BMW and the witness of Mop and the Mop bucket! – Dr Kate Jonathan’s Story
When you are a BMW, you have a personal (inside) story: A story that is similar to all BMWs, yet different. It is a story I never thought would be told, though privately documented and a subject of an undergraduate honours project. And No, BMW is not the car! Rather, an acronym I devised to depict an aspect of my intersectional status –
Black, Migrant and a Woman.
My motivation for doctorate research was against that backdrop. Born in Africa, in the mid-80s I stepped on the shore of Great Britain, as a teenager full of expectations, especially of furthering my studies then in Banking and Finance, having worked two and a half years in a “High Street” bank in Nigeria. I soon learnt that banking qualifications in the UK are earned through employment and training rather than full-time study in a higher institution. This commenced a futile search for job opportunities in the banking industry – futile because I was “not quite the right (colour or) person” for such jobs. After a few weeks of hearing nothing, I walked into the banks to make enquiries. There, I was directed by personnel in a High Street Bank to,
“Go and look for cleaning jobs, that’s what Blacks do around here”.
He voiced it; others acted it as I got no job from all my applications and sometimes, I was told there were no vacancies, but my Caucasian friends came out of the same banks with application forms; for them there were vacancies.
So, I questioned myself: What is wrong with being black? Why must an entire race, group or community be denigrated to menial jobs? It was not a pleasant thing to hear, see and experience on a daily basis, but I had a choice: To internalise this bigotry and accept it as the norm for me, to become anti-social and be against everybody – “them versus us” approach and /or to proactively and doggedly use my inner resources to work my way up. I decided to do something about it so that my children will never have to hear such nonsense being thrown at them, and if possible, I may encourage other BMWs to carve out a progressive and respectable trajectory for themselves against all the odds.
Given the hostile environment then, I knew my journey would be different from those who moved smoothly from one stage to another: smooth sailing from undergraduate to honours to (work) and research. Mine is what I like to call “the Israelites journey” – the journey that could have taken forty days took forty years! But, that’s okay — Martin Luther King Jnr once said,
“If you cannot fly, run. If you cannot run, walk; if you cannot walk, then crawl. By all means, keep moving!”
So, I kept moving until I achieved my aim of a doctorate and working in academia. Through it all, I learnt that failure is not final, and success is not a gift, but an adventure undertaken by those who desire it. Success is not anywhere else but within me.
My pathway to research as earlier stated was not smooth and straightforward, rather somewhat like a spaghetti junction, dabbing in and out of opportunities as they presented themselves to move from one stage to the other.
When I could not access the banking industry, I went into studying accountancy, considering it the closest to what I wanted to do. I worked part-time (guess what?) as a cleaner to see myself through the accountancy degree. I laboured in this sphere for 16 years, made some progress, but not fulfilling for me. I remembered one-night shift on my cleaning job – I looked at the mop and the mop bucket, and I said within myself first then out loud to these items, as if they were witnesses to my declaration of “enough is enough!” In the morning, I quit the cleaning job. Two months after, I secured a job in homelessness, and so begun another pathway, which was foundational to where I am today.
In terms of meaning-making, I have a particular interest in the Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection Theory (IPARTheory), formerly PAR Theory, as postulated by Rohner et al. (revised, 2019). By extension though, I would like to examine and utilise that theory as a Societal-Community Acceptance and Rejection Theory (SCARTheory). What happens when a community or society accepts or rejects individuals? How do sociocultural characteristics affect individuals, parents, families? How does societal-community acceptance-rejection behaviour affect mental health?
These questions birthed my doctorate research – Which was an exploration into a migrant community – south Asian (Pakistani community in the UK), parenting patterns. It focused on how health and sociocultural factors affect their parenting.
Being an academic is a fantastic destination compared to where I started. What I consider my greatest achievement to date, however, has been that I was the first graduate in my family, but others have since followed. Becoming a role model to the up and coming, a ‘can-do’ figure for all my known and unknown protégé. Although, I have lived in the western world far more than my time in Africa, no doubt, the experience has shaped my perspectives, values and personality. I still very much believe in not living for myself alone: but thinking of others. I guess this is influenced largely by the interdependent worldview and beliefs of Africans. Some Africans refer to this as ubuntu (human interdependence) and ukama (relationality) – (e.g., Dubec, 2018; Le Grange, 2012).
The other achievement I consider is that today I am British. The place where I was humiliated the most is also the place where I succeeded the most, and where I now consider home. As a citizen, I love my country. I have no hard feelings, but deep gratitude. My experiences (“the good, the bad and the ugly”) combined brought out the best in me. British government or institutions funded most of my education and training – that’s why I am grateful. Those who prompted me never to give up on my dreams were Caucasians. I found profound strength comes from my faith. I am grateful to the Caucasians and proud of who I am: Black is Beautiful!
Nevertheless, I have not arrived and am by no means resting on my laurels. Now based in Australia, there are more BMW stories! But, what’s most important for me is that there is always room for improvement – This is particularly true in my current pathway, in academia, which I love. My career goal is to become a leader in the academic setting and have a positive impact wherever I am opportune to be.
Dr Kate Jonathan FHEA
Program Coordinator, BA Human Services, University of the Sunshine Coast
Thanks for sharing your story. It is inspiring in so many ways.
Wow Kate! Your story is so inspiring. I am so grateful for your bravery and tenacity in heeding the advice of Martin Luther King Jnr to “KEEP MOVING”.
What an achievement.
I look forward to meeting you here in Australia.
Such recognition. Thank you so much for sharing your story and showing your power, your resilience.
It will be lovely to meet one day.
I have just shared International Women’s Day morning with a group of about 30 Non-English Speaking Background migrant women now living in my current local community in regional Australia. They were born and raised in different countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. I was there as the only NESB woman from Europe. All women stood proudly for their cultural heritage and the particular region where we born and raised AND we all celebrated our common ground as women.
WE are a source of inspiration!
Let’s acknowledge the resilience inside all of us that pulls us through.
Great reflections Kate. I think your story reminds us about the power and joys of education and the critical ways that as academics will can remind our students and ourselves that higher education invites everyone in, no matter your background. (Unlike the banks!!)
Thank you, Kate.
What a remarkable journey by a remarkable woman. As I read your words I rode a rollercoaster of emotions and also reflected upon how often society puts up barriers in so many aspects of people’s lives – gender, race, religion, age, social status, the list goes on. As always, the question remains, “Why? What are they afraid of?”
Congratulations on what you’ve already achieved and what’s yet to come!