Category Archives: Social Change & Political Issues

Nationality, Ethnicity, Heritage & Me

 

2017 is being an intense year for the Western world, marked by the rise of nationalist movements. Anyone with a basic understanding of fascism, xenophobia and white supremacy would have probably seen this coming in the last few years.

When politicians across the spectrum use migrants as a basketball ball to score points, when challenging racism becomes a bore-some activity for so called progressive/liberals, when dealing with inequality and xenophobia is seen as a matter of “overrated identity politics, when people pretend only white people are working class and suffering since the financial crisis of 2008, when the media is still unable to check their biased language, and when all of the sudden everyone wants to pretend we are all equal as if a few decades of brown and black people seen as human (debatable) erases the effects of centuries of genocide, slavery and colonisation, well…. You get this. A region in which racial supremacy and discrimination are okayed again (to be honest, were they ever not okayed?) in the name of freedom of speech.

At the same time, everyone willing to challenge this bigotry is called a “regressive leftist” by people who genuinely believe they are progressive leftists, while being moderate centrists, if anything. Neo-Nazis and conservatives might refer to them as “easily triggered snowflakes”, which is ironic since they turn purple and angry whenever you call their statements ‘racist’. “Clueless social justice warriors” is another label used often by people who still don’t know their right to freedom of speech can only be violated by governments and their agencies/bodies, not by fellow citizens counterarguing what they say.

And lastly, my personal favourite one: “entitled millennials”, a tone-deaf term used by adults who believe young people under 30 years old are all middle-class babies who had everything handed to them (working/lower class young people don’t exist anymore), were rewarded for mediocrity (seriously, where are all these awards? I didn’t get mine) and can’t live outside safe spaces (apparently young people live in protective bubbles away from the cruel real world, I can’t believe I didn’t get one!).

I’m not going to go any deeper into the political situation in the West, I’m still on an indefinite break from writing about social issues at a non-personal level. I just wanted to give a brief look at the context in which this personal article is set. The ongoing discussions about nationalism, patriotism, culture and ethnicity have made me think deeply about my own identity. How I identify and how I am identified. I struggle to determine to where I belong and to which countries/regions I should be loyal too. My national, ethnic and cultural identities are complicated to the point in which I’m uncertain I have any of these.

I was born in the Basque Country, an autonomous region in Spain. I lived there till 2012, the year I moved to England, where I currently reside. My nationality is Spanish and despite living in Britain for over four years, I still have a strong (Northern) Spanish accent. At the same time, I have adopted various British customs, such as saying “sorry” non-stop without an actual reason, eating roast on Sundays, being passive aggressive and drinking a lot of tea throughout the day (just joking!). Despite all this, I was born (and I live) in a different place to where my parents and grandparents were born. Hence, my nationality and place of residence say little to nothing about my ethnicity and heritage.

My mother was born in Equatorial Guinea, located in Central/Middle Africa. Her mother (my grandmother) is from there too, while her father (my grandfather) was originally from a West African country, either Cape Verde or São Tomé and Príncipe (I can’t confirm which one it is since I have been told different things). As you can see, simply in my mother’s side there is already a mixture of ethnicities, which would be even bigger if specific ethnic groups/tribes would be considered (which I won’t do because I don’t want to overcomplicate this article).

Although it might seem confusing, describing my maternal heritage is easy compared to my paternal heritage: my biological father  (from whom I inherited my genetic traits) differs from my legal father (who legally recognises me as his daughter). I have never met my biological father and I know little about him. Meanwhile, I was raised by my legal father and he is the only person I consider a “father” in my life. I was told that my biological father is Senegalese and Bissau-Guinean (both West African countries). My legal father is from DR Congo and his parents (my grandparents) migrated there from Angola. Both countries are in Central/Middle Africa.

I learnt most of this information about my family during the last couple of years. Growing up, I was never curious about my ethnicity and heritage. I never even tried to define them. The only things I was sure about were my race (black) and my nationality (Spanish). While I grew up immersed in Spanish culture, I never felt part of it: it wasn’t something I could claim as my heritage. While Spain is a “colourblind” country in many aspects (when I lived there, race and ethnicity were not officially recorded as in UK), racism and xenophobia are common. People always give you subtle and not-so-subtle reminders about you not being “originally” from Spain.

It was also hard for me to feel attached to my African background because I didn’t grow up with my family (except my siblings). Now and then, I did have access to my parents’ cultures, mainly during family celebrations and spiritual rituals, but these were limited. I can name some basic Congolese food dishes, some basic Equatorial Guinean food dishes. I can understand some words of Lingala (Congolese language) and Pichinglish (Creole language in Equatorial Guinea). I’m aware of some rituals and customs. But my position regarding these cultures is the one of an outsider, rather than someone actively involved in them. In addition, till no long ago, I silently rejected my African background because of the gender roles that were being forced on me in the name of it.

