Thursday, 7 August 2014

On Suzanne Moore and her article about Mindfulness

04:46 Posted by Afro Latina , , , No comments
Alas. Today I read the most nonsensical article ever. It saddens me that it's authored by one of my favorite columnists, Suzanne Moore. I do believe humanity is imperfect and therefore cannot afford to yield perfect institutions or activities. As a feminist, I am well aware the theories I believe and try to follow are not impeccable - and that holds true to pretty much everything in life.

Although I do agree with Suzanne that capitalism shamelessly absorbs all things, including the practice of mindfulness (one that is very dear to me, as all my friends/readers know by now), I have a problem with her utter dismissal of the whole practice. Mindfulness has helped me in ways innumerable, and I believe only a very misinformed reading would deem it egoistic or void of any profound meaning. I think such interpretation is - to state the least - lazy and arrogant.

Let's face it: modern life is extremely loud and busy. I wouldn't be surprised if Suzanne had so tight a deadline that criticizing something as simple and straightforward as mindfulness seemed like an easy road to take. By claiming the practice is actually mindless, she is not only revealing a lack of understanding of a world she is so eager to criticize, but also a hurriedness that only demonstrates...well, mindlessness.

Putting the abductive reasoning above to the side, there is this element of arrogance I want to discuss here. It is precisely because I consider myself an activist (for feminism as well as for meditation) that I found Suzanne's article to be so absurdly elitist. To me, she sounded like a hipster who is totally worried about the popularization of the practice. Since it is getting so widespread, she seems to be arguing, it is no longer genuine.

Which begs the question: in this world, what is genuine anyway? I mean, claiming that something is no longer valid because it is not circumscribed to a niche anymore doesn't feel very rational to me. It rather sounds arrogant and essentialist. Only because it is getting popularized, she now deems it void of any meaning, as if the people who seek it were hollow themselves. By no means I can feel sympathetic towards such critique.

Furthermore, I know capitalism distorts things, in order to better profit from them. We're witnessing this phenomena taking place with feminism itself. The recent, highly airbrushed Beyonce's Rosie the Riveter picture is one such example. In all honesty, only time will say whether  Beyonce's highly twisted feminism will turn out to have the power to effect real change in society or not. In this scenario, it pops to mind that Bell Hooks seemed very exasperated by Beyonce - to the extent of calling queen B a terrorist. To me, Hooks' passionate and offensive remarks sound as arrogant and blindly passionate as Moore's take on mindfulness. It took the Crunk Feminist Collective to point out the obvious:

"So let us be clear: Beyoncé  is not a terrorist. She isn’t systematically doing violence to any group of people, rolling up and taking folks land, creating a context of fear in which people must live, or usurping folks right to self-determination, raping women as a tool of war, or turning children into soldiers." 

As for Moore's article, it does seem to be making a case that mindfulness is being used by capitalism as a tool to keep people under control. It's the same reasoning Bell Hooks had the infelicity to make on Beyoncé. It doesn't really sustain itself because the practice is not reinforcing competition and blind obedience to the powerful. It is simply focusing on people's well being anyway. Should we be really having a beef with something that actually improves our lives? 

I mean, improving is radically different from revolutionizing. As much as I like to think that only a revolution will change this world for the better, I completely abhor the idea that each and every trend is valuable only if it turns out to be an insurrection against power. I like to see the glass half full. Thus, I deem the fact that companies are sparing 10 minutes of their worker's time in order to teach them to care for their minds as something positive.

Thich Nhat Hanh - I love his teachings, and he also states that meditation can make us stronger to fight for social justice.
Moreover, the purpose of meditation is not activism, but it does have a revolutionary potential: by changing ourselves we can change the world. Imagine if everyone realizes that we just need to slow down and live in the present moment? That would do wonders not only to ourselves, but to the environment around us. Moore complains that people are just "switching themselves off", and again I think it is better to shut off by means of meditation than by simply watching junk on TV.

