Category Archives: politics

Sometimes I Want To Write

I see things, hear things, try to make sense of them, and writing helps me understand it all; what I think I witnessed, what emotions coursed through me, my response, and how (if) that reaction changed the situation. Or what the experience just taught me about the world. I love writing.  I didn’t know that before I started movingblack – it was more of a challenge I set myself – but I found I proper love using words to express the myriad of thoughts that I have about the world and my adventures in it.

If you’ve followed this blog for more than a week, you’ll have realised I’m kind of a fraud.  (Though I secretly prefer the term renegade) I’m not a blogger.  At least, not a good one.  I don’t blog frequently anymore, nor with anything resembling a rhythm. I get off topic easily and most posts exceed 1000 words.  I am slow at replying to comments, and my blog doesn’t seem to be a community of its own.  I am not a good blogger.  (So, if you’ve left a comment I’ve taken ‘a while’ to reply to, it’s nothing personal at all.  I only struggle with internet etiquette,  I’m really polite in reality.)  I figure, I’m not a surgeon, nobody’s life depends on being able to read a new blog post from me, so I don’t beat myself up about it too often. Plus I have a day job and plenty of real-world commitments and I’ve had one hell of a writer’s block for months now.  But then I read this piece by Radical Faggot and it all made sense again.

I need to write. Not for you dear reader, nor even for me, but because as Chimamanda once argued, there really is a danger in a single story.  By writing, I contribute to the existence of multiple narratives.  Of every thing, person and place I write about.  To me, this is crucial because multiple narratives sharpen the mind.  When multiple narratives present themselves simultaneously, a choice is necessary because questions arise; who said what?  When?  In what context?  Why?  What are their interests?  Are they reliable?  Consistent?  Revolutionary? Do I agree with their standpoint?  What does that change?  Are the available narratives the only narratives?  The most important? What is missing?  Who is missing?  Where multiple contradictory narratives exist, critical thinking happens.  No statement can be taken at face value; by virtue of a second, third, fourteenth version of the same story, holes appear, through which the truth starts to poke.  Sometimes.

So I guess this is a statement of intent to blog*, inspired by a blog post entitled ‘the political significance of being inconvenienced.’  The politics of rad fag are just On Point.  As committed an armchair activist as I claim to be, the one action I can take relatively frequently is to simply state my Afro-Caribbean/British/Migrant/French-Speaking/Girl truth.

black-woman-writing-pf

I’m currently processing a fabulous Haitian adventure, so watch this space.   And follow Radical Faggot for powerful political commentary of the radical variety.  Plus, they post frequently.

 

 

 

* Disclaimer: in my haphazard, wordy, unrecommended-by-wordpress way

Who in Harlem or Port-of-Spain Remembers Claudia Jones?

I think I might have a country crush on Trinidad and Tobago.  As a country, it simply fascinates me and there’s a startling number of paradigm-shifting black radicals who were born and raised there which may explain why.  Claudia Jones is just the latest to set fire to my imagination.

I’m also a big fan of carnival.  In the part of London where I grew up, I felt like I was the only black girl whose parents didn’t make sure they participated in Notting Hill’s festivities in full costume, even though in the days before the jubilee line extension and the overground line, Notting Hill was FAR.  Some kids participated every single year throughout primary school.  We went as a family every year, but I wasn’t ‘in’ carnival.  My happy hippy school, wider community and black-and-proud family nevertheless ensured that I had it drummed into me that Notting Hill Carnival was an important expression of our Caribbean culture, and was also to be celebrated as an act of remembrance of our place in British history.

I thus grew up knowing the name of Claudia Jones as she was ‘the mother of Carnival’.  What she created sixty-odd years ago as an indoor event designed to demonstrate that Caribbean culture was joyous and valuable, not simply alien and inferior, is now the biggest street party in Europe. Continue reading

My Challenge: Composing Travel Narratives when Edward Said’s Ghost is Looking Over My Shoulder :(

I really hate Edward Said.  May he rest in peace.

I love his work.

Orientalism is one of those books, after which you’re never the same again.  As a thinker, I am hugely indebted to it.  But as a travel writer, Said and Orientalism are a bit like disapproving parents, watching me carefully, with my fear of disappointing them sometimes preventing me from speaking at all.