Moving to England and becoming a young adult triggered in me an interest to know more about my roots to define my ethnicity better. In England I saw how most black people, even if British, embraced their ethnicity a lot, not just as “African”, but as Nigerian, Ghanaian, Jamaican… Or even specific subgroups, such as Yoruba. I felt a lot of envy about this, I wished that was me. Meanwhile I realised that I would never be considered Spanish and I wondered if I wanted to live in this continent forever. In addition, when deciding what to study at university, I remember how my dad pushed me to go for something that could help people “back at home”, meaning DR Congo for him.

All this inspired me to learn more about my roots. I asked questions to my family, and I did an Ancestry DNA test to proof-check their answers. While Ancestry DNA isn’t 100% accurate, it is an indicator, and I’m hoping to do a 23andMe check soon, since it is considered more reliable. Here are my Ancestry DNA results:

(*Trace regions are regions/countries which are only possibilities and might appear in the results by chance.)

My reaction to this data was a mixture of confirmation and surprise. I suspected most of my ethnicity would be African. I knew I had some European ancestry because my maternal grandfather was creole/mulatto. I thought I would get a small percentage for Native American (defined by Ancestry as indigenous groups from North to South America) because I was told my maternal great-grandmother has an Indigenous Cuban ancestor (the ancestor might be too distant to appear). I definitely have Afro-Cuban ancestry, something common in my mother’s home country, yet it isn’t reflected on the test since Afro-Cubans, as other Afro-Latinos, are direct descendants of black African slaves sent to the Americas.

I was surprised by the percentage for the Middle East, and although it is just a chance, it might be true due to extensive presence of Middle-Easterns in Africa, particularly in countries that make up my ethnicity. Regardless of this, I’m happy with being just black African, that’s how I have always identified. (Black) Afro-Hispanic is a label that wouldn’t bother me either, since linguistically speaking, I’m indeed Hispanic, which is not the same as Latino by the way (though I do have Latino [and Caribbean] heritage since I have Cuban ancestry and I grew up quite influenced by it).

When comes to individual countries, I already knew I had Senegalese roots, though I didn’t think it would be my biggest percentage. Conversely, I knew I had Bantu background, since my maternal grandmother’s ethnic group is Bubi, a Bantu subgroup, but I didn’t think the percentage would be so small. I was dazed by the rest of African countries and for the lack of mention of Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde or/and São Tomé and Príncipe, in the list. However, a small look at African history helped me to make sense of this.

Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe were supposedly uninhabited islands when the Portuguese arrived to colonise them. They were populated mainly through European settlers and slaves from continental Africa. That’s probably why countries like Congo and Benin appear in my Ancestry DNA: many slaves were taken from there. A similar logic can apply to Equatorial Guinea: that country was inhabited prior to Portuguese and Spanish colonisation (by ethnic groups like the Bubis), but there was a lot of migration from neighbouring areas afterwards.

Except for two, all the African countries/regions in my results are in West & Central Africa. Considering how European-made national borders in Africa don’t respect ethnic groups and tribes, the variety in my ethnicity makes more sense: the ethnic groups I belong to could be found in various countries in the area. Nationality might not be the greatest indicator for ethnicity in Africa. It is also important to keep in mind I don’t have full access to knowledge about my biological father’s family background. And, as I mentioned earlier, Ancestry DNA isn’t 100% accurate, although my results look more right than wrong.

As you can see, my ethnicity and heritage are heterogeneous. My mother, my legal father and my biological father are all from separate places, even different to their own parents. It is important to mention that while I didn’t inherit genetic traits from my legal father, his heritage and ethnicity still influence my cultural identity. Now, add my nationality (Spanish) and my place of residence (England). To which country in the world am I supposed to be loyal? To which country in the world am I supposed to show patriotism? I identify as black African normally, but I’m aware I’m legally Spanish and I’m a citizen of England.

Having a transnational, multicultural and mixed background is supposed to make me richer in knowledge and experiences, which is not untrue. Yet, it doesn’t make you richer in company. It can be very isolating. You belong to so many places that you end up belonging to nowhere. And more nowadays, when nationalism and ethno-supremacy are such a trend worldwide. It is easy to force nationalism upon people when you haven’t been rejected by your country of birth, when the country where you live doesn’t hate you and when you don’t have a transnational family.

My nationality is culturally and ethnically meaningless. Living in England matters to me, but the current war on immigrants and Brexit make things harder. While I’m trying to learn more about the countries that compose my African background, I still don’t feel attached to them. That’s the main reason why I can’t get behind any person or idea that doesn’t consider that who I am comes from more than one country or region, and tries to shame me for not being nationalistic. I simply have a borderless identity not confined to a single culture or place. And I wish people understood this, just as I respect their right to be patriotic. Hopefully one day, people like me will be considered during political discussions about culture, ethnicity and nationalism. Hopefully.

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#IWD2016 Women’s Empowerment and Inspiring Women

Happy International’s Women Day! This year, I decided to celebrate this festivity by writing about what women’s empowerment is for me and about women whom I find inspiring.

First, it is important to define what we mean by women’s empowerment. Empowerment is such a buzzword nowadays, and it is at risk of losing its meaning, yet it is a precious word and it should be saved. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term empowerment can have two meanings:

  • Authority or power given to someone to do something.
  • The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.

