Maya Angelou once wrote: “When you know you are of worth, you don’t have to raise your voice, you don’t have to become rude, you don’t have to become vulgar; you just are. And you are like the sky is, as the air is, the same way water is wet. It doesn’t have to protest.”
In the brief exchange I had with Africa Daley-Clarke, and reading back her interview for The Grace Tales, it is uplifting to discover such principles, poise and gentle power springing from the page.
Without the privilege of time – Africa works as a showroom and design manager and is mother to two little girls, Israel, three, and Ezra, one. Early last year she began to use her voice to open up the dialogue surrounding postnatal depression on her blog The Vitamin D Project. She has also been championing the lack of representation and diversity in children’s books and brands.
“Being a black woman in the UK today is a political act in itself,” she says. “Knowing that your existence, by default, is more likely to intimidate, you seek solace in the few safe spaces where you can be your true, authentic self. A common analogy of returning home each day is removing your physical armour at the door, [a] false exterior that serves as a thin protection – that generates a lot of emotional baggage also. I have spent much of my working life code-switching to assimilate, down-playing painful micro-aggressions in professional settings and being wrongly accused of [being] aggressive where ‘assertive’ would be better placed.”
And the lesson that she hopes to instil in her daughters is one we could all do with telling ourselves.
“It’s a contradiction, but we don’t want them to ever hold anyone else’s opinion of themselves in higher regard than their own, while realising there is greater joy in putting other people first,” she says. “Having a healthy sense of self-worth is important but it shouldn’t ever be confused with the importance of being kind.”
On The Grace Tales, we aspire to bring you snapshots of motherhood that inspire and resonate – the ‘grace’ is the dignity with which we all wish to raise our families, the ‘tale’ reveals the day-to-day struggles in getting there.
So many of Africa’s words have inspired us – her desire for greater racial equality, her approach to raising girls and her healthy handling of social media. If you read only one ‘Grace Tale’ this year – make it this one.
Photography: Alice Whitby | Words: Claire Brayford | Go to www.thevitamindproject.com
Tell us about your childhood...
I grew up in Camden Town, a third generation immigrant, raised by my single mum in a time where having little economic security meant you were at least part of a strong community fuelled by a desire to provide. My dad, despite not living with us, was a huge part of my life growing up and I have fond memories of weekends spent with him and my extended siblings in Ealing and Summers in West Yorkshire with my Grandma.
Who had the biggest influence on you?
Despite working 14 hour shifts, 6 days a week, my dad always displayed this youthful exuberance when it came to his kids. There was never a time when he wasn’t approachable and he played a huge part in empowering me to carve out my own narrative as a Black woman in the face of adversity.
Tell us about your fight for greater racial equality? What personal experiences do you draw upon?
Being a black woman in the UK today, is a political act in itself. Knowing that your existence, by default, is more likely to intimidate, you seek solace in the few safe spaces where you can be your true authentic self. A common analogy of returning home each day is removing your physical armour at the door, your false exterior that serves as a thin protection – that generates a lot of emotional baggage also. I have spent much of my working life, code-switching to assimilate, down-playing painful micro-aggressions in professional settings and being wrongly accused of aggressive where “assertive” would be better placed. I have recently had the challenge of putting my money where my mouth is, by standing up against a long drawn out, racially motivated personal tirade in my place of work. Pre-children I would have taken that mental trauma home, unloaded it onto my loved ones and allowed it to continue daily, putting my salary above my sanity. Raising black girls, I constantly sense check situations I face by thinking on the advice I’d give my children in similar instances.
My fight for greater racial equality primarily starts at home – carving out safe spaces for my children, countering a white-washed narrative in their books and toys with an abundance of healthy representation and breaking generational curses by working through any possible unpacked issues my husband and I may have to ensure we don’t unknowingly offload them on our children.
How are you taking a stand against the lack of representation and diversity in children’s books and brands?
I spent much of last year somewhat of a broken record, very vocal about the shocking under representation of BAME children in the #shopsmall community. Despite a very modest following, I built a significant amount of traction, as this was clearly on the minds of many, but rather than real change, I was met with blatant tokenism by most brands. I took a stand with my hard earned money. I stopped buying from any brands I no longer believed were ethical (you can not be a tokenistic or whitewashed brand and refer to yourself as ethical) and actually sold or donated any clothing from them. Rather than speak negatively about those brands, I started to shout about the few that were doing really great and I have found that although a small action, it had a great impact.
Is it possible to make money and make a difference?
I don’t think it’s sustainable to attempt to make a difference without being paid. Time is money afterall. There will be countless opportunities that arise such as this one, that are unpaid, despite requiring huge amounts of emotional labour. Whilst it frustrates me to my core that white women are continuously paid higher rates for the same work, I find it more problematic, that even when they also accept unpaid projects, they are much less likely to be required to lean on emotionally traumatic experiences for content.
Before accepting this particular unpaid piece, I leaned on my network of content creators from BAME backgrounds to ask for their advice. The group was founded by a leader in this industry to ensure that creators from a minority background had a safe space to sound-check projects and cross reference pay offers reducing the chances of being underpaid. It’s been a real support to me this year. The general consensus was that unfortunately, sometimes, in order to be the change that we want to see, some projects are worth taking on to simply spread our message to a wider audience.
