness, that my life would be so much easier if I was a cryer. If, when it came to conflict, I was the sensitive one who could alleviate circumstances and even shift responsibility by showing my emotions and expressing my hurt/offense in a more “feminine” way. Now I’m not saying all tears are manipulatory nor am I condoning toxic femininity but there have been times and continue to be so where I am unable to express my offense at derogatory comments or behaviours towards me, no matter how professionally or politely I handle them, for fear of becoming the aggressor. I have bitten my lip, publicly and privately because when it comes down to it, I am afraid that I will be blamed for upsetting the other person despite being the offended party. I always assumed it was a “me” thing, perhaps even a “female” thing, but once again, this reflection has led me to connect the dots. Women of colour being branded and dismissed as “aggressive” is a historical thing; it does not stop at me nor did it begin there.

This post has been very difficult to write. I have taken a look at myself and honestly I do not like what I see. I thought I was strong, I thought I was a good role model and discovering that I am far from that has been a difficult discovery indeed. But now I have seen that despite my “aggressive” nature, I am still doing myself and every woman of colour after me, a huge disservice by bowing down, and sitting quietly. My teeth may have been blunted up until now, but at the risk of ending with a huge cliche, I will make sure my lioness comes out in full force, not only for myself but also for those I model my behaviour for.

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