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I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be interviewing bride-to-be, freelance journalist and co-founder of Black Ballad, (a cutting edge niche lifestyle platform, that celebrates the human experience through the eyes of black British women); Tobi Oredein.
Some of you may already be familiar with Tobi from earlier articles I shared after the passionate article she wrote for The Pool: Excluded by the wedding industry black brides turn to Instagram , went viral earlier this year.
Tobi, who describes herself as a British-Nigerian Millennial, is engaged to Bola and due to marry in an elegant spring wedding in East London next year and I caught up with her over some cocktails to get the lo-down.
It was hard to stop us from talking, finishing each others sentences, nodding in agreement and sharing some of our frustrations and triumphs of weddings, relationships, racism, journalism, defining careers for ourselves and our experiences as black British women. She is a pleasure to talk to. Her confidence is infectious and her transparency is a breath of fresh air, she says it like it is.
Tobi stared her career in journalism fresh out of Kings College University, at 21. She experienced a number of all-too-familiar barriers and challenges getting full-time work in journalism, which motivated her to start her own platform alongside her freelance career, which was catapulted when she wrote an article on Buzzfeed about being black-British Nigerian adopted by white parents . As such, as well as running Black Ballad she is also a sought after freelance journalist and regularly writes for publications including Elle UK, Stylist, Red, British Glamour and Buzz-feed to name a few.
Tobi was raised by her (adoptive) parents from 10 days old and it was at the tender age of 6, she had to make an almighty decision, to stay in England with the white British family that had played the lead role in raising her, or travel to Nigeria with her biological parents, a country and environment that was alien to her. She chose to stay. And that decision didn’t come without consequence, as race, identity and culture started to confront her as she entered her childhood and more-so teenage years navigating the prejudice and complexities of being a black child, raised by white parents in East London.
When Tobi shared that she was adopted at the end of our interview, everything clicked and I have no doubt that her upbringing and experience with understanding her identity through adoption has influenced her desire to story-tell, to shine a spotlight on stories from black women, as well as shape the confident, adaptable, passionate and wildly intelligent woman that she is.
Grab a cuppa – Over to Tobi – with gorgeous images from Tobi and Bola’s engagement shoot from Tracy Watson Photography
Growing Up & Discovering Journalism
I was raised as an only child, as such, magazines felt like I was talking to somebody at home, like a friend or sibling. I was completely addicted to Cosmogirl , it broached topics I would never discuss with my parents and that was my inspiration to be a journalist.
At University I always focused on researching and writing about race related subjects and that became my area of interest.
Getting a full-time job was hard. I applied for about a year without getting any work, journalism is very elitist, it’s not purely down to your talent, it’s about who you know and I just could not get in the door. I wanted to work at a magazine that was established and bring diversity there, and I thought I was going to be able to, but I honestly don’t know if you can, not in a way that’s truthful. So I wanted to create something fresh and relevant and decided to create my own publication, Black Ballad, which I co-founded with Bola in 2014 and received funding via a successful crowd-funding campaign.
I noticed that when people become aware I write for mainstream publications too, people respect Black Ballad more. I understand why, but it’s something I have struggled to come to terms with. I feel it’s a shame that people treat you differently (better) only when they see you are a publisher or have associations with a mainstream platform.
Proposal and Wedding Plans
Bola and I met 6 years ago, we’re both of Nigerian heritage. We met on Bola’s 21st birthday at an ACS University event. Apparently we had met before, (I don’t recall) when we were introduced by a mutual friend.
We got engaged in March 2017. I had been working hard on Black Ballad and Bola suggested a short break away as it gets intense, so we decided to have a break in the city, had a lovely dinner at The Savoy and took a long romantic walk across The Strand, London. We spent the evening reminiscing about our 6 years together and when we got back to our hotel, he proposed. We had spoken about marriage, I knew we would get engaged this year, but I didn’t know it was going to happen at that moment.I didn’t suspect it would be on our 6 year anniversary, because it was too obvious. But thank God I got my nails done in the morning! (Nu Bride: LOL!)