Yeah, I think I get it now: her argument seems like the old fallacy that things were brighter, or at least more noble, in the past. It's a lazy reasoning similar to that one which states technology is making us antisocial. As if people did not switch themselves off by means of TV, food or any other hobby. As if before the mindfulness 'fever' we were all avid readers of Marx and Gramsci who promptly organized demonstrations in our after hours. This world has never existed. Give me meditation over reality shows anytime. At least it is a healthier practice and I do believe companies are getting a wee bit more humane by promoting it. I rest my case. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Another break on the wall :)

16:05 Posted by Afro Latina , No comments

People: So what are you up to? 

Me: Nothing.

The above answer can be quite terrifying, I guess. I don't really know if I'll ever get used to it. 

Nothing scares me. I think I should have probably used a quotation, but I fancy the effect… it does frighten me but… does it?

This is my second facebook detox this year. Oh dear, I still love facebook. It's just that I've been lacking patience these days. It's pretty much the same: I feel I have nothing much to say, but keep saying anyway. So it gets repetitive, as I give and take sameness. Maybe one day I will realize facebook is not really my thing?

Well, maybe. For now, I am just behaving as another addict: one day at a time. Being out of the social network makes me more mindful of my immediate reality. It's not that great of an existence, I know. However, allowing myself to experience and be grateful for whatever little I have, without worrying much about updates that will not change my life anyway - well, that has value. Or, at least, I've started to pay more attention to some tiny things I wouldn't otherwise. The older I get, the better I realize how much they matter to me. 

Everytime I temporarily quit facebook, my mindset is usually directed towards achieving specific goals. I aim at being outstandingly productive. I think I will accomplish loads of things my easily distracted mind wouldn't be able to finalize - because I obviously keep on refreshing that damn blue page all the time. So I like to fantasize that I will come up with the solution to all human ailments during my detox periods. 

Not gonna happen :P 

Besides, I used to think I'd figure out exactly what I want to do with my professional life. So, so naive. I ended up finding out about what I did NOT want to do with it, last time I deactivated my account. I know it doesn't sound as promising as "eureka! I know what I want to do for a living!", but it's something, I suppose. 

So here is the thing: I am becoming more and more grounded in reality, I guess. This time I haven't assigned myself any deadline (I wouldn't accomplish it, anyway). I haven't set myself the goal of figuring out what I want to do with my insignificant being. I just decided that, for one or a few days, I will live in the moment. 

It's been quite complicated. This mindfulness thing belongs in the level hard category of actions. I think it would be easier for me to learn how to do Jillian's workouts than tackle that one. Whenever I stop and contemplate on the difficulties of living in the present, I kind of feel hopeless. But then I realize I am overthinking it. All my life, that has been precisely the problem: thinking in excess. 

So I am starting to feel this is the moment for me to start thinking less, and a bit more effectively. Some things I cannot change at the moment, and it's fine. Some things I think I will be able to take action upon - that's just great. Some stuff I regret profoundly. I need to do what people have been doing from the dawn of times: move on. 

Whenever I am faced with the question that opens this non-article, I usually give the answer that's more closely related to capitalism: Nothing. Because no, I am not generating income. No, I am not doing "productive" work. There is no profession. I have not turned into some sort of niche celebrity. I haven't a clue why patriarchy still resonates so much with people.

But I'm alive. For better or for worse, I have plenty of time to be sad, then happy again, sad, then happy again, to bake a cake, to chop green onions and garnish all my dishes, to sort out the clothes I want from those I can donate to a charity, to look at the mirror and think I look hideous, then to look again and think oh, she's so cute! Sometimes, I get even lucky enough to focus on a book. 

This is where I am today. I haven't planned on updating this blog, and I think it will be a while until I get back here again. Or not. Who knows.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Irish Pubs

Getting ready to meet friends. After a long battle in front of the mirror to get her eyeliner right, she is finally set to go. Her lips lustrous with magenta, her face under layers of makeup to appear 'natural' and confident, her hair particularly having a bad day, but that wouldn't deter the fun, anyway. 

Before leaving home, a last glance at the mirror, one final chance to give up on the whole deed. No more isolation, she says to herself. I should go out and have fun. Remember, surrounding yourself with people is a good way to keep the ball rolling and away from depression. 

And so she goes, a heart filled with optimism and a mind tainted by hesitation. She knew there was nothing really wrong with aiming to be around people, yet the feeling of inadequacy appeared to be an impending nightmare she was soon to push to the very back of her head. 