Keywords to extract from those two definitions are “power”, “stronger”, “confident”, “controlling” and “rights”. These are important concepts that need to be considered and put into context within the women’s empowerment movement. Power is the ability to act and as long as it is not dominant power (based on fear, manipulation and coercion) it is a positive term that should help people to feel better about themselves and be autonomous. To have power, you need to be strong and feel confident, two concepts deeply related to a person’s SELF-respect, SELF-acceptance, SELF-worth and SELF-esteem.

Notice how I capitalised the word “self” on my last sentence. It was on purpose: before anything else, empowerment comes from within OURSELVES, meaning that we need to value ourselves and accept ourselves, see our worth and appreciate who we are, to feel truly powerful. Why? Because our emotions and thoughts are influenced by all those things. And at the same time, our emotions and thoughts will have an effect on our behaviour and actions, affecting ultimately our self-actualisation: our desire and path for self-fulfilment, which is to achieve (trying to achieve) all our realistic goals in life.

However, it is important to point out that women’s empowerment requires more than the positive relationship of a woman with herself. A good mind-set and emotional wellbeing is essential, but so is freedom: women’s empowerment has a lot to do with women making their own informed choices. And to make their own informed choices, women need more than a positive concept of themselves. Women need to have their basic needs (e.g. food, shelter) covered, they need to have the same legal rights as men, they need to have access to education and they need to be financially secure. Basically, women need to be treated as humans with free will and have their human rights respected. But we all know this doesn’t happen. Issues like poverty, inequality, lack of education and sexism hinder the ability of women to make informed choices, while affecting their development disproportionately. And this is a global matter that needs to be tackled.

Another thing to talk about is the role that various identities play in the definition of “womanliness”. Too often, being a woman is portrayed in a specific way that ignores intersections within someone’s identity. Sexuality, religion, race, ethnicity and others affect how someone is perceived, and it also influences people’s perception of their gender within different societies and social groups. Black women, Muslim women, lesbian women… All these are women, still different, and that’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to be a woman. I can’t stress how important is intersectionality for women’s empowerment and it frustrates me a lot seeing it left out.

Shaming religious women who choose to wear veils is not empowering. Discriminating transsexual women to the point in which they harm themselves and/or even commit suicide is a direct attack to women’s freedom. Not taking into account someone’s race to understand their oppressive situation as a woman ignores significant aspects that will influence their ability to feel empowered. Keep this in mind when advocating for women’s empowerment, if you truly care about the issue.

All this been said, it is time to move on to the second half of this blog post: talking about women that inspire me. My choices are: Malala Yousafzai, Beyoncé Knowles and Miley Cyrus.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala is an 18 year girl who first gained the public’s attention when she was 11-12 years old, because she wrote a blog “detailing her life under Taliban occupation, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley”. She was interviewed and celebrated by international press and even nominated for International Children’s Peace Primy7ze by South African activist Desmond Tutu. However, her activism became very notorious after she was shot in July 2012 while travelling to school. This event was considered an assassination attempt by the Talibans, who controlled the area where she lived and tried to prevent girls from getting an education. After being in a critical condition for a while, Malala survived, moving to England to get intensive rehabilitation. Now, over two years later, she is celebrated as an advocate for education for girls around the whole globe.

Malala-SATsThere are various impressive and inspirational aspects about Malala’s actions. First is her courage before and after getting shot. While she was just a kid and a teen, she fought for her right to get an education and she was brave enough to campaign for it, even knowing that her life would be in risk and her ambition was not liked by everyone. Second is her pacifist approach to her attack: instead of seeking revenge, she forgave and kept spreading love. She doesn’t believe in violence, and she thinks that education is the real cure for it, which is not far from the true. Ignorance is the root of a lot of evil in the world and educating people can make ignorance vanish.

Malala and her battle to guarantee every girl across the globe access to education is everything I aspire to be one day. I want to create change, use any platform I have to improve people’s lives without being scared of being silenced. Moreover, I’m slightly familiar with her struggle to be valued as a 1378312382000-GTY-179417801woman and being deemed worth of freedom of choice. Since I was a child, sexism has prevented me from achieving many things and it has deeply affected my self-confidence. I’m currently recovering from living in a toxic environment where I was downplayed due to my gender and I find courage in Malala’s actions and words. If she can do it, having it much worse than I ever did, I can do it too.

Beyoncé Knowles

Beyoncé is a singer and performer who is currently one of the most influential artists alive. I have always found her inspiring for many reasons, from her hard work ethic to her ability to improve and evolve over time. I remember researching about her for an essay for college and I finding out that when she was young, she had family problems, she suffered from depression, and she had self-esteem issues, just like me. I was shocked. Beyoncé seems like a very strong woman, but I guess that being strong doesn’t mean you can’t suffer. I always wonder how she overcame her fears and difficulties. Did she ever overcome them completely? I believe that some pain and insecurities never go, but you can learn to deal with them.

