2018 Consultation Reflections: Real Community

Real Community

by Kathlene Corley

M.Div. Student, Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina

I decided to attend The Daughters of the African Atlantic’s consultation only knowing that a trusted mentor said I would enjoy it. Reading over the proposed workshops and forums energized me, setting a high expectation that would miss the mark. What I found during the consultation was a place that felt like home. The feeling of familiarity, similar to a grandmother’s loving hug, set the atmosphere, created a clear difference between The Daughters of the African Atlantic’s consultation and any other conference or consultation I have attended. Each workshop, event, forum, and meal was community focused. None failed.

Content quality could be discussed for days; however, there was one item, in particular, that will be the focus of this post as it will likely stick with me for the rest of my life. A time was set aside for Community Building and Engagement in small group break-outs. Each group included an interpreter, women native to Brazil, and women from other areas of the diaspora, intentionally creating opportunities for exchange that may not take place otherwise. Each person openly shared the first time they met a Black person from another country, a Black woman from another country, and their experiences with privilege and a lack thereof as a Black woman. Listening to the sisters speak, I heard similar emotions attributed to differing encounters and experiences. Some of them caused us to laugh while others weighed heavier on the group. Though their words greatly shaped my take-aways, I will not attempt to tell any of their stories here. However, I will attempt to share something I verbalized for the first time during that group.

My first thoughts of being less than equal had nothing to do with the beautiful brown that adorns my body. As a young woman in a poor urban area most of the people around me were Black. The injustices I experienced, as understood by a child, were attributed to my gender, not my Blackness. It was easy to see that my younger brother was given more praise, trust, and respect than I was. My mother was treated differently than my step-father and uncle. Men were applauded for being present, even though the women themselves were never absent. My baby brother’s future was bright because the world was at his feet, and, on the other hand, I may do well if someone decided to date the girl with glasses who stuttered when she spoke. Value (or lack of value) was placed on five-year-old me based on the chances that I may be valuable to a man one day.

Life and changes in our familial income showed me that it was not only being female that changed how I was perceived and addressed. A Black girl could not be as smart as the White girl and was only in the top class because they needed a Black girl, according to my classmates. During school I fought to prove I belonged. That was a waste of time. It was painfully clear that everyone in the room was expected to be better, brighter, and more worthy than me because I was Black and female. During those formative years, many of my Black friends stated they wanted to be White or have hair like White girls, and it baffled me. I understood how much harder and more painful it was for us, but I was proud to be the one who was overlooked and still smarter than anyone realized. There was joy in my personal celebration of what is to be a Black Girl.

Graduating from college, entering, and continuing in my career opened opportunities that would have otherwise been closed for me. As my career was beginning, I associated privilege with a change in economic status. For the majority of my life I saw no benefit in being a Black woman living my reality. To be clear I am not stating that there are no benefits or that I would want to be anyone other than a Black woman, but being a Black woman is hard. We are abused and not heard; we are the engine that is not cared for; and a Black woman is the one who is discarded when the ship comes in. The tenacity of Black women kept me proud to be who I am.

While contemplating how to answer the small group question about experiences of privilege, I realized the first time I felt there was a privilege in being a Black woman. It occurred during the 2017 women’s conference at Shaw University. The theme was “Lives of Black and Brown Girls Matter.” Latinx women were describing the horrific experiences of children being taken from hospitals and deported to other countries. Women who look like me and love their children with the same fierceness with which I love mine were living a nightmare removed from my reality. I sat there embarrassed because I had no idea this was happening. I felt powerless because my voice did not carry the weight to create the change needed to stop it. The only difference between them and me is that there was less chance that this horror would happen to me (although thousands of Black mothers and fathers have seen their children wrongfully taken into the foster care system) because I am a Black woman born in the United States. That was the first time I recognizably felt there was a privilege in being a Black woman in this country.