At the pub she meets her friends. They talk, dance, drink, have fun. She is not really used to drinking, but the new experience feels just fine to her. As far as she could recollect, she was really young when she'd completely given up on alcohol. Well, the situation has changed, all thanks to Ireland and its Guinness awesomeness. 

The black liquid tastes very strong, but she finds it delicious. She feels way too modest to go for a full pint, though. It's usually little by little, mainly for a reason: as she is not used to drinking, the process is rather slow. And the beer is no longer chilled after a few minutes, so she'd rather have small glasses. People love pulling her legs over those half pints. She feels funny, but never angry, as this is some very light and friendly mockery, after all. 

The lady is always happy when she's around friends. It feels comfortable and familiar. Yet, pubs are those kind of places she struggles the most with, in order to be at ease with herself. There is something inherently sad about this experience, she thinks. There is nothing more fulfilling than being around her dear ones, but nothing feels more awkward than standing here, now. Maybe I should just leave? 

But she didn't. Instead, she's looking around, feeling sort of amused. So many different people who also appear to be exhaling sameness. She ain't bored - no. Trying to find stories behind all those laughters, she begins a genuine appreciation of human interaction. Look, that guy, he looks just like Thomas Müller. Except that he is shorter? Maybe he gets annoyed when people tell him that. He seems to be having good craic with his pal, though. 

Anyway. She is now eyeing a girl's carmine hair. Ain't she fabulous? I love it that many girls here get this hair color. It's not so common in Brazil. I heard it's hard and expensive to maintain, though. As Scarlet moves away from that smoking patio, the lady looks around, trying to find someone else to observe from afar. The general scene feels loud and slightly overwhelming to her. That's when a friendly voice of a stranger cuts through her random thoughts. 

Yer doing it wrong. 

What am I doing wrong? 

Yer not supposed to drink while chewing gum. 

She laughs. He laughs back at her. As he walks away, another voice reaches out to her.

Where are you from? 


Oh! I am so sorry. 

Oh don't be, she says, and looks around, trying to spot her friends. It's funny how <where are you from> is the first question everyone asks her in pubs. She then gets ready to answer to the next standard query. 

And what brings you to Galway? 

She takes a deep breath. While exhaling, her whole tale of disempowerment springs to mind and the lady, as usual, decides to keep it short. 

Women's studies. 

Interesting. And what do you do in that field? 

She goes on about gender, globalisation and human rights. If only she knew what's to come next, she would probably have kept things even shorter. Like, what brings you to Ireland? English. End of story. Yeah, she should probably stick to language. Better than housewife-ing, anyway. 

He asks her name, and it sounds pretty entertaining to him. I will probably never remember your name, he says. I will remember yours because it's quite simple, she replies, looking around, trying to find someone else to observe. The conversation with the not-so-stranger-anymore appears to be kicking in. 

He seems nice, she thinks, oblivious to the fact that no white man has ever been really kind to her. It usually goes on like: oh, this conversation is very interesting! Up until she starts feeling like a peacock being observed at a zoo. That's when things get a bit more complicated, because she tries to be understanding of the fact that she does look exotic after all. She gets reminded of how dutch men get celebrated in her family, and even laughs at the memory. 

But girl, make no mistake. You may be laughing, but it's not the same thing. The Dutch back home get confetti thrown at them simply because they are perceived as somewhat superior. You, my friend, are a sample of the second sex - prone to objectification - and also a genuine (black) representative of the third world - susceptible to exotification. In the interest of survival, she usually dismisses the reality check, though, and just laughs with people. 

So that night, that's what she did. She laughed, and she laughed. 

Can I touch your hair? 

Well, at least he's asking before touching it. *Laughs* 

Your hair is beautiful. The springs feel so soft, and... obedient. Look, it stays right where I left it! That's amazing! 


Your hair is the perfect frame for your face. 


You are very pretty. 

Thank you. *Laughs* 

So pretty that I am horny right now. 

Her eyes widen, and words fail her. So she laughs. 

And laughs, and laughs, and goes away. 