Although I admired her for years, it wasn’t till she released her fifth studio album, BEYONCÉ, when I saw in her (part of) the type of woman I want to be one day. Why? These videos and songs. I encourage you to watch them and share them. The words in them carry a lot of value and wisdom:

(I know Formation isn’t a song from her BEYONCÉ era but I couldn’t not include it! Her celebration of black women in this video is very motivational for me, it is important and it needs to be highlighted!)

Miley Cyrus

Miley is a singer and actress, and perhaps the public figure who has inspired me most since my childhood. Before it was because of her character in Hannah Montana as Miley Stewart, together with some of her songs as Hannah Montana such as “Just A Girl”, “Don’t Wanna Be Torn”, “The Climb”, “Every Part of Me”, “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Make Some Noise” (I find all these songs either uplifting or relatable, and they helped me go through some of my darkest times). Now things are different: Miley is no longer Miley Stewart, she doesn’t act a certain way to maintain her innocent Disney girl image.

Over the last couple of years, she has become open about her sexuality through her music, performances and photoshoots. She has also challenged some of the world’s perceptions of beauty and womanliness, sharing her own struggles with her image and her femininity (which I find very relatable). Even though her personal choices have made her happy and comfortable with her skin, the public has often condemned her nudity and sexual behaviour. Nowadays, hearing people refer to her as a bad role model is common, yet despite everything, I still find her inspiring, perhaps now more than ever. In order to show why, I picked some of my favourite quotes from her relatively recent interviews. Here are they:

miley-cyrus-happy-hippie-launch“I don’t relate to what people would say defines a girl or a boy, and I think that’s what I had to understand: Being a girl isn’t what I hate, it’s the box that I get put into.”

“Fuck that. You don’t have to wear makeup. You don’t have to have long blonde hair and big titties. That’s not what it’s about. It’s, like, personal style.’ I like that I’m associated with sexuality and the kind of punk-rock shit where we just don’t care. Like Madonna or Blondie or Joan Jett—Jett’s the one that I still get a little shaky around. She did what I did in such a crazier way. I mean, girls then weren’t supposed to wear leather pants and, like, fucking rock out. And she did.”

“I don’t put pressure on myself to be a role model, other than hopefully inspiring people to be good and to treat people w1401x788-Screen-Shot-2015-05-18-at-10.57.17-AMell. I’m going to be what I want, and I’m going to do what I want. When people are suffocated, that’s when they end up falling off.”

“I still don’t think we’re there 100 percent. I mean, guy rappers grab their crotch all fucking day and have hos around them, but no one talks about it. But if I grab my crotch and I have hot model bitches around me, I’m degrading women? I’m a woman—I should be able to have girls around me! But I’m part of the evolution of that. I hope.”

“I don’t want, in my life ever, some prince dude to come save me. I don’t need to be saved. I’m my own person. I’m strong.”

Miley-being-Miley-e1433898215356She told Out, that she was “frustrated” by being a girl when she was younger because of the, “stereotype of weakness, and the vulnerability,” that came with it. But said, “As you get older I think I just started to celebrate it, because I learned more about what women really are. Being a woman, that’s everything to me. Without women there is no life. I’m empowered as well, because I really feel like I hold something that’s the secret in all of life and the power of it. But, it took me a while to get like that.”’

“When you look at retouched, perfect photos, you feel like shit. They lighten black girls’ skin. They smooth out wrinkles,” Cyrus told Marie Claire. “Even when I get stuck on Instagram wondering, ‘Why don’t I look like that?’ It’s a total bummer. It’s crazy what people have decided we’re all supposed to be.”

On conclusion, these are three women that had (and still have) a significant impact on my development and growth as a woman. None of them are perfect, some of them have more flaws than others, but I don’t strive for perfection and that’s fine. All of them are self-proclaimed feminists and use their platform/career to advocate for gender equality, even though if it is in different ways and in different levels. Their feminism is also quite different from each other, since they are women with different identities (religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality…) and issues they care about (education, motherhood, sexual liberation, gender roles…).

Before I end this post, I must say that there are many other women whom I consider inspirational, these are just three of them. In fact, lately I have been discovering the activist, artistic and/or academic work of many women who have been always unknown for me (mainly women of colour, many of them African), and I’m loving it. This means that if you ask me in a few months’ time, the women who inspire me the most may be different to these three I just talked about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2045, Social Change Is The New Buzzword

The year is 2045. I’m working in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, as the manager of a community centre. I graduated from university twenty-six years ago and, after carrying out a master in social anthropology, I decided to travel to different countries to implement and manage projects to help the most disadvantaged.

SONY DSC

(Slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: http://www.citiesalliance.org/nairobi)

Many things have changed in the last three decades. Over time, development became more privatised: governments became less involved in providing public services, due to the increased presence of businesses. The push for neoliberalism by Western states forced developing countries to integrate into the international market economy, as capitalism was seen as a system totally connected with democracy (Berthoud, 2010).

As the economies of developing countries improved, dependency on bilateral and multilateral aid decreased. Official agencies like the World Bank became less important. Various countries decided to cut or diminish the amount of money donated or lent to other nations. At present, the economical differences between Northern countries and Southern countries keep decreasing. Terms like “developing” and “developed” are barely used anymore: “development” is no longer a buzzword.