Tell us about your different work roles and how you juggle them, and which do you find the most rewarding?
Up until recently, I was working a 40 hour week in a dynamic role managing Interior Design Showrooms. I was in a fortunate position to be able to write my own schedule and on returning from my second Mat Leave, we decided as a family that four long shifts were more beneficial to us than 5 regular ones. This allowed me one day off during the week with both children in full time childcare to dedicate to housekeeping and personal social projects. As I also worked Saturday’s, my family were able to create a really special ritual of a fun day with daddy (without me in tow). The girls have the most special relationship with their dad and I think having that one day where they don’t have to follow a routine and can just have fun plays a crucial part in the relationship they enjoy today.
Having a working structure is integral to my personality type. I thrive on routine (as long as I’m in control of it!) so it will never be an option for me to give up work entirely. I credit my previous role for reigniting my fire with Interior Design -working in a furniture heavy environment also kept me very grounded when making decisions in our recent move.
What does being a good mother mean to you?
Being able to leave your feelings at the door and adapt to the vulnerabilities of your child in the moment. Granted, that becomes a lot harder when you have more than one child to care for.
What kind of a mother do you aspire to be?
Whatever my children need from me.
When did you realise you were suffering from post-natal depression? How did it affect you?
I’ve blogged a lot about those early days suffering from PND and while it was very cathartic at the time, I also find it quite triggering dipping back into those feelings again. It’s important to note, neither my husband or I realised what I was going through was post-natal depression. I was at least 4 months deep in a very dark place before my health visitor made the call and acknowledged it for what it was.
Did you feel supported as a mother? Who did you turn to for support?
I used to snort at those “It takes a village” type comments. What village? Where? I also think there is a huge assumption that because the Western World prides itself on being so self-sufficient, people often assume that those from minority backgrounds are more likely to have an extended family support. In the early days, I certainly didn’t feel supported as a mother – at least not by anyone other than my husband who as you know was integral to getting me through PND. However, 3.5 years on, I’m very happy to say we have a great support network of close friends and particularly family that go above and beyond to support not only me as a mother, but my husband and children too. In hindsight, it’s important for me to acknowledge that forging these important bonds is a 2-way street and these relationships are not always natural and require mutual work from all involved. Several months ago I wrote a blog post outlining a toxic relationship I had with my mother. That caused huge rifts. But in the aftermath, the most beautiful thing came from it, my mother and I, for the first time in our lives, were able to work on building a healthy relationship. We all benefit from this, most of all my children. I’ve learned that to be supported you have to be willing to let go of barriers and a huge part of me writing that post was about choosing to let go of old emotions.
Have there been times when you have felt isolated?
Absolutely, but again, I have to acknowledge how unapproachable I may have been in those times and I’m grateful to be in a different place now.
How did The Vitamin D Project help you to heal?
It gave me the opportunity to share my truth with all my loved ones at the same time. I must acknowledge that this was also a huge weight off Jermel’s shoulders. In the wake of my first post I had some of his colleagues reach out to me to share their struggles with depression and many of his friends too, I think it was important to illustrate how and why Jermel had been absent from social settings for so long too.
It also goes without saying that The Vitamin D Project has allowed me to forge some great relationships in real life via people I’ve met online. I’ll forever be grateful for that.
And how has it helped others?
I know that some may feel I’ve done a disservice, by speaking openly about PND issues, then choosing not to continue to discuss it regularly. I personally think it’s important for people to be able to see that it’s possible to lead a fulfilling life while dealing with depression. I try not to ever sugar coat issues, I actively refrain from dulling down my emotions and whilst I don’t believe in providing Trauma Porn for viewing, I always try to do a helpful post when I’ve managed to pull myself out of a deep rut.
How did you feel about returning to work after the birth of your children?
After Israel, I had a really negative experience with my first company that ultimately led to me leaving and not working again for some time. After Ezra was born, despite being new in my company, I felt very confident in returning as I had established my value to the company before leaving. It was really important to me having that second experience to outline just how isolated (and unjust) my first experience was.
How old are Israel and Ezra now? They are so beautiful btw!
(Thank you!) My girls are 25 months apart, approaching 4 and 2. Israel towers over her classmates so a lot of people assume there’s a bigger age gap (she wears age 5-6!) whilst Ezra has always been quite true to size.
How would you describe your relationship with your girls?
Me and Jermel try to have conversations about our parenting styles often so that we can talk about any concerns or changes in how we want to raise them. Just last week, I said to Jermel, I finally feel like I’ve nailed creating a safe space and displaying natural affection. That might read strange to most mums but we didn’t come from an environment where we hugged/kissed/verbalised our love. I spent a long time working on myself ensuring I went out of my way to flood Israel and Ezra with this “norm” and I’m glad to say that now it’s second nature. I grew up with a handful of friends that had really affectionate parents and I always thought it was super weird but I think I secretly coveted it. We have that now. There is no doubt in my mind that both girls feel safe and loved. But, working on that actually consumed so much of my time that I failed to juggle that with other “norms” like taking the lead of the bedtime routine or cooking their meals etc. I’m really working hard on that next part of our relationship -it may seem trivial to others – but my goal is that they no longer associate mum or dad with any specific duties.