In the comfort of her bed, she promises herself, probably for the millionth time, that she will never set foot in a pub again. Someone once said that Brazilians are great craic. Like, they get the Irish pub culture pretty well, and that's awesome, yay! 

Pretty well, she puffs. Way too well. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Nope, I am not embarrassed by the 7-1

19:55 Posted by Afro Latina , , 2 comments

I went to a pub to see the match with lovely Maria. She's a German friend of mine, one of those people who makes you comfortable and will do anything she can to see you happy. She is really, entirely one of a kind. Sometimes the Universe sends us gifts to remind us that life is not completely horrible, after all. Maria stands with Senthil in that very category. I'm extremely grateful I have them both in my life. 

Football is something that can make me really animated. Actually, I think getting passionate is not that much of a difficult endeavour to me, as I can get intense over unlikely things such as a meal, a poem, the sunshine, a flower, a beautiful, unassuming smile. Sometimes I think that's to do with my horoscope, as I'm a Cancer, and there is a whole narrative surrounding the feelings of this element. I may be a tale of emotions and reverberation, after all. 

But the thing is… I am not really embarrassed by the 7-1. There's many, many reasons I already profoundly dislike 2014. All pretty much linked to my personal life. My depression seems to be back, in full form, just to remind me that I'm not really in charge here. I used to be particularly ashamed of my mental health issues. I no longer feel that way, and it may have to do with the realization that I too am a human being, loaded with flaws, poached in instincts that often times go densely wrong. As of now, human is the only thing I am, and that feels like a victory, to be honest. 

So there is this much anticipated Brazilian defeat at home. I must admit I did feel we were going to lose, but the SEVEN-one never really crossed my mind. So the utter realisation that those men too are humans was somehow liberating to me. I mean, it was a match, but it definitely didn't feel like one, I suppose. Maria got that, and although she was happy that Germany went through, I could see she was not really enjoying it and the reason is very simple: it is not delightful to see mentally shattered people getting massacred like that. It is not nice to see the psychological downfall of any human being, I suppose.

In my personal practice, I've been trying to call attention to the many gruelling nuances of major sports events such as the world cup: the workers who are dying in Qatar, the workers who lost their lives in Brazil, the poor people who got evicted from their homes to give room to stadiums, the poor women who were prevented from selling their traditional foods around the arenas, simply because McDonalds said so.There is this huge issue of child prostitution going on not only in Brazil, but in many parts of the world. All that breaks my heart, and I can't but wonder why exactly people are expecting me to be embarrassed or even apologetic about the 7-1. 

Maybe this has to do with Brazilians being "way too arrogant" about football? Then that would have made total sense had the team lost to Cameroon, as Germans are not exactly the epitome of humility, I guess. I am obviously not talking about all Germans in the world, because that would invalidate what I've exposed in paragraph one and this is just not possible. But yes, when we talk about football, I don't think Germans are the sweetest. 

That's not to say they aren't the best. The goalkeeper was amazing. The players were merciless towards Brazilians but that's how things are supposed to go, according to the system we have in place today. The present narrative - "survival of the fittest" - is a motto for competition. The outcome is dehumanization. People leaving early from that stadium was representative of an inability to deal with humanity. And that match, it felt way too human: the suffering of the Brazilians, and the sadistic smiles of the German players. 

I am obviously sad. Embarrassed, I am not. It took me long, ugly years to get rid of the shame surrounding my being. I may not have complete answers yet, but all in all I don't need to be apologetic anymore: people will come and go, their opinions of me will change like the Irish weather, but I will remain. The thing for football is just a tiny part of my being a Brazilian. The big chunk is resilience, really.

Monday, 7 July 2014

On being a non-native speaker of English.

I used to feel pretty bad because I can't speak perfect English. I remember the feeling of self-consciousness surrounding the fact that I am a late learner. It was always embarrassing to think of my stuttery, broken, Brazilianized English. Even though my learning process felt magical to me, I can't really say it was easy to overcome the inferiority complex surrounding my speech. To a certain extent, those feelings of being an odd/inadequate speaker still resonate at times. I don't really think I'll ever get completely over it, to be honest.

Although I still find it quite hard to effectively communicate with people, I can say things flow more naturally now (well, it's been over 10 years of learning the language) and I owe that to this inner urge I have to express myself. Also, as an activist, I started to think more of the power relations involved in language usage, and how I could be making a political statement with my so-called "broken" English. 

