It’s 1.00am, my friend and co-worker Nkechi and I have just completed a mammoth day.
In between watching music performances at a festival, we do two live radio crosses to the respective radio stations we work for and an interview; emcee a stage; moderate a discussion on hip hop music in Australia; and put together and present a three-hour radio program in a studio neither of us has ever been in.
Nkechi is the kind of woman you want by your side when you decide to create a website, interview hundreds of people, and run major events. Which is exactly what we embarked on in 2015 and continue to do today through our website The Pin.
We are friends but we are also colleagues having met through work. In 2011 I had a much different career envisaged for myself and worked as a trainee in a library. My first proper conversation with Nkechi happened at the returns conveyor belt lamenting the difficulties of Afro hair. As a black woman it’s rare to occupy a work space with another woman of colour, particularly a woman who is also Nigerian-Australian.
From our first conversation till now, our relationship has involved unpacking our identities as African-Australian women and supporting each other through whatever comes our way. The creation of The Pin website, a platform for discussions about race, culture, and identity, seemed a natural extension of this.
Following my move interstate to Hobart in 2015, the interactions I was having in public spaces about my identity and the objectivity I experienced as a woman of colour had become more frequent. From uninvited touching of my Afro hair, to probing questions about where I am from, and ‘compliments’ about my skill with the English language (my native tongue), I had reverse culture shock without having ever left Australia and found great solace in the relationship I have with Nkechi.
Borne from one such conversation with Nkechi, and following a particularly heinous experience where I was asked where I am from by one man in a sauna, and then another man in a spa a few moments later, The Pin came into existence. I’d specifically moved from one space to another because I was made to feel uncomfortable by two male strangers. Nkechi’s understanding of what I experienced and dissecting those interactions with her as both a woman of colour and friend was invaluable. She suggested we create a platform to support meet likeminded folk and support one another. I suggested a blog. The Pin came into existence.
When we started The Pin, the balance between friendship and our working relationship was an important first step we missed. Yet, less than a year in and we were forced to rethink our dynamic as our friendship became a vehicle for guilt. We threw ourselves headfirst into the project and were lifted by the encouragement of other powerful women of colour who generously contributed to our unique online archive – Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Faustina Agolley, Sampa the Great, and Ngaiire to name a few.
We found common ground in our invisible and objectified bodies:
There is nothing more demoralising than not being heard and not feeling like you even exist in the society that you live in. Right now, we don’t exist. Women of colour don’t exist in our public spaces.
In our support of one another:
In the state that Australia is in, there is racism in this country but because it’s so underlying and not in your face, other people think it’s not a thing. I think the only way to combat that is, for me as an artist and as somebody who has the opportunity to speak, is to make sure that I also support other artists of colour or diversity. I get asked about my top five artists that I’m listening to right now and I always make sure there are a few females in there and artists of colour or other ethnicities.
Our feelings of isolation:
Now I look back I remember so many black artists that would visit Australia and tell me, 'You’re the first black person I’ve seen in this country.’
Our desire to rise above:
Female. Black. It’s not a mistake. Walk in it with no fear.
Sampa the Great
And learning to have pride:
There’s so much to be proud of and to be grateful for.
Learning from other powerful women spurred us into content creation overdrive and guilt began to take hold. It stemmed from feeling like the other friend was doing more, and then doing more to compensate. About eight months into the project we began to run out of steam. After several conversations centred entirely on work we realised we had become entirely website focussed and in need of a reset. Our once exciting and aspirational chats were being replaced with apology laden diatribes from the both of us, and while we were still creating and posting content. It had become a chore.
Nkechi, as an internationally touring musician with Melbourne band Saskwatch, is perhaps more attuned to the importance of self-care and abruptly shut down a middle of the day Pin chat with an honest and necessary assertion that she needed to compartmentalise to stay sane. Accordingly, we established boundaries and re-found our friendship.
This experience has taught me a number of important lessons like:
Have real expectations: Know what you’re capable of and be honest with yourself and your co-worker/friend. How much can you really achieve in a week, month, or year?
Separate your life from work: Communicate when it’s a work conversation, and when it’s not. Schedule work conversations, and set deadlines to it cropping up unnecessarily.
Find your balance: Set aside blocks of time in your week for your shared project and mentally box it away when it’s leisure time.
Remember why you’re doing it: The very first Pin ‘meeting’ is something I reflect upon often. It wasn’t about structure, or limitations…we started with nothing but ideas, a whiteboard, a Gmail account, and pure ambition bolstered by the knowledge that we had each other’s back. We created The Pin because it felt like such a necessary support that did not exist. Running The Pin can feel overwhelming, especially when it’s pinioned between a busy work week and life – but going back to that moment always reinvigorates me.
Support each other: It’s just as important to maintain the ‘ride or die’ friendship that started a project, as the project itself. Look out for each other and put the relationships you’ve forged – the friendship and work relationship – first.
As two women of colour, The Pin is important to navigating a media landscape where positive representations of people of colour are often absent. It has enabled us to broaden the conversations we’ve always had as friends to include other people and create a network of support.
If there is a ‘takeaway’ from our experience with The Pin, it is in the realisation that our friendship is central to the whole project. Without it, The Pin would not exist, the hundreds of interviews would not have happened, and we would not have found ourselves standing outside a radio studio at 1.00am, in a city neither of us live in, celebrating the conclusion of another Pin event.