Q: The theme of Black History Month is ‘Proud to Be’. Can you share what this means to you?
A: To me, proud to be means being able to confidently take up space as a Black Scholar from Botswana in a predominately white environment. It means being ready to acknowledge the extra hurdles we face as people of colour and seeking ways to make it easier for those who will follow us.
My contribution to this ideal is Blackout Africa. Blackout is website-based a platform that makes scholarship opportunities more accessible to international students, as well as an environment to share my experiences as a Black Rhodes Scholar in Oxford.
Q: What is your experience of being a Black/Brown Rhodes Scholar studying at Oxford University?
A: I am still trying to find a way to reconcile two parts of my Blackness; Being Black and being Black from Southern Africa.
‘Black’ people are not monolithic, and the experiences of African American, Black British, and Black African scholars will be dramatically different.
Being a Black African Rhodes Scholar has been mostly a rewarding experience. I’ve had a chance to make friends through social events hosted by groups such as Black African Rhodes Scholars (BARS). It has been however, easy to notice that social groups mostly form depending on constituencies. I have made friends from Malawi and South Africa for example, and unfortunately not many from other constituencies. I do understand that language barriers do play a big part in that.
Q: How have you experienced community at Oxford?
A: This has been an interesting one for me because I left Africa for the first time when I moved to Oxford, and 6 months later the UK went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Rhodes has done an amazing job of moving events online, making friends and maintaining friendships has been very challenging.
As a Black person in Oxford, I have found it difficult to discuss racism because mostly people’s interactions with me are, on the surface, polite. I have found that racism here is very subtle; it is in the way I’ve had people touch my hair and the way I am under extra scrutiny at some stores compared to my non-Black friends.
In saying that, I have met amazing people of different races and backgrounds, both in the Rhodes community and Oxford in general. I’ve made friends who’ve been ready to engage in conversations about my research, my mental health activism, and my country, Botswana. My favourite experience is meeting people when I go out for walks, who take the time to say hi and make me feel like I’m a part of the community.
Q: Are there any cultural celebrations or traditions that you miss while in Oxford/ due to COVID restrictions?
A: September 30th is our Independence Day. At home, on a good year, we all make our way to my aumama’s (grandmother’s) house for a couple of days. The grandkids chat the night away in front of the TV and occasionally run outside to watch the neighbours’ fireworks. I miss that! And I miss my mum and grandma shushing us throughout the night because we’re laughing too loud.
I also miss attending events with mum at the national stadium. Before COVID, we would go watch the celebrations there on the eve of Independence Day together. We’d get dolled up together! Even from Oxford, I still help pick out her outfits. Now all I need is for her to take better selfies.
Dineo Diana Mya Serame (Botswana & Hertford 2019) is currently doing her DPhil in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Oxford. She is among other things a performance poet and has contributed to publications in Kalahari Review, Button Poetry and Odd magazine. She is a survivor of bipolar disorder and that has driven her towards mental health activism, using different platforms like her TEDx talk titled ‘Crazy Woman’ to raise awareness on mental health in Botswana.
Dineo is currently working on a poetry collection book alongside her social media ambassadorial work with the Rhodes Trust. She is also a content creator, using her website (www.blackoutafrica.com) to highlight the experiences of international students in the UK, talk about current affairs, mental health services as well as share scholarship opportunities.
Throughout Black History Month, we will be celebrating and sharing the stories and experiences of Black and Brown Rhodes Scholars. Find out about how the Rhodes Trust is examining its own legacy and focusing on eliminating racism: https://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/impact-legacy/legacy-equity-inclusion/