How would you describe them?
They certainly don’t conform to any gender norms. Whilst they have entirely different personalities, they are both so head-strong, full of life and one trait that’s shining through so much in Israel at the moment is her kind and caring nature.
Having an older sibling has meant that Ezra has an unrivalled confidence that’s quite uncommon in children of her age. You will find her front and centre of any activity and she never lets the bigger kids get in her way.
What is the most important lesson you want them to learn?
It’s a contradiction, but we don’t want them to ever hold anyone else’s opinion of themselves in higher regard than their own, but also realise there is greater joy in putting other people first. Having a healthy sense of self-worth is important and shouldn’t ever be confused for the importance of being kind.
You and your daughters have incredible style - how do you like to dress the girls – and are there any brands you love for childrenswear? And do you have any brands or pieces that you rely on for yourself for work/family time etc?
I have an unhealthy passion for quality design. True craftsmanship, be it interiors or clothing, has always made my heart sing. I like to dress our girls in a way that compliments both their skin tone, their personalities and their activities. All of their clothing should allow for a full range of free movement – it’s so important to me that clothing doesn’t inhibit play but actually makes it easier. Whilst their personalities continue to form, I think it’s important that I don’t subject them to slogans reflecting my thoughts – for this reason I avoid all logos and slogans. Lastly, I just really love choosing colours that compliment their skin tones. I love choosing a range of colours that work together beautifully.
As for brands, my go to will always be vintage followed by small ethical brands and where that’s not possible, I buy smart from the high street, favouring natural fibres, in tonal colours that can form core staples in our wardrobes rather than end up in land-fill after the season.
What has been the most surprising part of motherhood for you? And what has been the hardest?
I think I’ve been most surprised by how little they’ve “taken over” our lives and rather how much direction they’ve provided. I like to refer to them as “anchors”, keeping us grounded, rather than a ball and chain.
Tell us about your new approach to social media and how you occupy the space and manage the time it takes up in your life? Why have you decided to change your approach?
The deeper my captions became, it no longer felt appropriate to attach them to images of the children. I have always been extremely present on stories and I think my visibility is one of the things that allowed followers to feel it was a safe enough space to engage on such important topics discussed. I now plan to take a much more structured approach to my feed, scheduling posts and putting in the work in advance rather than throwing together a quick caption in the morning. I hope it will allow me to enforce boundaries and reduce time spent on the app, but also, the new routine should provide a lot more beneficial to my followers also, as I’m going to have to be a lot more present on the days that I do post.
Do you consider it a healthy space especially for mums and why?
That is a subjective question. I am very conscious of who I follow and as a result, I find instagram to be an uplifting space. I have no qualms in muting or unfollowing regular content that encourages me to spend money or feel inferior and I think that plays a large part in it.
What are your thoughts on Clemmie Hooper and how it has affected her? Have you ever been trolled?
An interesting phrase of question as there is no reference to her actions, rather an emphasis on her feelings. I have no opinion on her feelings, given her actions. I think Clemmie’s actions in private were the perfect example of what can happen when society holds individuals on such a high pedestal that they no longer hold them self accountable to the same moral codes they enforce.
I had to quickly check the definition of trolling as I know it is so often confused for bullying. “A Social Media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users, often posting inflammatory or off-topic messages”. There are times when followers seek to play Devil’s Advocate when I post about my feelings following personal experiences. I often wonder why my experiences can’t be taken on face value and instead a user feels motivated to question me further or worse disprove my feelings. By definition, that is trolling – but given the fact that so many marginalised women in particular face so much worse (often relentless personal trolling attacks), I don’t think it would be fair to say I’ve suffered.
Do you think Instagram feeds a pressure on mothers in particular to be perfect supermums?
As mentioned previously, it is all about who you follow. By consciously being selective on who I follow, I have used instagram to my favour and have found it to be a very inspiring place. I search hashtags for play hacks and recipe ideas without actually following individuals so that rather than an onslaught of perfect meals flooded in my face daily, I find them only when I need them.
Finally - what do you love about living in London and raising your children here?
There is nowhere else in the world that my daughter could sit in a nursery surrounded by classmates of so many ethnicities. We don’t teach tolerance, we teach love and I think London is a very complimenrary setting for that.
What are your favourite things to do on the weekend as a family?
My anxiety has prevented me from attending any baby groups, however we visit an outdoor free play session in our old neighbourhood of Kings Cross that is a firm family favourite of ours called PlayKX. Each weekend we arrive, my children run up to the playworkers shrieking before indulging in a beautiful session of unscripted play -they have alternative soft play, mixed media and dressing up clothing. I really recommend it to anyone in the area.
On Sunday’s we spend the day with 5 of my siblings, our partners and our children. We have a cooking rota and spend a good chunk of the day in each others company, catching up on life and off-loading in a really lovely, safe environment.
And what is the best life advice you have been given?
“We are our ancestors wildest dreams”. Don’t waste opportunities our ancestors could have only dreamed of.