Every time I think about writing or about starting a post about a place I’ve been, or an experience I’ve had while travelling, I have a mini-heart attack.

‘Do I sound like an orientalist?’  I worry.  And stop writing.

I am black, so I didn’t simply understand Orientalism as Said detailed it, I felt it.

Having grown up black in a white space in which everyone is constantly bombarded with images of your blackness as a negative, I know what it means to be defined by people who don’t know you.  Or don’t like you.  And don’t know what they’re talking about.   Who leave you to deal with the consequences.

I know the frustration, the pain, and bristle at the injustice.

So I can write about travel from time to time, but I can’t be an Orientalist.  O the shame if I were!

I’m still idealistic enough that I believe that I can write interestingly about travel while keeping ‘them’ and ‘us’ binaries out of my work.  I can refuse to bow to that still-popular discourse of difference.  It is not required that I fetishise or exoticise the places I visit and the people I meet. And it does matter that I try.  Right?

Where is the Orient anyway?  I once asked.  Geographically, I meant. It was a legitimate question.  Does it include Turkey?  China? Iraq?  Japan? Morcocco?  Mali?  Egypt?  Lebanon? Vietnam? The orient and the occident.  East and West.  Geographical opposites.  Ideological binaries in a spinning spherical world.

What I learned from Edward Said is that there is no such place as ‘the orient’.  It’s not a continent.  It’s not a country.  It’s not even a region.  It’s an entirely imaginary space.  People (yes, nineteenth century Europeans primarily) wanted to describe some cultures and customs more similar to each others’ than to their own – in the Europeans’ version of events – and thus came up with a way of describing them: The orient aka the other.

Among the Europeans themselves there was no consensus of what exactly constituted The Orient.  For the French it included Mali, and Morocco, for the British it sometimes included India and China, but no place in Africa.  They both usually included Turkey, but not always, and the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Prussians, and Italians all had their own versions of the orient presumably.  It was and remains, all very imprecise and rather unclear. Yet the concept remained useful so somehow, it stuck.

Orientalism was all the rage in nineteenth century Europe; learning languages with ‘different’ alphabets, trying out ‘different’ dress modes, learning about ‘different’ customs and religions, this was the height of cool.

This fashion coincided of course with the period of imperial expansion/consolidation of the colonial powers of the day:  thus Orientalists were on the scene as the good guys, enthusiastically learning about the cultures and lifestyles their fellow countryfolk were in the process of dismantling, often quite consciously and for ‘their’ own good ‘they’ liked to say.  A rather interesting marriage from this vantage point.

What Said explained is that The Orient is a euphemism for difference.  A space which is absolutely different, it was never supposed to be real.  It’s a projection of fears and fantasies, a diametrical opposite of all that is presupposed as European, and an authoritative interpretation of someone else’s reality.

Tell that to the news anchors talking about ‘the Middle East’ (le moyen orient in French).  I’m always tempted to ask, so is that east of the middle? Or middle of the East?  Can a spinning sphere even be said to have an ‘East’ and ‘West’?  Cos surely, from say, Sri Lanka, Syria is definitely west?    And from these parts (the Caribbean)  it’s halfway across the world, and as much North East as it is North West.

That’s it’s so hard to define geographically, and ideologically f*cked up, is why I hate to use the words ‘them’ and ‘us’ in my writing.  It’s why I can’t hack the term ‘Western civilisation’ or ‘Western’ anything that’s not tied to a specific geographical entity on my Peter’s Projection map.  It’s why I don’t write ‘from the road’, hesitate before writing about a place I spent a couple of weeks in, and it’s why I sometimes struggle to write at all.

Cos I’d hate to be an orientalist.

Today’s orientalist is a lot like yesteryear’s; someone who becomes an expert on somebody else’s country/culture/customs/language.  And somehow ends up having a louder voice than people who claim the country/culture/customs/language as their own.

Cos that’s the problem with orientalism:  it’s also about power.  It’s not just about one random person spouting off highly debatable ‘truisms’.  It’s about how one narrative is reinforced by other fellow foreigners, until it becomes The Narrative about that place or those people etc etc.

