Tag Archives: race

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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Poem / Song Lyrics: Nowhere

“Crisis

Crisis

That’s how

I see who I am

My humanity

Is questionable

Indefinable

Nowhere

Where am I from?

Nowhere

Where do I belong?

Passport

Passport

Worthless document

They think it is fake

My nationality

Defies fascism

Racism

Nowhere

Where am I from?

Nowhere

Where do I belong?

Colour

Colour

Just pigment

Yet, key in my life

My race

A construct

Conduct

Nowhere

Where am I from?

Nowhere

Where do I belong?

Roots

Roots

The truth

Although, recovering it, is painful

My ethnicity

Most important

Constant

Nowhere

Where am I from?

Nowhere

Where do I belong?

Identity

Identity

African heritage

Stolen, erased, trashed and enslaved

My soul

Invisible essence

Distress

Nowhere

Where am I from?

Nowhere

Where do I belong?”

 

By Emilie F. Yaakaar

All Rights Reserved © 2017

 

 

Poem: 10 Facts / One Truth (A Womanist Breakdown Of Womanliness)

“One

As a girl

Your opinion matters little

Who gave you a voice, miss?

Don’t speak your mind

Even if you are right

Just shut up and hide behind

 

Two

As a girl

Your curvy body

Makes them prey on you

Damned is your appearance

Gets you sexualised

Even when you are barely

A ten year old pre-teen

 

Three

As a girl

You need to look after the house

It doesn’t matter if your brothers

Mess up or don’t help

But if you make

A small and silly mistake

The shouts will send you straight to hell

 

Four

As a girl

You must aim at marriage

A distorted vision of culture

Is more important than your education

They don’t care about your grades

You are useless if you can’t bake a cake

 

Five

As a girl

You have to serve the man

Because apparently he is too dumb

To look after himself

And he needs someone to dominate and maintain

In order to feel his toxic masculinity

He must rely on your weak femininity

 

Six

As a girl

You are supposed to wear make-up

Smile sweetie!

Be feminine and delicate

Wear this dress and close your legs

Act as a modest lady

Or risk being deemed

Unworthy of respect

 

Seven

As a girl

Depression is solely being moody

Your dark skin says you are just bitter

Eating disorders

Are mere self-obsessions

Even if unreachable standards

Are promoted across nations

 

Eight

As a girl

You should have children

Be a mother and dedicate your life to others

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t ready

Emotionally or physically

You are a selfish for wanting a career

And without kids

Your life will be seen as incomplete

 

Nine

As a girl

Misinterpreted religions say

You are worth less than men

Because of a natural hierarchy

You deserve to be paid less

Blame yourself if you are raped

It is just human instinct

Kings should always be pleased

 

And ten

Above all

The only certainty is that

As a girl

You turn 16

Feeling like if you are 30

Your phase of innocence and freedom

Ends quickly

And your years of play and growth

Are cut short

By gender roles”

 

-Written about sexism through situations I have personally experienced as a black woman, including comments and events I have heard, lived and seen.

 

By Emilie H. Featherington

All Rights Reserved © 2016

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

Actions, Death & Tornado

“I did something really bad once and I’m never gonna be the same!”– Seven Pounds (film)
Some actions we carry out in life will never be forgotten. They can be good actions or bad actions; but equally remarkable at the end of the day. However, bad things stay more time in our heads, giving us remorses, And even changing our personality and attitude. And, sometimes, you are never able to go back as you were before.
“I wasn’t lost, or frozen, or gone… I was alive; I was alive in my own perfect world.” -The Lovely Bones (Movie)
I always wondered what is behind death, till I watched this movie. I know it is fiction, but a part of me hopes it is something like this. It makes sense. And you can still live and be happy. Yet, on the other hand, watching the ones who love me suffer because of my death would just kill me again.
“18 people were killed in Jackson that night. 10 white and 8 black. I don’t think God has a color in mind when he sets a tornado loose.” – The Help (film)

No, he doesn’t. Skin colour is just skin colour. Race is a social construction. Racism is an irrational ideology invented to power colonisation and maintain the power of elites. At the end of the day, we are all humans. We all breathe, we all die. Natural disasters don’t understand racial segregation. Neither does God. We are all the same at his eyes.