[image: Andersen Ross/Getty Images]

Can you hear me?

I generally always did well at school. Things started to get a little shaky in secondary school but, overall, I did ok. I got on well with the majority of my teachers, and was usually a favourite, even when I ended up being sent out of the classroom for talking or laughing too much.

Yep. I got into trouble, and probably unusually more than others in the same set as me. I even got suspended a couple of times — for silly reasons. However, I still became Head Girl. My mistakes didn’t define me. I was given the space to be myself, learn and grow. I was able to tumble over, stand back up, dust myself off and stand out.

Even with this fantastic overall experience, there were some weird moments. One particular moment comes to mind. I was in Year 8 or 9; so I’m 13 or 14, and in top set English. The teacher asks a question, my hand goes up, she eventually gets to me, and I answer the question. “Okay, anyone else…” Another student raises their hand, “Fantastic, Imogen!”

I turn to my friend, we bend our heads a little closer so we’re not heard, and I whisper, “Wait, didn’t I just say that?”

My friend looks at me, wide-eyed, nodding and sharply responding, “Yes!”

I think, hmmm, ok, maybe, ummm… maybe I wasn’t clear. Ok, no problem. Let’s try again.

Another question, my hand shoots up. I give the answer and again, don’t get a real response from the teacher, she is still waiting for the correct answer. Imogen is given the opportunity to speak again, “Excellent, yes! Well done, Imogen!”

I face my friend again, eyes and mouth agape, my friend mirroring my disbelief, and I angrily whisper, “I JUST SAID THAT!”

Luckily, this teacher was standing in for our regular teacher, but I can only imagine how she would have impacted my academic experience if she was a permanent fixture. I think back now and wonder why this teacher couldn’t or didn’t want to hear me. Perhaps she walked in, already deciding who the best students were. Perhaps my answers weren’t of a quality she found to be suitable. I imagine how many others like me she may have gone on to dismiss in this way, and how this may have made them believe they had nothing of value to say.

Fast forward to the present, and to you. We’re all biased in some way. I invite you to consider where you fit in on this scale.

How do you behave when you come across someone different from you? Like a black person, or even more “scary”, a confident black person! 😱

What is your perception of them? How do they make you feel?

We know you see us. But, can you hear us? Do you even want to?

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Lola Oguntokun

Lola Oguntokun

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I help build, shape and champion innovative companies and culture.