Why I am Studying in Russia

This post is the first of a new category of posts where I will be sharing experiences of what it is like to live in Russia, especially as a black womxn.

People keep asking me about why I picked Russia out of all the places I could have chosen.  In this blog post I want to answer this question so that I have something to refer people to next time I am asked this question.

As an awkward teenager books were a sanctuary, one of my favourite authors in my early teens was Eva Ibbotson. Eva’s descriptions of East Europe were the first influence that sparked a curiosity in me for this region of the world. A few years later I read Elizabeth Kostova’s book The Historian and this book solidified my fantasies of Russia and East Europe.

I knew I wanted to study abroad to widen my perspective on the world and to be able to look at the problems that face me at home from a distance because being in the middle of it all was becoming overwhelming and making me disillusioned about change and transformation.  Western Europe was not an option because it has never really appealed to me since I have been bombarded with its History, its influence on Africa and its current politics all my life.  Since Europe wasn’t really an option I started looking at study opportunities at the Top Universities in Asia and North and South America.

I had been so busy just trying to survive over the last couple of years that I forgot about most of my childhood/teenage dreams and fantasies.  While trying to adult I got an email from my previous University about study opportunities in Russia, Seeing Russia in that email made me curious. I was curious to see if the perceptions that the world has on Russia from what we see in the media is correct, I wanted to be able to disprove stereotypes and myths of Russia in the same way that I want stereotypes, negative perceptions and myths of Africa to change.

My curiosity, Childhood fantasies and a study opportunity brought me to Russia is the simplest explanation for why I am in Russia right now.

This is probably one of the bravest things that I have ever and will ever do in my life. Russia is cold, the language is difficult and being far away from home is horrible but this adventure is one that I am glad I took. I am learning so much about this country, the world and myself and these lessons would not be what they are if I was somewhere else.

 

Sexist trolls don’t exist to fan my feminist flame .

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I got into an argument with a sexist troll on campus yesterday; this was the first time in months that I felt passionate and certain about my feminism. For months I have been disillusioned by the hurt and pain that I have seen being caused in feminist spaces and it made me question my dedication to feminism.

Lately Feminist Safe spaces have done more to induce my anxiety than provide safety. The conversation yesterday reminded me about  feminism is still extremely important and worth saving, however Feminist spaces should make me want to be a feminist not sexist trolls.

I am extremely socially awkward and anxious, online spaces have provided me with safety over the last couple of years. Even though I am becoming more and more disillusioned with online spaces because of how futile and harmful they have often proven to be, I still have hope.

Saving these spaces starts with more people being reflective about the spaces that we create so that we are not replicating the oppressive structures that are so familiar to us.

Most of my engagements in feminist spaces have been in online spaces like Facebook groups and twitter, lately this is where I have seen the most disregards for how we talk to each other. We say words are violent when uttered against us but refuse to admit that our words can also be violent. Too often I see power dynamic in Black radical feminist spaces emulating the toxic power in hyper-masculine environments.

Everyone is defensive and no one listens, this is understandable. These spaces are our public sphere, when someone disagrees with you in public it is only natural to want to defend yourself since everyone is watching and you do not want to be the one who is seen as wrong. It is human nature to go into defense mode in this situation and once we are defensive we often stop listening to what others are saying since our safety is now a priority and we feel threatened. This is why so many online engagements only result in hurt. We need to decide if some conversations should happen via direct messaging (DM) instead of walls and comment sections of public posts, especially when talking to each other.

I don’t know if it is possible to create something that we have never seen; when all we know is oppression and pain I can’t really even begin to imagine how we can create something outside of that. It is easy to get focused on our own pain and hurt and in the process forget to acknowledge that others are also hurting.  We have become complicit and Violent towards our friends our engagements in these spaces. We really need to be reflective about how we treat each other as people who continue to experience oppression.

Lately I have been afraid of showing any sort of dissent because of the fear of not wanting to be alienated not by the oppressor but by friends. We really need to examine how we engage with our friends/comrades/fellow activists.  We need to ensure that we are not to exerting t violence on those very bodies that we claim to care about. We are treating each other as collateral in our wars with patriarchs and white supremacist.

I can understand why the need to exert power is so important, especially when we often feel powerless and unheard in social movements and privileged people are always protected when they mess up. However we need to distinguish between how we treat oppressors and how treat friends. We cannot expect feminism to survive if we continue to hurt and alienate each other within the movement. We need to ensure that our safe spaces are actually safe and not just called that by name.

Update on the Mogadishu Bombing

I posted a video on YouTube last night with some updates, information and ways to get involved and help with the aftermath of the bombing that happened in Mogadishu last Saturday for those who are wanting to do more than just complain about the state of the media. 

Over 300 people died and the country has limitted resources so we should all not just be praying and criticising  the media for the lack of coverage in this story, we should be true allies right now by providing actual support.

