Queer Black Liberation- A trip to Brazil


Next week I am travelling to Brazil to take part in an artist's residency at Terra Una exploring the subject of “Queer Black Liberation”. The eco village I will be staying in is situated near Rio de Janeiro and I will spend a couple of week immersing myself in art, magic and the forest! I am very excited. 

Overcoming fears

 A few weeks ago, I almost talked myself out of it. After I booked a plane ticket and my residency proposal got approved, all of the monsters came out to play. 

Anxiety showed up right on queue and asked me how I was going to afford it. Everything has already been so much more expensive than I anticipated, I’ll have to take time off work and do I really want to start the year off indulging in a trip abroad? Imposter syndrome reared its ugly head, once again - who do I think I am anyway thinking I know anything about those words when this time last year, I could barely even say the word black? Shame rushed in to tell me I was stupid and didn’t know what I was doing and fear gripped me in the middle of the night reminding me of all the things that could go wrong. So I slowed down on my Duolingo learning and put further travel plans on the back burner and thought about just letting the opportunity go because it was becoming too stressful to think about. But I’m happy to announce I have overcome this and  I’m not going to waste any more of my energy entertaining the monsters. 

Why Brazil?

I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil. One of the reasons is that I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to look like I belong somewhere. I’ve spent my whole life having my identity questioned by other people, so much so that for the longest time, I didn’t even realise the damage it was doing to my sense of self. Everywhere in the world I have gone, it is never presumed that I am “from” there. I always wonder how people are going to react when they ask me where I’m from and hear my reply. Most of the time I say I’m from Ireland, the Motherland because I grew up there and it is the culture I was raised in and know best. I always try to anticipate how they will react. Will shock spread across their face before they have a chance to cover it up and then say something stupid? Will they awkwardly try to back track as the cogs move around in their heads and they try to make sense of my existence? Will they ask a follow up question, trying to scope out why I am not white? Will I be met with a blatantly racist comment? Or, as is the rare case, will they just accept my answer? And if they do, is it just because they are too polite to question it further or is it because they believe me? In Cameroon, the Fatherland, I thought I might get a taste of what it feels like to blend in but the lightness of my skin stood out and everything from my clothing to the way I wore my hair signalled that I was not “from” there either. I have strangely found it more comforting living in Vancouver and being asked where I am from, a transient city where the presumption of my foreignness is justified that little bit more. Still though, I have to take a few deep breaths before I enter an Irish bar and I am sometimes jealous of my white Irish friends for being allowed to show up and celebrate their Irishness without being challenged.

Of course I realise that as soon as I open my mouth it will be game over and I would be naive to think that Brazil doesn’t have its own racism problem. I am not Brazilian and not pretending to be but I have often been asked if I am from there, more than any other place. I don’t know much about the country, my language learning skills are not the greatest and my sense of direction is likely to betray me more than once. But still, even if it is only for a few moments, even though I absolutely will be, I want to walk down the street and know what it feels like to not be perceived as a foreigner. 

My trip to Brazil is part of my racial healing journey and I deserve it!

Queer black Liberation? What does that even mean?

The subject of “Queer Black Liberation'' was inspired by a pin created by Joy Gyamfi (Instagram: @roughclub). Last summer, I attended the Vancouver Black Block party. I went solo after posting to my social media for expressions of interest but getting no responses. I felt compelled to check it out. When I walked in I was drawn to the LGBTQ+ table. I picked up a pin that read “Queer Black Liberation'' and awkwardly purchased it, not really knowing what those words meant but knowing that I am queer and at least half black  and I wanted to support queer black women. At one stage I ordered some African food and sat in a corner trying not to let on that my mouth was burning from the spice I wasn’t used to. I looked around at all the beautiful hairstyles and melanated faces, trying to act nonchalant and felt delighted when a song came on that I recognised. I didn’t talk to many people and left after an hour but I was beginning to realise that I was allowed to exist in a space like this and didn’t need to feel weird or apologetic about it. I purchased an art print by Odera Igbokwe (Instagram: Oderaigbokwe) and some gold earrings shaped like Africa and cycled home, happy that I had attended. I wondered what I would do with the pin in my pocket and I wondered what Queer Black Liberation even meant. 

pin by Joy Gyamfi

What are my intentions?

My intention is simply to explore what those words mean to me and make art. I will do so through painting, writing and experimenting with various methods of expression. It has been so helpful and validating to hear other black queer authors, musicians, poets and healers. I am overwhelmingly honoured and grateful to have connected with other queer black people, both in person and online. Their voices and experiences have lifted me, inspired me and opened up a world of possibilities I never even knew existed. I’ve been getting real intense and awkward on this wave of self discovery and I can't express enough how much finding community has helped me know myself.

That being said, I know that the only voice I can actually use is my own. I am aware of the privileges I have as a cis, able bodied and educated mixed race person residing on stolen land. I could list of the identifiers I have been given until I’m blue in the face and of course I know that race is a social construct. But unfortunately the realities of living in a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal society mean that we will always be given labels and by others and I fell like the only way to really free myself of letting other people's views of me define me, is to define myself, for myself. Or as Audre Lorde put it  “If I didn't define myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies of me and eaten alive,". Its been a huge year of racial reckoning and all of the work I have been doing has been emotionally draining and very overwhelming but also powerful and life changing. . When I picked up the “Queer Black Liberation” badge again recently, I realised that I have been getting a taste for what those words mean all along.

My trip to Brazil will a time to play and explore, to reflect on all the lessons I have learned up until now, to make art and disconnect from the grind; a gift to myself. 

If you would like to support me you can do so by visiting my art shop and purchasing a painting or print or a simple donation. I’m forever grateful. 

 Print by Odera Igbokwe

Older Post Newer Post