We are having a traditional Nigerian wedding in Nigeria in November 2017, this tradition is to honour Bola’s parents and my biological parents and our Nigerian heritage, then the rest of 2018, we will focus on adding the final touches to our white wedding in Spring, which is for us.
We’re getting married in East London, in our local church followed by a marquee reception with too many people!
We’re going for a very clean, white, bright look with splashes of blossom-blush pink in the fashion and detail accents. Black Ballad and our passions will be very much present on the day too. I’ll be walking down the aisle with my mum. I couldn’t imagine being able to do it without her by my side, as my father passed away when I was 17.
Bola and I have been very focused on our marriage, rather than the wedding day itself. Which surprised me (in a good way!) I thought I would be the opposite, as I am a very organised person. I like to know every detail and thought I would get consumed with that, but I haven’t. We planned the bulk of our wedding in April 2017 and there is nothing else left to do. We recognised that we need to take care of each other, Black Ballad, church commitments, which has enabled us to be so focused on our life after the wedding day and not get fixated on the planning.
The most important part of the wedding planning journey for us so far, has been marriage counselling and taking advice from both our churches about marriage and also the people around us.
Making sure home is home and the office is the office. We want to make sure we separate work from home and not being distracted by the demands of running our own business.
Making sure we’re settling in church, as a couple, is really important for us as well as settling into living together. Moving in with each other exposes things you don’t know about each other. As Christians, we believe in moving in with each other after marriage. So once we’re married, it will be living together that will feel different for us.
Christianity, Feminism and Marriage
Can you be a feminist and still get married?
I’m a black feminist. If you feel like getting married doesn’t mean you can still be a feminist anymore, I don’t believe you have a firm belief on what feminism is in the first place.
Marriage shouldn’t restrict your attitudes to life and what you want in terms of equal rights. I personally feel that meeting my husband-to-be, Bola has emboldened me, I couldn’t run Black Ballad without him, I’ve never endured anything from him but support
We’re thinking about whether I will change my name or not and I will most likely keep my maiden name, professionally and legally and at home I am changing it to his last name. For me, it also helps with office and the ‘at home’ dynamic – I like to keep them separate – in the office we’re business partners and at home we’re man and wife.
Christianity tells us that a Christian man is the head of the household. To us this isn’t about Bola telling me what to do, or being the sole earner. Bola once said to me;
What can I do to help you thrive?
(It was at that point I knew he was the one).
To him, the role of a husband as a Christian man is about his responsibility to make the best living conditions for me, his wife, to thrive.
Professionally I’m the boss and personally Bola’s the boss. I’m very opinionated and outspoken, but I’m terrible at making personal decisions! (Nu Bride: she’s right she was so indecisive when ordering her cocktail and asked the waitress to pick, reminded me of my own indecision LOL) Bola’s decisiveness is one of the things I admire about him. He makes better personal life decisions and can sleep well about it, regardless. He is very fluid in his behaviour and this creates such a great balance in our relationship.
My pastors at church are man and wife and their relationship is very equal. They run it together. He is open about giving her credit and being transparent about what and how much she does. My parents, the people who have raised me and witnessing their relationship, introduced me to equal roles in the household.
I always saw a partnership. Who takes the lead isn’t about gender – it’s about who is strongest in any given setting. Who is naturally good at this. Roles in my household weren’t defined by gender they weren’t fixed it – who cooked was based on who was home first!
The Wedding Industry and The Pool Article
The Pool article was inspired by my own engagement experience as well as my best friend, who got engaged a couple of months before me in January 2017. We were talking about how she and I were so infuriated that when we picked up a magazine, looked on a website for venues, dresses or any sort of wedding service, the bride was always depicted as “white”
And I am not saying that white people don’t get married, or that white women aren’t beautiful, but I thought there is something very wrong with the industry when the bride is always depicted as white.
