Difficult black woman
Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars debuted last week in the UK. The culinary reality show, in the style of the Apprentice, follows 12 hopefuls who compete in the hope of winning a £150,000 investment and having the chef as their business partner.
Among the contestants in Nigerian Bola Obileye, health coach and 50s enthusiast Bola who started her health drink brand Jitterbug, made of apple cider vinegar blended with fruit juices and sparkling water, she was inspired to create after she quit fizzy drinks.
Bola is no stranger to those interested in fashion on the Nigerian diaspora – she’s a former blogger (Seriously Doughnuts), a fashion designer (TÓTÉ bags) and a gospel singer/songwriter. I had the pleasure to meet Bola almost over a decade ago when our paths kept crossing during fashion events and I was introduced to her fashion label. She is one of the loveliest human beings you could meet. And for those who don’t know her in person, her social media with its cotton candy colours, classic cars, and rockabilly fashion looks is a joy to behold.
When she launched her Jitterbug drink, keen to explore alternatives to fizzy drinks, Mr. O ordered a few pack and he was impressed by the taste, as I was, ever the marketing specialist, by the branding and product design. When Bola began sharing teasers the new reality show, I commented on her feed asking if she was going to show Mr Ramsay some Naija pepper, and she responded with, “Hahahah quiet girl like me.”
Little did I know then I had to worry more about Bola’s fellow contestants than Mr. Ramsay. In this week’s episode, looking after front of house on the forest feast task, Bola found herself under fire by two of her teammates she was grouped with. One, Asher, who’d been stung earlier on in the show failing miserable on a salmon filleting task – while Bola took joint third place – was plain rude, probably taking his frustration out on the first person he felt he could bully. The other, Jen, put herself forward as the team leader, but much as she did with last week’s challenge, as soon as the heat turned up, she crumbled under the pressure. What started off as a simple disagreement over table decorations ended up with Asher and Jen ganging up on Bola. Bola, on the hand, was calm and composed and when she spoke up she respectfully said, “I do not appreciate being spoken to like a child,” which is exactly how she’d been spoken to.
Come crunch time, Bola’s team lost, with the blame squarely falling on the front of house team. Called into elimination interviews by Gordon, Bola was still cool, calm and clear-headed, and stated her case with confidence. Asher and Jen on the other hand had already agreed that Bola was their scapegoat. Jen, who hadn’t showed an ounce of leadership but had lost her cool as soon as the service fell apart, insinuated that Bola was difficult to manage, while Asher tried to make her sound difficult and set in her ways. For anyone who had eyes and a brain this couldn’t be far from the truth.
In the end, being the shrewd people person that he is, Gordon saw through Jen’s inability to lead and eliminated her, but it made me wonder in how many work places across the country black women are being scapegoated and victimised everyday as “difficult”, “aggressive” and “angry”. Seeing this easy accusation at play shamelessly used by a white female who tried to cover up her shortcomings by trying to portray a black colleague as “difficult” was painful viewing, yet sadly the reality of what many black women in the UK and other predominantly white parts of the world.
Fortunately for Bola, the person calling the shots was savvy enough to see through the smoke and mirrors, but how many people in positions of power fall for the trope? How often does behaviour that’s excused when displayed by a white man in a position of power, or even explained away when displayed by a white woman becomes a major character flaw when it is perceived to come from a black woman, regardless of how calm and composed she may have carried herself in the first place?
As for Bola, she is calm, quiet and composed, alright, but let’s not get it twisted. She can and she will speak her mind and put an opponent back in their place if she is harangued. And I am rooting for her all the way.