However, the excessive focus on economic growth overshadowed human development. Income inequality is a huge problem. The upper class members of society keep getting richer while working class individuals experience more hardship every day. Capitalist methods like microfinance failed to help the poorest and just helped those who were already above the poverty line: with more income, more risks in form of investments are taken, which tend to lead to more income flow, but with less income, micro-loans are merely used to protect basic needs for survival (Karnani, 2007).

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(Cartoon showing income inequality in USA. Source: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/13/nation/la-na-tt-income-inequality-20130312)

Another big issue that was left unaddressed was climate change. Many nations failed to cut down their CO2 emissions after global consensus was not reached. This could be attributed to the failure to alter the economic system and to businesses that saw meaningful action against climate change as a threat, instead of an investment (Newell, 2011). Moreover, the lack of food security is a concern for many, particularly in poor rural regions in the Global South, where unstable rainfall patters affect agriculture negatively, as it was already expected years ago (The Companion to Development Studies, 2014).

Due to the laisse faire attitude adopted by governments and the privatisation of basic services such as healthcare and education, non-state actors like NGOs and charities now play the key role of meeting the needs of the poorest in society. At the same time, social movements comprising protests and boycotts have become the norm in many countries, in response to austerity, insecure employment and the lack public services. This has often led to unrest and political instability, including violent conflicts and terrorism in some places.

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(Example of a social movement. Source: http://www.esdaw.eu/social-movement.html)

To sum up: development is not a finished project, even if many pretend it is. This quote is relevant nowadays: “a society in which everybody had a right to basic security would address inequality directly. But in the globalisation era, so far, there has been a drift to a charity perspective, not a rights-based one” (Standing, 2010).  The inability of elites to create a sustainable and green economic system that prioritises human rights over economics is making life harder every day for millions and is ruining the environment. Yet, there is hope. If social movements keep strengthening and terrorism is avoided as a political tool, real transformations could happen in the next few years. Calls for development have just been replaced by calls for justice and equality. In 2045, social change is the new buzzword.

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Bibliography

  1. Berthoud, G. (2010). The Development Dictionary: Market. 2nd New York, USA: Zed Books.
  2. Karnani, A. (20087). Microfinance Misses Its Mark (SSIR). Available at: http://ssir.org/articles/entry/microfinance_misses_its_mark (Accessed: 07/12/2015)
  3. Newell, P. (2011) ‘Climate change’ in R. Devetak, A. Burke and J. George (eds) An Introduction to International Relations. Cambridge: CUP.
  4. Standing, G. (2007). ‘Social Protection’ in Cornwall, Eade (ed.) Buzzwords and fuzzwords: deconstructing development discourse. Dunsmore: Practical Action Publishing Ltd, pp. 65.
  5. Vandana, D. Potter, R. The Companion to Development Studies. 3rd Oxon: Routledge.

Ignorance Is Innate But Keeping It Is A Choice

In the past couple of days  I have seen an enormous amount of  xenophobic, Islamophobic, racist comments on the Internet, from people like politicians trying to push their agendas, to teenagers with too much free time and no knowledge of history and geography. Normally I get angry and argue with people, trying to prove and show how wrong they are: how Muslims, people of colour and immigrants are humans as they are. How being an immigrant isn’t bad and migration is a natural process. However, I have reached a point in my life in which I’m genuinely tired. I’m tired of having to argue about the humanity of other people. I’m tired of having to argue about my humanity and right to migrate. I’m tired.

The terrorist attacks in Paris a few days ago were disgusting and horrific. However, it is time everyone stops pretending they are an excuse to not want refugees in their communities, to hate on Muslims and to close borders for migrants. They aren’t an excuse. If you think they are an excuse, go ahead and be bigoted. Call me “leftie”, call me “liberal”. I’m just educated. Educated enough to know that you can’t blame everyone from the same religion because of the actions of a few, and more when those few hurt “their” communities more than anyone else. ISIS has been terrorising Syria and Iraq for months. They are linked to a recent attack in Beirut too. Little concern I saw about this from all the suddenly “aware” people.

Muslims are the prime victims of this sort of terrorism, which has political goals rather than religious goals, just in case you didn’t know it. Muslims are also the main fighters against it. “Islamic” terrorism kills more non-Westerns than Westerns. Boko Haram is another good example. Millions of people have been displaced in Nigeria because of them. Thousands dead. All this in the last couple of years. Again, silence from the international community. And media isn’t even the blame. Media covers these events, trust me. People just ignore them. Because the headlines read “Nigeria”, “Syria” or “Iraq”. And let’s be honest: hardly anyone cares about Africa or Asia unless it is to be racist, to show how “good Samaritans” they are, to be a tourist, or to”invest” in their resources.