Before I turn to the political dimensions of being a non-native speaker, I want to take a look at the implications of being native, because that in itself has helped me overcome my anxieties when it comes to speaking up my mind, in public or elsewhere. When somebody reaches out to me for advice on how to be a more confident non-native speaker, the first thing I urge them to do is to reflect upon their own status as a native of any given language. Below I expose where I stand as a speaker of Brazilian Portuguese. 

As you might have known by now, Brazil is this huge country with continental dimensions and a vast array of cultures that can vary dramatically from region to region, and such diversity has a direct impact on the way people use the national language and, sadly, also on the ways they demonstrate power. Paulistas (those born in São Paulo) and Cariocas (those born in Rio) tend to be particularly arrogant when it comes to the accents of less privileged states, including the one I come from (Goiás). That means although I can perfectly speak and understand Portuguese, I am usually perceived as 'backwards' by interlocutors of said areas. There is even a book by sociolinguist Marcos Bagno ('Preconceito Linguístico' - Portuguese for 'Linguistic Prejudice') where he exposes the ways in which the Brazilian elite use language to discriminate against poorer states/lower classes. 

By now you readers know where I'm heading, I suppose. English is the lingua franca of the world, there is no doubt around that. However, it is also a locus for complex, intricate, and tense power relations that tend to be ignored by both native and non-native users alike. Maybe 'ignored' is not the correct word - I'd probably say 'naturalized'. For there has never been a place I set foot into where people haven't resorted to the myth that native speakers are 'authorities' in the language, whereas everybody else sucks, basically. The anecdote sounds even more amusing if we consider the fact that non-natives heavily outnumber natives of English. Given such scenario, it seems unfeasible to render only native speakers experts in anything. But that's exactly how the narrative goes, and it's all related to power, not necessarily a reflection of reality per se. 

Furthermore, it is interesting to observe how the industry around 'learning English' behaves. I don't know about you all, but as soon as I started learning the language (as an adult), the options presented to me were: 1. British English; 2. American English. It was only in my masters, like FIVE years after I started learning the damn language, that discussions were put in place surrounding the polarized ways we tend to approach it. If there is an effort being put in place by editors to present English as a language owned by either British or Americans, then we can ascertain, undoubtedly, that learning the language is a tiny part of a much deeper, pervasive imperialistic project to keep the world under a certain order. 

Therefore, given the above mentioned facts, I've decided to remain unapologetic about my own English. Foucault once stated that using the same structures of the powerful can prove empowering to the disempowered themselves, and that's exactly how I feel about my English. I relate to it in a very profound way and I made it my own. However, I feel today I'm mature enough to understand that being a foreign speaker of English means much more than choosing between two options: it means I have an Americanish accent, yes, but no American will ever see me as one of their own and guess what? Thank Kali for that! I realised I don't have to be anything other than myself. I realised I will ALWAYS mispronounce something, no matter how much effort I put into making it right. Above all, I realised that mistakes won't prevent me from speaking up my mind whenever I wish to. 

Besides, there is always the consolation prize of knowing that perfection is a construct aimed at keeping people under control. There's no such thing as being a perfect speaker - birth won't give you that entitlement, and if you really think it does, I'm sorry to say that but you are just one more delusional human being to inhabit this planet.

The very fact that such image exists proves there is no such thing as perfection (and in case you're wondering, this mistake is MASSIVE among natives)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

World Cup of Sexism

I'll start this post with a friend's story. Thaís is my blog partner (I collaborate in a Brazilian feminist blog, Ativismo de Sofá) and I was pretty horrified when she told me what's happened to her, recently. She was walking down a street in Belo Horizonte, the capital city of Minas Gerais, in Brazil. Well, we all know it's World Cup season. Belo Horizonte is now hosting thousands of eager foreign tourists who are up to having a great time and enjoying themselves in Brazil. 

