Unwanted nicknames, constant misspellings, and repeated mispronunciations are some of the microaggressions people of colour regularly experience. Those with unique names can relate to how frustrating and tiring it can become having to remind others how to say your name correctly, and when you don’t bother, it can feel like you’re suppressing part of your identity.
Former “Love Island” star Yewande Biala has long been a champion for calling out these microagressions since her appearance on the reality TV show in 2019. The Irish star quickly became a fan favourite but was faced with fellow Islanders repeatedly getting her name wrong.
After leaving the villa, she wrote a poignant piece for The Independent on the importance of owning your identity. “It can be a monumental task to get aggressors to realise that they are delivering microaggressions, because it’s terrifying for them to realise they may have biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings against individuals from ethnic groups,” she wrote. Biala received a hugely positive response on social media for speaking out. It became an empowering moment for her, as well as people of colour who related to the racialised renaming experiences she articulately shared.
As a result, Biala has now written a new book, “Reclaiming”, which is a nonfiction collection of essays that form an extension to the newspaper article. “I wrote that piece literally from the heart, exactly how I felt, and I just never thought it would get the reception it did,” she tells POPSUGAR. “I used to not like speaking in public and voicing my opinion, but this was different because it was something that directly impacted me personally, and it was something that I have to speak out on.”
“In a world that is always destined to speak over you, speak louder.”
Despite the fact that Biala had always loved writing, becoming an author was not something she had seen as a career for herself, having previously worked as a scientist. Yet the support she received encouraged her to be the narrator of her own story. As such, “Reclaiming” features chapters on colourism, mental health, religion, friendship, dating, and more. Writing on these broad topics allowed her to address the loss of identity many people of colour have experienced through forced assimilation.
Biala writes that she often felt like a burden and invalidated when people asked if she had a nickname throughout her life, but she credits her mother with giving her the power to acknowledge the cultural significance of her Nigerian name. “As I became older and developed my multicultural competence, I decided to stop trying to make others comfortable at my own expense,” she writes.
It was the chapter on mental health that she felt most nervous about writing. “I always feel like if you’re going to write a nonfiction book, and you’re going to write about important issues, you owe it to your reader to be as open as possible,” she tells us. “With this chapter, I wanted to be honest, and that’s why it’s so different from the other chapters structure-wise. It’s written like a dear-diary format where you can see dates from the beginning of my issues with mental health right down to where I am now, so I think that was my hardest one because it was personal.”
Biala is refreshingly open, giving an account about how she experienced depression in her early 20s, before appearing on “Love Island”, and how her mental well-being started to affect her relationship with eating. “I’d become a stranger when I looked in the mirror and was met with a reflection that I didn’t recognise,” she writes. Her honesty, and the hurdles she has overcome, will undoubtedly help others.
Although Biala is mindful that not every person who reads about her experience with racism, views on colourism, or musings about dating as a Black woman will understand her perspective, she hopes the book can positively change people’s mindsets. “Although I wanted to write for everyone, whether it was educating people or it was a piece people could relate with, I knew that everybody wasn’t going to get it. But even if five people understand, and they take something from it, to me, that’s enough,” she affirms.
As much as “Reclaiming” gives fans who’ve supported Biala since her appearance on reality TV the chance to learn about her journey of reclaiming her true sense of identity, it also encourages people who’ve struggled to find their voice to speak their truth and take pride in all essences that make them the person they are.
And what advice would she like to share with readers? “In a world that is always destined to speak over you, speak louder,” she says. We couldn’t agree more.
“Reclaiming” by Yewande Biala is available to buy in stores and online at WHSmith, Waterstones, and Amazon.