Tobi Rachel Akingbade graduated from the Mass Media Communications course at the University of Hertforeshire on September 2015 after failing three times. She tweeted her success on twitter writing:
“I failed uni twice. Did my final year three times. I graduated today. I give all the Glory to God. #TrustYourStruggle”
Unfortunately, the 24-year-old received a torrent of abuse online. Unknown to her, a twitter user mocked her by smearing his face in Nutella in a ‘blackface’ attempt after she revealed she passed university after three attempts.
On Friday February 5, the distasteful tweet came to her attention. Miss Akingbade issued an open letter to “Mr Nutella Blackface describing how she sat behind her screen at work and cried after she saw the tweet, adding that she was “hurt, disgusted, angry and most of all, shocked”. Below is her open letter published by Medium:
“An Open Letter To The Man Who Racially Ridiculed Me With Nutella Blackface (that was not okay)
Dear Mr Nutella Blackface Guy (if I may call you that),
“For A Few Seconds I Felt Worth-Less … Not Very Human”
Yesterday, less than 24 hours ago, just after lunchtime, I sat behind my screen at work and burst into tears. I’m not a crier and nothing could’ve prepared me for this sudden and foreign emotion. I was hurt. I was disgusted. I was angry. Most of all I was shocked. I know I startled two of my colleagues who were sitting behind me interviewing an applicant for our events team. Everyone knows Tobi doesn’t cry.
But there I was crying and as I cried, I shook with anger trying to explain myself to my creative director who ran to my side before I truly realised I was indeed crying. She wanted to know what had happened, but I was new to this and was still trying to figure out how to speak and cry at the same time. She managed to understand the part where I told her to “look at my screen”. When she did, she understood and with that understanding reminded me of my worth. For a few seconds I felt worth-less, meaning-less and not very human.
The cause of my tears…
That’s my tweet on the left, (my caption, my picture) and on the right sits your tweet (MY caption, an image of a Caucasian-looking male in black-face induced by Nutella).
This is not oka.
“I had no idea that tweet would go viral”
In September I graduated from university after five difficult years in university. I went from being promised a first class degree in three years to spending an extra two painfully crawling towards that goal for so many personal reasons, reasons I do not wish to share with you. I had promised a lot of my followers an article detailing my journey (a promise I now wish I didn’t make as it’s taking me so long to summon up the strength to complete that article).
On the day I graduated, like the rest of my class, I tweeted a picture of myself a few hours later with the caption you can see there (I know you know of the tweet because you interacted with it a few minutes before you did what you did … and you know what you did). I had no idea that tweet would go viral on multiple social media platforms. I also could never have imagined 140 characters would have me invited to share my story in and on multiple media publications, nor did I know it would lead to me speaking at events in and outside of London. I quickly became a mentor to many and I’ve spent the following months advising people of all ages on the art of overcoming failures and the beauty of perseverance. Both concepts are a major keys to life (word to DJ Khaled).
I didn’t want the attention and I still don’t. My tweet alone, according to analytics, has been seen almost half a million times around the world and at one point I was trending in South Africa, a country I have no affiliation with culturally or even biologically (in case you were wondering or had made an assumption that I was South African). As much as I despise the attention (I cherish my privacy), I am grateful that my story has touched so many lives.
Naturally, my tweet has seduced and encouraged keyboard warriors (like yourself) to feel audacious enough to ridicule me or send me hate. I’ve ignored every form of negativity thrown at me for the last five five months. Which hasn’t been easy as I’ve been told to end my life on multiple occasions and on a good day I’ve been called retarded or been told that this is the reason why “women, especially blacks, should not go to university”. This is the first time I am responding.
“Did you not know that you veered into racism?”
You saw my tweet, and sarcastically asked me if I was going to write an article about “How to fail uni multiple times?” and then you tweeted that image. I did my investigations, I know the photo was “nabbed” from the internet but that does not make it any better.
Using a photo of someone else in blackface doesn’t eradicate the fact that you used a photo with blackface to mimic me, a black woman.
Blackface is not cool during Halloween and it’s not cool in February. Did you not know that you veered into racism when you turned me into an object of ridicule using blackface? Did you not know that blackface is a form of entertainment used to dehumanise black people so they would continue to view themselves as slaves and feel less-than-human. This is why I cried. Did you not know that what you did sits at the root of so much of the cultural contempt that has been used to oppress and stigmatise my people for centuries? Before you ask, it’s impossible to separate blackface from it’s history, if you choose to wear it or use it, you are oppressing an entire race. Fact. Did you not know that Mr Nutella Blackface? If not there are a few things I need you to remember …
Nutella Blackface, I would appreciate it if you would think before you tweet, behind every screen is a person.
Nutella Blackface, I have no intentions of trolling you (as you did with me)
Nutella Blackface, what you did was wrong.
Nutella Blackface, you can’t claim innocence due to ignorance.
Nutella Blackface, this is not about sensitivity. It’s deeper than that.
Nutella Blackface, as I typed the last sentence a friend of mine showed me an apology you tweeted to a news publication dedicated to tackling racism in the media. (smart move!)
Nutella Blackface, what you did was racist. Whether you would like to accept that or not.
Nutella Blackface, I acknowledge the fact that just before I hit publish on this article you apologised to me. Your apology came after hundreds of twitter users reported you to Twitter, dragged you across the timeline and threatened to contact your work place. Isn’t solidarity such a beautiful thing?
Nutella Blackface, as weak as your apology was, I accept it. Why? Because I have a life to live and harbouring unforgivness does nothing for my own sanity. There is no way I’m letting the actions of an ignorant Twitter warrior stay rent free in my head.
Signed with sweet and glorious melanin,
Tobi Rachel Akingbade