Thaís, just like myself and most Brazilians, loves World Cups. She was all set to have a great time back in BH, but that didn't quite happen and the reason is very simple: sexism. The system consistently reminds women that public and private are completely separate spheres and we are not welcome in the former, but 'naturally belong' in the latter. That's a subtle, yet powerful way to perpetuate gender inequalities. As you might be wondering what exactly has happened to Thaís, well, she got catcalled. Street harassment, pure and simple. Gringos (foreign men) felt entitled to describe to Thaís, in details, the hard way they would fuck her. Gringos wearing English jerseys somehow felt it appropriate to scare a woman in broad daylight. 

Those gringos were not expecting a reaction from Thaís, though. I'd give two reasons for that: 

1. street harassment is territory demarcation: it's men telling women that they should be scared of going outside; it's men telling women that they do NOT belong in the public realm; it's men feeling entitled to a woman's body because she's dared to get out of her home. It's not about genuine appreciation of a woman's beauty: it's about power, and everybody knows that.

2. it's Braseeeeeel, guys! C'mon, men are obviously sanctioned to objectify Brazilian women because whoop! LATINAS! They love it! There's even GQ magazine teaching men how to harass Brazilian women because we are supposedly keen on violence. Besides, Brazilian women idolize European men and are clearly anxious to hear insults on the streets, because an insult coming from a deity isn't actually abuse, but a compliment, right? 

Well, wrong. Thaís answered back and she did it beautifully, by letting them know how sexist they were. She frowned and yelled back at them. They got clearly astonished. Thaís kept on walking, her head up straight, but her heart was broken. She went home and told us the whole story. We were all glad she reacted, but extremely saddened to hear yet another story of everyday sexism. 

The above narrative is one example of many others that might be happening at this very moment. Those guys were just unlucky to mess with a feminist. What happens, though, when they do make advancements towards women who do not necessarily bear the label? Well, Sabina's example is pretty representative, I guess. 

Sabina is a news reporter from São Paulo, and she was working when a Croatian tourist found it appropriate to stop by and kiss her on the cheek. I will give you a minute to let that sink in: a woman is out presenting the news when a guy suddenly pops and drops an unrequested kiss on her cheek. Her reaction? Well, if you speak Portuguese and see the video, you'll realize that she wasn't exactly comfortable with the situation. She, however, acted friendly, because FRIENDLY is what the world expects from us. We should be docile, and accept the act of "admiration". We should keep quiet and if we protest, we are prone to all sorts of backlash, because the "poor guy" was just being nice to her, after all. 

I know it sounds pretty obvious, but I do need to say that this guy wouldn't have done so in his own country. There is an element of othering in the whole story that feels disturbing to me. Furthermore, Marília Moschkovich, a Brazilian cyber activist, hit the nail on the head when she stated: "Sabina Simonato did not ask for nor agreed with the kiss, however light her reaction might have appeared to us". Women pay the price for the world's refusal to talk about consent. 

There's many reasons I am happy with this world cup. Vibes are so good on my timeline that I genuinely felt homesick, after many years away from Brazil. I agree with the many posts that are praising the event, claiming it to be the best world cup ever, or something of the sort. My friend Thaís still enjoys the world cup and she still appreciates the matches. Those jerks won't take that away from her. Nor will they take away my joy in seeing so many people I love having fun. However, the fact that we are having fun will not prevent us from voicing our dissatisfaction with a system that blatantly strips women off their very humanity. #Yesallwomen is our perennial hashtag, and we'll hush no more. 

Just so you know, a Portuguese tourist apparently found it so cool that the Croatian kissed the journalist that he decided that he too should be invasive. Rape cases related to the world cup are slowly making their way into the news, too. That's patriarchy at its best, unfortunately.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Paper Dolls

03:21 Posted by Afro Latina , , , No comments
796 paper dolls
We cut them, yes
A chain of sadness
An emblem of pain

796 paper dolls
The strain of lives
Statutory madness
A poem of disdain

796 little dolls
Their lives, so brittle
Intolerants reign
Provide no sustain

796 piled dolls
My hands, they hurt
But no pain bigger than
The image of slain

796 huddled dolls
Each frame - a guess
Lives with no rights
No one to declaim

796 plain dolls
Have they no shame?
So much violence
Cause me to inflame

796 I will recall
Brutality is your game
Life is no rite
Your dogma is lame

by Flávia Simas