Another thing I would like to talk about is how people love to define what is terrorism and what isn’t. Terrorism is a threat to the world, yes. But “Islamic” terrorism is not the only type of terrorism that is an issue. Between 2009 and 2013, more than 55% of terrorist attacks in Europe were by ethno-nationalistic and separatist groups (Source: Europol). In 2014, separatist, anarchist and far left were the most common forms of terrorism in EU (Source: Europol). Moreover, attacks by far right and neonazi groups are currently on the rise. In Europe, in the last months, various refugee shelters have been intentionally burned down, many mosques have been attacked, anti-antisemitism has been proven far from gone and discriminatory attitudes towards immigrants and religious minorities keep being reported. In London, Islamophobic attacks increased by 70% between 2014 and 2015. Last month, there was a xenophobic attack in a school in Sweden in which two people died and another two were injured. In June 2015, a mass shooting driven by racist motives left eight people dead in an African-American church in USA, followed by various arsons in other African-American churches. However, these type of things aren’t called “terrorism” (they actually are!). They are just “hate crimes” and smalls efforts are made to tackle them at national or international scale. Because “racism just happens”, “it isn’t that serious” and “we have to live with it”. It is obvious that not all lives matter the same.

Furthermore, if you analyse carefully the current language of some Western politicians and media outlets when discussing migration and the present refugee crisis, you will find resemblances with genocidal language used by Nazis and by leaders of the Rwandan genocide. I’m not exaggerating. Research if you want. Jews escaping from persecution and smuggling into England or travelling to USA during and after the II World War were as demonised as current Middle Eastern and African refugees are. Politics of fear made tragedies like the Holocaust possible because everyone fed into them. And without doubt, nationalism and fascism are things that Europe hasn’t left behind. It is time everyone stops pretending just a few individuals are racist: we have a growing unaddressed problem. Because if we didn’t, politicians, governments and parties with a clear xenophobic ideologies wouldn’t be as followed, voted and popular as they are right now.

Racism is not only saying racial slurs and openly discriminating others. Racism is thinking you are inherently superior to others for no reason other than your race, nationality or ethnicity. Racism is thinking you shouldn’t allow people from a specific ethnic group in “your country” because you won’t be safe due to some “members” of that ethnic group being dangerous, like if your own ethnic group is perfect. Racism is automatically assuming brown people are terrorists and black people are criminals till “proven wrong”. It doesn’t matter if you make your opinion public or not. It doesn’t matter if you have black friends or not. It doesn’t matter if you donate to aid organisations in Africa. It doesn’t matter if you tell no one you agree with a xenophobic political party. You are still racist. You aren’t “saying it like this” by writing a rant on your Facebook about how Islam is evil and migrants come here to steal your jobs while simultaneously living off benefits (guess nothing is impossible!). You are just a bigot. An uneducated bigoted.

In particular, there is a problem with the complex superiority of Christians, white Europeans and white European descendants in terms of terrorism and crimes. Society can’t keep sweeping under the carpet hundreds of years of genocide and slavery in Africa, America and Asia, which was in great part justified with Christianity, while pretending imperialism didn’t have consequences or it doesn’t affect current issues. Great part of the wealth of some European countries is inheritance of colonialism. And this didn’t happen long ago. Most decolonisation movements (and all the independence wars in which thousands died) are more recent than the II World War, yet in Europe we don’t hold massive memorials to remember this. Despite being a fundamental part of the history of the continent, nobody likes to remember colonialism and most schools don’t even teach it properly. Why? Because nobody likes to be associated with that sort of crimes against humanity, and less when they didn’t participate in them. Think about this if you constantly blame 1.6-1.7 billion Muslims in the world of the actions of terrorist groups like ISIS.

Now, let’s be honest: we are all taught prejudice and stereotypes about other races, religions, nationalities and ethnicities. In our family, in school, through media, through books. Many of us have unconscious discriminatory thoughts and we think it is normal and ok. I admit I have my own toxic thoughts about others which I’m working to eradicate. Ignorance is innate but keeping it is a choice, and more if you live in a multi-cultural society or/and with access to the Internet. A part of growing up is developing critical and logical thinking abilities, to judge and analyse what we read, see or listen. These abilities are developed to be used in our daily lives, not to just pass exams and get jobs. Question what you read in newspapers and what you see in TV. Discuss controversial issues with others. Research about topics first before giving an opinion on them. Don’t just try to be intelligent: be wise too. Wisdom is important.

Identity isn’t a reason to discriminate negatively. Nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion…. These aren’t reasons to discriminate and make others seem inferior. We don’t live in a fair world. We don’t. Yet that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to make it fair. We live in a world primarily divided by identity and it is upsetting to see it. Power relations are set in such a way that systematic oppression of certain groups depending on class, gender, race, sexuality, age and others happen in all societies across the world. And I repeat, it is upsetting to see it. I don’t have much faith in the world when comes to this: I don’t think humans will be able to live in global peace any time soon. People don’t stop putting identity before humanity and people don’t want to let go their power. I hope I’m proven wrong at some point in my future life.

I have little more to say. I will conclude this post with something I learnt recently in one of my university modules.