Realizing that truth hurt. My mind continued to process it for weeks after returning home. I began this blog comparing the atmosphere of the consultation to the safely and solace one may find resting in their grandmother’s arms. That atmosphere provided the space where I was able to be completely raw in my experience as a Black woman and to learn from openness of others. My journal notes from the consultation continue to inspire me. So, if I may add to my answer from the small group session, this is it: It is a privilege as a Black woman to be in spaces like the one created by The Daughters of the African Atlantic. It is a space where individuals are challenged holistically and cared for throughout the process. And rigorous, critical analysis is never lost in the process. It was a privilege to be among Black women from around the world and to know that I am home by listening to what cannot be heard with human ears and embracing what I did not know I possessed.

 

 

2018 Consultation Reflections: Brazil Is Like the United States, Except…

Brazil Is Like the United States, Except…

by Shoshana A. Brown, LMSW

This summer I took on the exciting and edgy experience of traveling to Brazil with The Daughters of the African Atlantic Fund to attend their African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology consultation. As a Black mixed-race Jewish femme, I certainly had my reservations of what the experience would be, particularly as I was attending alone and without any particularly special invitation. As a Tzovah in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, I have been on a journey to discover the language that best describes my practice of Judaism that incorporates indigenous Senegalese spiritual practices. I looked forward to allowing this consultation to help me refine and root deeply in the language I was writing about. I also sought to learn about Brazil and Brazilian culture and history.

Learning from some amazing Brazilian Womxn scholars and Candomblé practitioners was exactly what I hoped. Brazil is much like the United States. Brazil has a similar history of slavery, though much larger and longer. This means that there are many Black folks in Brazil and the nature of the way people identify their race is also more nuanced. The rates of violence against women is similarly high, and yet the homicides of Black women (quoted as 51 percent of all attempted homicides) are not considered gender violence. This along with research showing that Black womxn in Brazil have higher rates of risky abortion (which is illegal there) demonstrates the lack of value placed on the bodies of Black womxn in Brazil. The same can be said for the United States as we witness the devastating murders from Eleanor Bumpers (1984) to Crystalline Barnes (2018) and notably #SandraBland in the surge of the #sayhername movement. It was evident throughout the panels, side conversations, and personal anecdotes that Black womxn in Brazil share similar experiences to Black womxn in the United States.

While there are lots of similarities between the institutionalization of racism and sexism in Brazil and the United States, there is one difference that stood out – indigenous practice. The practice of Candomblé in Brazil was shared through a number of panels as well as an immersion experience in a Candomblé house. We learned about the vulnerability of Candomblé right now resulting from escalating violence on Candomblé houses mostly by people who are Christians, Protestant or Catholic. Religious intolerance continues to be a major topic of debate in Brazil.

Here in the United States, earth-based spiritual practices are flourishing as more activists find some of the policies and traditions of the Black church oppressive towards queer folks or inconsistent with their personal politics. You can find Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors discussing these tensions in the On Being podcast. While many folks feel pushed out of the church, they are finding roots and home in earth-based and embodied practices such as burning sage, crystal magic, meditation, and yoga. These practices are on the rise and are thriving. Many churches have begun to incorporate these spiritual aspects as a result.

So, while Brazil is very similar to the United States, the spiritual landscapes of the two countries are on an opposite trajectory. This consultation was affirming for my research, and I certainly obtained what I intended to. While I always expect to experience Christian hegemony as a Black Jew, I had hoped that at a consultation of African and African Diasporan Women there would be a bit more embodied practice and integration of spirituality actually infused throughout the experience. We must always remember that the absence of spirituality and religion does not actually create equality; rather it reinforces the dominant narrative – here it was Christianity.

 

We Honor and Celebrate Marielle Franco!

We Honor and Celebrate Marielle Franco!

The Daughters of the African Atlantic Fund abhors the murder of black Brazilian activist Marielle Franco.  In solidarity with movements for black empowerment in Brazil, we share Kia Caldwell, Wendi Muse, Tianna Paschel, Keisha-Khan Perry, Christen Smith, and Erica Williams’ collective statement on Franco’s murder, originally published on The Black Scholar‘s website. Click here to read that statement entitled “On the Imperative of Transnational Solidarity: A U.S. Black Feminist Statement on the Assassination of Marielle Franco.”