I think the final straw for me following my engagement was when I picked up a brochure for a wedding venue which featured multiple couples, they even had interracial couples, I noticed the man was black or Asian, but again the woman was always white, there was no reference at all of black women. Why?
It ties into the dangerous narrative that black women are undesirable. That marriage, which is unfortunately still seen by some as the highest achievement for women, is only reserved for white women.
I was complaining about it with my best friend all the time and my fiancé was sick of me venting. So I thought, hold on a minute, I’m a freelance journalist, let me just write about it. So I wrote the article for my best friend. I always write about what I am passionate about in my work. I am always honest when I write and to the point. I love The Pool and thought the article would be best placed there and would be well looked after – it would not be edited or dilute my voice.
I could not believe the response, especially on social media. It went viral! Social media is at its peak right now and the response to my article was indicative of that (Nu Bride: Yup it went nuts, I was being tagged left, right and centre lol)
I chose to write in the mainstream because I think its’ very important for black women to tell their own stories in these spaces (Nu Bride: 100% agreed).
I know, if I had written this article on my own platform, Black Ballad, it wouldn’t have had this response.
My readers already know this, they are already part of this conversation – it’s been a part of our conversation for a very long time. So as a journalist it is very much about making a distinction about where the conversation needs to happen.
I think the wedding industry is so behind with the way it represents women of colour is because it combines the fashion, beauty and the media industries.
1 The fashion industry is institutionally racist. We already know that. 2 The beauty industry has problems with diversity, we know that women of colour are still struggling to find products for their skin tone, they can’t walk into any beauty counter in the UK and find a shade that works for them, yes it’s improved greatly, but there are still known problems here.
3 And there’s the media industry, an industry difficult to infiltrate where over 90% of journalists are white. I believe if you add these three industries and issues into one, the wedding industry has a long way to go and that I believe is the problem.
During my wedding dress shopping, I was looking at wedding dresses with nude mesh – none of the nude I tried on was ‘my nude’ and this made me think it wasn’t available in my skin tone. The fact that it’s not a natural thought process for an adviser to inform me that if I was worried about colour matching that it comes in a variety of skin tones makes me think that they are not thinking of me – they are not thinking that this might be a concern for me and has contributed to me not buying the dress.
I’ve not been to one wedding dress shop where I’ve seen a black model/woman used in the marketing or displayed on the shop wall – in East London, one of, if not the most diverse boroughs in the country and to think there is not one woman of colour on the walls baffles me.
Boutique owners will say they rely on images from the designers.
Publishers will say they don’t get enough diverse submissions.
I feel it’s all an excuse.
For example, they could do more to help by asking real life brides if they feel comfortable to share their images for use on social media and indeed on printed display in boutiques. We, as brides want to see what real women look like in dresses and this isn’t just about colour, but about size, to see dresses on a variety of bodies. They could hire diverse staff members, talk to them, consult with them, to better connect with wider communities.
It’s also up to the designers to think about the women they are using in their campaigns, to be more aware of where they may be sending those campaign images and who is going to see and be impacted by them. There is much more so many businesses can be doing to include more women of colour.
At the end of the day it all comes down to desire. Are they intrigued enough?
Well Dear Tobi, the proof is in the pudding!
To all those who reached out to me following Tobi’s article in The Pool to offer their help, services or simply shared common experience, thank you. It hasn’t gone unnoticed and there are some great brands and inclusive businesses out there I am very proud to be associated with, but I am also acutely aware of the barriers and systemic issues of diversity & equality that we face in the wedding industry (and beyond) and will continue to educate about how to make changes to be more inclusive in business, raise awareness and provide support for those that ARE intrigued enough.
Tobi – Thank you so much for joining Nu Bride today and sharing a part of your journey through this crazy little thing called life with me. I wish you and Bola all the very best for your traditional Nigerian ceremony in Nigeria next month and the preparations for your western wedding next year and indeed, your journey to marriage and all that it brings thereafter. I am so glad you found Nu Bride.
Engagement Photos: Tracey Watson Photography
Engagement shoot venue: Geffrye Museum