As you may already know, identity is a social and historical construction. Our differences from others (race, religion, gender) shape our identity. How we see ourselves is all about how we see others. When we acquire a form of identity, we are separating ourselves from others identities. Because of this, dealing with identity based discrimination, like racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia, is not about others. Others don’t have to prove or show you they are humans as you are. If you are racist, the problem is not about the race you hate or dislike. If you are Islamophobic, the problem aren’t Muslims. If you are xenophobic, the problem aren’t foreigners. You are the problem.  Muslims don’t have to apologise for what happened in Paris nor publicly condemn it for you to know that ISIS doesn’t represent them. YOU are the one who has to sit down and re-check your thoughts. Tackling identity based discrimination is about dealing with yourself. Why you feel superior? Why you think others are inherently bad or evil? From where does your privilege comes? From where do your discriminatory thoughts come? And for people who suffer from identity discrimination: stop explaining yourself, stop proving your humanity and stop apologising. You don’t have the fault.

Sharing my thoughts,

Emilie

Beauty, Pop Culture, Make-up & Eurocentric Standards

Beauty is everything nowadays. Beauty is nature. Beauty is love. Beauty is art. Beauty is intelligence. Beauty is confidence. Beauty is humankind. Beauty is realness. Beauty is music. Beauty is family. Beauty is friendship. Beauty is poetry. Beauty is touch. Beauty is happiness. Beauty is secrecy. Beauty is sexiness. Beauty is rebellion. Beauty is different. Beauty is equal. The whole world is basically beauty for the deepest people. The good thing about this term is that it is subjective to everyone’s eyes, mind and heart. Hence beauty is diversity, above everything.

However, even if the word “beauty” sounds enchanting and lovely, it has become one of the biggest problems within society.The pressure to be perfect is too real nowadays. Too real. I’m sure there has always been pressure, but the global media, social networks and the Internet have added even more burden to the population. Many people seem obsessed with being someone’s “woman/man crush”. Nowadays, being called the “baddest” in Twitter is the biggest compliment. The thirst for likes in Facebook increases with every new beauty trend. Photoshop has become the world’s most shamed but used tool. We spend minutes choosing a good “selfie” and selecting a good “filter”. People go to the gym and workout to become “body goals” in Instagram, instead of caring about the actual benefits to their health. Make up is the new natural look. Cosmetic surgery is so common now, and not only with adults, but also with youngsters. Having a thigh gap is everything. Having a big butt is everything. Eyebrows are more than just hair. Lips are more than just skin. A pretty face makes you famous. And an appealing fashion style makes your rich and adored.

I know that currently there is this big wave of “let’s allow people to do whatever they want with their bodies”, and I couldn’t agree more. Make up shaming is wrong. Skinny/Fat shaming is wrong. People should be allowed to make decisions about their body because it is theirs. If someone wants to get cosmetic surgery, it is their decision and it should be respected. If someone wants to show off the body they have worked hard on, it is completely find! Nevertheless, I can help but feel concerned about how much being considered beautiful is getting to people’s head. It is not only about how this obsession leads to eating disorders and other mental health illnesses caused due to low self-esteem. It is about how the value of humans is starting to be measured just by their beauty, instead of by their talents, skills, achievements, wisdom and intelligence.

As humans, we are more than just our appearance. We are intelligent. We are hard-working. We are wise. We are skilful. We have a wide range of qualities. So why, why is beauty the one that counts the most? Everything I’m saying may sound a bit too overdramatic, but if you actually spent a few hours focusing on how much people care about beauty, you would realise of what I’m trying to say. We care more about likes in Instagram than compliments on our actions. We look up to people who show little more than a good looking face and a hot body. We fight over stupid mean comments on our appearance, but we ignore criticism on our studies or work ethic.  And unless you are a public figure or a celebrity, a pretty face will not get you very far away, and unless you are a model, it isn’t going to pay your bills.

Perhaps, this obsession wouldn’t be dangerous or important, if it wasn’t because of how society’s idea of beauty is too too too dependent of pop culture and Eurocentric standards. On the one hand, pop culture is problematic. When I was little, I got mocked often for having an arched back and a big butt. Satiric comics often made jokes of people with thick eyebrows and thick lips. Having a thigh gap and collarbones noticing got people calling you “anorexic”. But all of the sudden, all of this is acceptable, and even pursued by the majority of people. And why? Because certain celebrities have acquired these attributes, using them as “new iconic styles”. Then as always, mainstream media glorifies and fetishizes those looks. And of course, the general population gets brainwashed and is crazy about them. Silly to be honest.

Should I be happy that now people aren’t going to shame my body shape? Maybe. Am I happy? No. Why? For the reason that this trend will end up disappearing as quickly as it appeared, and we will be back to the same story. Body shapes and physical attributes aren’t trends set by popular figures. Or at least they shouldn’t be. The high influence of celebrities’ appearance in ordinary people’s life is pathetic, and horrible for both sides. On the one hand, celebrities have to deal with a lot of pressure to look amazing and incredible in every picture and video. How they dress on an award’s show red carpet is more important than the awards they are nominated for. On the other hand, ordinary people that don’t have the money, time and ability to reach those beauty standards feel worthless and less pretty. People who decide not to follow the trends are mocked, people who decide to follow the trends are mocked too. Ridiculous.

