Deep Sea

So obviously I am obsessed by the sea.

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Today I went down to the beach and met a man. He says his name is Zuza. He helped me get onto the coral reef - guided me so that I wouldn't fall into the water. He then through sheer force of will and great humour (my Portuguese is STILL terrible) managed to relay to me that he was a fisherman, he catches most of the fish and seafood for all the restaurants in the area. He explained that sharks do not go after his boat, they go after swimmers because of the rhythm and ensuing vibrations they pick up from the way people swim. (He mimed this for me to help me understand). He explained that the boat does not have this rhythm, so the sharks are not interested. Then he asked if I liked deep sea diving. I said - Yes! I love doing it! And then he said he can take me out diving.

Now, it is quite likely that none of this conversation went down the way I interpreted it and I've just agreed to meet him for something completely different. But hey - adventure! (I mean - context is key here - I am 99% certain we were on the same page)

We admired the water and the waves for a while. He talked about how he had sailed the whole coast of Brazil and I'm guessing he also told me of some of his adventures. I smiled and nodded a lot. 

My dream of the sea is going deeper.

 

Dream of the Sea

I am so curious about the lack of beach life (hashtag beach life) in Recife. In Recife we are afraid of the sea. Because there are sharks. Shark Deaths.  A lot. 

It is properly dangerous.

That fear took some kind of hold of me when I first got here. Though I could see the sea. I couldn't go to to the sea. It seriously messed with my mind. I've had to slowly go to the sea. Keep on returning. Stand in the water. Dare to go to the Reef. To the Recife de Coral.

I am right in the belly of the Beast. On Boa Viagem Beach. This is the place I live for a month. With the Recife the dividing line between me and a watery death. Recife is a port town. Recife is a port town.

I arrived already with an idea of a project about Afrofuturism Under The Sea. Inspired and haunted by that so called Middle Passage - the beginning of a holocaust, one step in the normalising of a system of dehumanising Africans. Throwing the babies in the water. And mythologized by those searching for hope and answers as an underwater paradise - a safe place to be amidst all the brutality. 

The in betweenness becomes the nirvana. Resistance. The formulation of crucial identity. In Haitian Vodou there is a kingdom under the sea. The mixed race have been there - that is why their skin is lighter. They've been pulled under and been through tests. Oh the beauty one can find and mythologise in order to deal with brutality.

Frevo is a fire dance. A dance of fever, of boiling. The men who worked on the ports burst into dancing. Release and freedom. Amidst the brutality.

 

 

 

Haunted and haunted and haunted

Day 2 and I'm feeling it. I'm feeling a spectre looming, crushing me. Hello there old friend.

I've been to Brazil a few times and I've noticed it. I've felt it. But in time honoured tradition I ignored it. I... lightly batted it away. I dusted my shoulders off. I had things to do. 

But not this time for some reason. It's hit me. And I'm feeling the weight.

 The least Racist one

The least Racist one

This was the least racist one. And it was the first one I saw today. It began so well (as things do). A beautiful walk through Olinda, through its brightly coloured streets with carnival decorations ready and waving.

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But then we came to the picturesque shops with their souvenirs and their 'come in and let me show you something charming why don't you stay around to see our quaint folk art here you go'.

Is that... Is that...

Is that what you think I look like? Is that what you think we look like? Is that what you see? 

It is, apparently,  politically incorrect to call a black person a black person in Brazil. Their words for black are inherently connected to something negative. To 'denigrate' someone is to 'blacken' them. 

Ok I've had so many conversations about race in the last 2 days. I'm really really tired of it already. And I'm intensely aware of my privileged position here. I will never feel what the black people here feel in their own country. I can only feel a weird mirror of it - which is to often feel invisible. Like walking down the street - I'm an absence of a person. Or that any cultural identity which I so carefully have constructed, guarded, battled with is instantly destroyed when everybody I meet (no black people yet but here's hoping!) assumes I am Brazilian. What? Brazilian like the image above? 

Every shop and market stall had the same figures. Indigenous and black men and women. The black people - sexualised, stupid, ugly, distasteful. "Funny". The indigenous women - sexualised, primitivised. 

There are plenty of personifications of white people too. It is clearly a class issue too. And I can't claim to fully understand racism and race here. It is such a different culture to the other ones I know. The idea of race here is so radically different to most countries and indeed Brazil for a long time pretended to be some kind of 'mixed race' utopia. Looking around the streets of Recife this would seem to be true. 

But this feeling of being an absence of a person cannot be a coincidence. 

Just gonna quote this:

Brazil's New Problem with Blackness

"If interracial relationships were widespread prior to the abolition of slavery in 1888, they became a matter of national duty afterward. That didn’t happen “just because we all happened to get along,” said Mirtes Santos, a law student and Coletivo Negradamember. “It was a way to erase black identity.” Brazil’s government launched a full-on propaganda and policy effort to “whiten” Brazil: It closed the country’s borders to African immigrants, denied black Brazilians the rights to lands inhabited by the descendants of runaway slaves, and subsidized the voyage of millions of German and Italian workers, providing them with citizenship, land grants, and stipends when they arrived."

"As Brazil’s leading anthropologist told a rapt European audience in 1912, “the mixed-race Brazil of today looks to whiteness as its objective, its way out and its solution.” He predicted that, by 2012, black Brazilians would be extinct."

"While 80 percent of the country’s one-percenters are white, Brazilians who look black and mixed-race make up 76 percent of the bottom tenth of income earners."

Brazil's New Problem with Blackness

So here I am. I'm Black British. In Brazil, I'm the bottom of the social pile. I should be extinct. My supposed image a folk joke. Something that should have been bred out of me. 

Ironically, 10 years ago I would enjoy this sudden Invisibility Cloak. A respite from the street pestering, the stares and catcalls I experienced in the UK. But now, I have to look at it for what it is. 

And I feel very, very ugly. 

Let's hear it for internalisation!

 

 

 

Olinda

Arriving in Recife just feels like a dream. Out of the airport and straight into the heady scent of flowers. I was taken to Olinda - a gorgeous pile of colonial buildings on sea on cobbled stones on palm trees. After a groggy sleep, being woken by the Blocos passing by. The rhythms of Maracatu, Frevo and Batteria sliding neatly into my dreams, allowing my subconscious to fully register - I have arrived. I am here. The Maracatu beat finally ripped me from my soft slumber and pulled me onto the streets into a blaze of red and gold, giant heads and glittered faces.