This is the very awkward video on my very new and explorative YouTube channel providing updates and context:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv4AQzNSTgutifCTlicZ2Gg

Here is how you can  help: 

1. Kenyan Red Cross launched a fundraising drive for victims of the attack. www.redcross.or.ke

2. AmeriCares is sending relief workers to provide Humanitarian aid and to assist Refugees already living in camps. www.americares.org/eng/ 

2.  Aamin Ambulance is a volunteer emergency services unit in Mogadishu, providing free medical care to impacted citizens. Donate to the GoFundMe page here: http://bit.ly/2xKrMKK

2. Dr Sadiyo Said has launched a crowdfunding campaign benefitting the registered charity Eva Organization . Their aim is to empower people who are in need, in particular women, their families and young people to have a positive impact on the world in which they live. Here’s a link to the crowdfunding campaign page: http://bit.ly/2ylsMnV

3. The Somali Mental Health foundation is a US-based NGO that operates across Somalia. Its focus on “severe mental health disorders” will play a critical role in bringing awareness and treatment to survivors of the attack combatting PTSD. Donate here: http://bit.ly/2xKs3II

Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg 

In St Petersburg you can wonder around Nevsky district and have an amazing time seeing many amazing things without seeing anything beyond this part of town . This historical district and centre gorgeous and worth multiple visits. 

This Sunday I was showing a friend around when I took some snap-shots and I was just as awestruck at the beauty as I was when I first arrived in Nevsky two months ago. 

Nevsky is beautiful but the city is big, Any Visitor of St Petersburg would be doing themselves a disfavour if they were in the city and did not go beyond Nevsky Prospect. Will try and right about other interesting parts of this Town that are a must see soon. With this said, the center is still worth a visit and here are a few photos from this past Sunday to prove it. 

Autumn at the Mikhaylovsky Gardens

Kazan Cathedral at night

View on Griboyedov Embankment

Corner of Nevsky Prospect and the Griboyedov channel Embankment

Church of the Savior on the Spilled blood

Seeing #blackgirlmagic posts made me insecure 

I have been writing for years and have blogged on and off over the last couple of years but I always give up. I become self conscious and start thinking that my work is not good enough.  

I love seeing other black womxn excel, especially in the things that I am also passionate about.  However sometimes seeing others excel makes me insecure about my own work. 

I went on a few blogs and Instagram accounts this weekend and I felt my insecurities rush in. They were all doing what I want to do but much better. A lot of my insecurities come from the fear of lacking originality, It seems like every other black womxn that I know is blogging or writing poetry and I will just be another one.

I realised this morning that my insecurities came from a deep rooted need to compete with other black womxn even when I want to celebrate and this is a symptom of our messed up society. 

How many white males do you know who are working on start-ups? Or Run some alternative YouTube commentary channel? They all do it with confidence and somehow the world finds a way to accommodate all of them but black womxn feel like we have to compete with each other wherever we find ourselves. Even when we are proud of each other it is hard not to compare our successes. 

I don’t think I am the only Womxn of colour who is afraid of claiming space? Many of us think that there’s limitted space for womxn of colour to shine, that only some of us can stand out.  We think that our story needs to be exceptionally extraordinary before we can tell it. We tell ourselves that only some of us can be successful in our respective fields and the rest of us need to find something else. 

Today I have decided to commit to my dreams. The world will have to accommodate for more black girl magic. It is okay to be another black womxn with a blog, what I offer is original because it is mine. 

Dove is Problematic but that Advert wasn’t Racist

 

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I read the opinion piece written by the black womxn who featured in the  most recent controversial Dove add (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/i-am-woman-racist-dove-ad-not-a-victim) .

I hope more of us who were outraged can take time to watch the full add and read the opinion of the Womxn involved. I watched the full add and it actually wasn’t problematic. It is a 30 seconds GIF that goes from the black Womxn to the white wpmxn then to the Brown Womxn ect and back to black. I got the concepts when watching the full add. I  want people to engage on why this add is still problematic if played fully.

There’s so much real racism in the world right now and it really doesn’t do anything to help our cause when we keep crying wolf because we don’t bother to watch a thirty second GIF. More and more people on my social media seem to be watching the full video but still I haven’t seen any reflection/admission that we were wrong.

I understand that the Facebook add that caused the initial outrage was just over ten seconds. It still showed a GIF of the add but when you didn’t play it the only image that was visible was the one people were sharing of the black model turning white. Dove with their History of racist adds should have known better than to make that the first image that people saw regardless of the context behind that advert. That said, the issue then isn’t really the add itself but that screen shot that was circulating.

The whole race don’t matter theme in the add is problematic on it’s own and we need to call out companies for racism because there are  plenty of actual racist adverts around (some from Dove in the past) that need to be shamed. This just wasn’t one of them.

People eventually realized that the full advert wasn’t problematic but no one wants to have a discussion about context. There’s  No reflection about how we missed the mark with this one. we’ve created a culture that’s about winning an argument rather than having a discussion. It’s harder to admit you got something wrong in a system that is all about winning.

We have to be on the defense because Racist trolls and their children consistently show up to complain when People of colour are talking about racism or sexism. However we cannot ask that people be held accountable for their actions when we refuse to be accountable for ours.