Those people.

Cos that’s what orientalists do.  They specialise in difference.  They highlight how ‘they’ are not like ‘us’ and it’s rarely done from a place of equality.  Where difference is valuable, interesting even; proof of the ability of humans to adapt to their surroundings and realities and be infinitely creative.  ‘Difference’ tends, in the world of orientalists, to be exotic.  Exciting.  For ‘our’ benefit.

Rarely is difference mere evidence of fellow humans occupying another space and organising themselves how they see fit.

Too often, Difference is to be highlighted, prodded at, giggled at, ridiculed, judged, experienced, consumed.  Cos where it suits us, difference offers a space to escape the norms we don’t like in our own societies.

Similarity does not get a second glance in the world of the orientalists.  Poor bugger.

So even though I’ve been up and down of late,  I’ve been struggling to put pen to paper, cos I’m trying to avoid being an orientalist.  It’s also why I don’t write reams about Martinique despite my current perma-foreigner status and the many adventures that brings.

But life has been as exhilarating and chaotic as usual, so as soon I find a way to relay my adventures in a way that doesn’t stamp on the dignity of the people I share them with, you’ll read them here first!

xxx

NB If you think Orientalism sounds interesting, but don’t fancy reading the book, you can check out Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk The Danger of a Single Story on youtube.  I think she’s kinda saying the same thing.

Hey now, Haiti: young Haitians flip the script on Instagram

Just yesterday somebody asked me which Caribbean nation was the most beautiful. Without really hesitating I replied ‘Haiti.  No one ever mentions how gorgeous it is.’ My response is mine and thus totally subjective. And there’s plenty of places in the Caribbean I’ve yet to stumble onto. But out of Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, Dominica (which comes in a distant but good second), Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Cuba, the Domincan Republic, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana, none touch Haiti’s simply overwhelming beauty imho.

Fusion

Earthquakes. Cholera. Grinding poverty. AIDS. Political upheaval.

Most news about Haiti isn’t exactly the cheerful stuff of tourism brochures. But underneath the tiresome tales of suffering and misfortune lies a fascinating country of unutterable beauty, quirky charm and unexpected quaintness. Now, young Haitians — those who have never known a time when their country received good press —are turning to social media to showcase the happier, sexier side of their country.

This is the Haiti that the rest of the world forgot about more than 30 years ago. It’s hard to remember now, but back in the late 1970s Haiti was an up-and-coming Caribbean vacationland — a tropical hotspot whose tourism industry was the envy of neighboring Dominican Republic. Bill and Hillary Clinton honeymooned in Haiti in 1975, and not because they couldn’t afford to go elsewhere.

Then AIDS happened. In the early days of the public health scare, 32 Haitian…

View original post 1,564 more words

On Voluntourism

by Zahra Dalilah

AKA Affecting Real Change as a Young Brit with No Experience in Development.

The world we live in today is a beautiful place in many ways. It is more diverse and interconnected than ever, giving those who can afford it the privilege of travelling to a vast array of new and exciting horizons to drink in new settings, new cultures and new ways of living.

Freedom some may call it, and it is here for us to enjoy!

But of course, this is not the case everywhere or for everyone.

Ever-so-often we are reminded of the saddening plight of those less fortunate, be it through a charity song at Christmas or just a passing advertisement on daytime television. This of course makes us want to react, to do something about this situation so that we can share the joy and goodness that we see in our own communities every day. Right? Continue reading

Opening December’s Most Talked-About Town

‘Have you been to Palestine?’ is not a question I have been often asked if I’m honest. But thus began some really interesting conversations on a chilly London night.  I found myself among people passionate about Jesus’ birthplace.  And some who called or still call Bethlehem home.

What I quickly realised, was that many of those most involved with the evening’s events were Christians. Not box-tickers forced to select an option, evangelical types, proper Jesus freaks. The women I got to chatting with had recently been to modern-day Palestine, to do otherwise mundane things like teach music or run marathons. But their engagement deepened and they are now involved with project ‘Open Bethlehem’ and promoting the film about it.  Given my exposure to a general discourse of Israel vs. Palestine as Jews vs. Arabs, the evening began to get interesting.

Continue reading