Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
Ridwan ‘Rid’ Babalola (24), master’s student in Economics from the UK, has a tattoo of the word ‘Free’ on his ribs.
“After I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2015 I worked for a while as a recruiter in London. Before I started there I had to do several workshops and the trainer gave us feedback on things like our interview skills. Her main comment was that my accent was ‘too ghetto’. I was completely taken aback and didn’t know what to say. How can I change my accent? She in turn was shocked by my reaction; she saw that she’d said something wrong and apologised. My group also had a Spanish girl and girl who spoke in a London ‘cockney’ dialect. The trainer didn’t comment on either of their accents. I don’t think it was racism, but it is about pigeonholing people. ‘Ghetto’ is one of the many associations people make with ‘blackness’. For me the ideal world is one where this kind of thinking doesn’t happen.
This putting people in boxes doesn’t have only downsides. It’s already happened twice that I’ve gone out in Maastricht and totally random girls have asked me to take a photo with them. I’m one of the few black men in the Maastricht nightlife; one and one is two. It’s kind of fun, but it’s still wrong. People should pay attention to me for who I am, not because I’m black. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to be black, but I can come up with so many ways of describing myself before I get to that.
If ‘blackness’ were a box that someone chooses, like supporting a sports club or joining a political party, it wouldn’t be a problem. That says that these people love the same club or share a political preference, but skin colour says absolutely nothing about a person. I was born and raised in the UK. How can you compare me to a black man from Jamaica?
For a long time I didn’t know how to deal with this – until I read Beyond good and evil by Friedrich Nietzsche and listened to lectures by Alan Watts and Frantz Fanon. I realised that true freedom is letting go, not having to choose. That’s why I got the tattoo ‘free’. My advice for people who are placed in this concept of ‘blackness’ or other boxes that they didn’t ‘sign up’ for is: let it go. Have faith that this group doesn’t define you and separate yourself from stereotypes. The tattoo reminds me of this whenever I feel marginalised. To stay positive and to trust that people look at the person ‘Rid’, and don’t first see the idea of ‘blackness’.”
In this series, employees and students are interviewed about their tattoo.