Make up is another aspect of pop culture that needs to be addressed. Using make-up is not bad. Make-up is nice and very artistic. It can also help to cover scars that may cause us psychological distress if seen. It can help us to look different every day, so our face suits our clothing. It is not only about looking attractive. It is also about feeling confident. Make up is wonderful. But it is dangerous too. I always say that make up is there to polish the attributes people already have. It shouldn’t be there to create a fake image of ourselves, because at the end of the day, the majority of make-up items are temporal. We can apply to our skin litres and litres of foundation. We can draw our lips bigger and bigger. We can shape our eyebrows perfectly with a pencil. But our appearance is our appearance, from the moment we are born, to the moment we die.

Moreover, what is quite upsetting is how women we are socially forced to use make-up to look pretty: we are forced to believe that beauty is more important than the rest of our attributes. How many times have we all seen magazines and TV-shows shaming celebs for not using make up or the “correct” make-up? Why all the dolls for little girls, like Barbie and Bratz, are full of make up on their faces? Why women in certain positions within their workplace are told to wear make up to look “presentable”? It is quite worrying because men are not told the same things.  Though men have their issues too. We often tend to underestimate the beauty standards set on men: having a six-pack, being 6ft or over, perfect jawline… Men do suffer from self-esteem issues, and are victims of media and society too.

On the other hand, we have the issue of Eurocentric standards. The historical colonisation of countries in America, Asia, Africa and Oceania by Europe led to the supremacy of Caucasians for quite a long time. This supremacy brought oppression for various races and ethnicities, not only political and economic, but also social. When people talk about the implications of colonisation, they talk about slavery, they talk about stolen lands, and they talk about genocide… But they rarely discuss how colonisation affected the mind of oppressed people. Now, this can be a foreign topic for you if your ancestors or you weren’t affected by colonisation, but many know what I’m talking about. Colonisation white-washed the world, and even if it ended theoretically, this planet is still suffering due to it. If you think about it, many countries obtained their independence in the second half of the 20th century. Not long ago.

When I say “white-washed”, I’m talking about how people around the globe fell into the believe that “white is the best, everything good is white”. And that believe was passed onto generations and generations. At present, the supremacy of white people is still a thing. It still goes on, yet it gets concealed a lot. And not only in the West: non-Western countries are also affected by this. Growing up in the West being part of an ethnic minority is hard, and you can suffer from discrimination and racism every day, either directly or indirectly. But growing up in your country of origin, if this was colonised, has drawbacks too. The obsession with light skin tone, straight hair and blue/green eyes is global. White people’s physical attributes are the most worshipped attributes because the rest of races’ attributes were and are often shamed and put down. Futhermore, mainstream media promotes white beauty over anything else. Just look at the lack of diversity in famous fashion magazines and adverts. In catwalks. In skin care product adverts.

I’m not saying that non-white people aren’t celebrated at all. But 75% of times, the majority of non-white people celebrated for their beauty, both by society and in media, have light skin tones. In the case of women for instance, they also wear usually straight long weaves, sometimes of blonde or red colours. You don’t see a lot of afros. You don’t see natural curly hair. You don’t see women with hijabs or veils. I can’t count the times I have seen people praising Latinos for their beauty, but leaving out indigenous, afro-latinos and Native people. I can’t count the times I have seen people praising light-skinned Asians from the Middle East and surrounding countries, but leaving out dark-skinned ones. It all comes down to the lack of representation these races and ethnicities have in mainstream media, and the high amount of satirical jokes that mock the attributes of these people. And sadly, the fault is not only in white people. Self-hate due to appearance is frequent amongst non-white people.

Now, you can say that the lack of representation in the West is normal because “this is the West, this is white people’s region, get over it!”. But, apart from being a wrong statement, it is ignorant. For instance, America is originally from Natives and Latinos, though they have a very low representation in mainstream media. And in Europe, countries like United Kingdom have a high rate of diversity because after the II World War, help was asked to countries like Ghana, India, Pakistan, Jamaica… United Kingdom doesn’t have diversity just because people decide to go there randomly. United Kingdom, as other European countries, was damaged by the war and needed help to recover. When bringing African, American and Asian people to their country, all these countries were committed to integrate them and make them part of their society. Not just use them as mere workers and tools. And with integration, comes representation and acceptance of new ethnicities and cultures, something that didn’t happen 100%, even if promised.

On conclusion: beauty is good and beauty is bad. Beauty is important but it shouldn’t be central to humans. We need to start valuing people more for their hearts, for their brains and for their hands. Because beauty is subjective. We need to learn that beauty, above all, is opinion. Self-love is essential in life: liking how we look, in order to have a good self-esteem. You can rock make-up every day, but you need to learn that you don’t need it to be beautiful. Celebrities and public figures shouldn’t define how you feel about your appearance, and you shouldn’t shame them for their looks and decisions neither. When beauty is dependent on pop culture and Eurocentric standards, a lot of people suffer. A lot. There are hundreds of ethnicities in the world, and there are seven billion of people. Judging everyone by the attributes of some is stupid. And more diversity is needed, because representation is important.