Queer, Gifted & Black

Sunday
Apr052015

Celebrating Toronto Black Artists

"So, do you know Drake?"
As someone who travels a lot to the U.S., I get asked this a lot and I know I am not the only one. I am definitely a big fan, but I always think about how incredible it will be when people can run down a list of brilliant Black creative talent. From WondaGurl to Lillian Allen, Toronto is as intergenerational as it is diverse and that is why I am so excited for the 'Scratch & Mix Project'

'The exhibition

Between April 18 and August 30, 2015, the Art Gallery of Ontario will host the Scratch & Mix Exhibition. It will feature the work of 11 young artists who participated in the project’s GTA-wide youth arts competition and were selected by a jury. Their work offers each artist’s unique take on the theme “Empowering the Black Community.” Each piece is also inspired by the AGO’s Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s The Time exhibition and reflects a collaboration between the artists and a seasoned artist mentor.

On the AGO's site, you can check out bios of all 11 artists.

 

Many of the artists have great websites or Instagrams including Komi Olaf. Below is an incredible representation of one of Toronto's most loved artists Amanda Parris.

The artists work span across multiple mediums, including photography from artists like Ebti Nabag & Jah Grey. From His site:

 

Arists come from a variety of creative backgrounds including students of the transformative watah school, headed by D'bi including Angelique Jordan.

 

The launch is on April 18th and should be incredible. Learn more here.

French language interpretation is available upon request.

 

 

 

 

Sunday
Apr052015

Immigrant Reflections & 'The Black Experience Project'

I want to first name that 'Toronto has played host to no less than three distinct peoples (the Huron, the Haudenosaunee, and the Mississauga), two different cultures (Iroquoian and Algonquian), and was the site of many trade gatherings and inter-tribal ceremonies.' source I can't express my past immigrant experience without acknowledging that now I know that this land is Indigeneous and we all have a responsibility to work in solidarity with First Peoples for justice. 

When I was a little girl, I traveled across the ocean in my best dress from Port Of Spain, Trinidad to Toronto, Canada. I remember the environmental differences clearly, the color of the sky, the temperature, but particularly the smells. Gone were the sweet island scents of fruit and flowers cooled by ocean breezes and in its place was the smell of 'cold'. These were the easiest things to get used to, although I have never grown to love long and persistent winters. What was most difficult was understanding who I was in this new place. For any immigrant, the process of settling in a new country is complex, requiring both a lot of courage and humility. I came from a country where Shadeism had a strong hold, but where Black, Indigenous & People Of Colour were the majority and where diversity was expected. This diversity was reflected in the sheer number of islands of the Carribbean & nearby South America and the innumberable amount of ethno-cultural mixings of the people you encountered.

In Toronto, I became aware of how different I was by the questions I was met with. Most frequently, people who were not from richly diverse places would always ask, "So you are from Jamaica, right? or "Why is your accent so funny?" I have so much love for all the islands, but any one of us could tell you that we are distinctly different. Our difference is a great source of pride, from our food to the music, it was insulting that I was reduced to stereotype of the one place in Carribbean people had heard of. As an adult, I would have the perfect retort, but as a shy little girl these encounters forced me to quickly submerge my accent. I searched for reflections of me everywhere. As a librarians daughter, I had access to so much knowledge and media and I still couldn't find anything. There was no place where there were a diversity of Black Toronto stories and perspectives, not for me or for all the other people who didn't know that my home existed. 

That is why for me, the work of the Black Experience Project is so compelling. I think about how significant it would have been for me as a young girl to know that there was a substantial Caribbean and specifically Trinidadian population in Toronto as well as all the other Black people coming from every corner of the world. I am reminded of the words of Junot Diaz.

"You guys know about vampires?" Diaz asked.  "You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror.  And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn't see myself reflected at all. I was like, "Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don't exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it."

 

The Black Experience Project is a groundbreaking research study of the "lived experience" of individuals across the Greater Toronto Area who self-identify as Black or of African heritage.

The study focuses on the contributions, successes, experiences and challenges of the people from this diverse set of communities. The research will provide valuable direction in identifying policies and other initiatives that will contribute to the health and vibrancy of the Black community, and by doing so, the health and vibrancy of the entire GTA community. 

The study will consist of in-depth one-on-one confidential interviews with a representative sample of individuals across the GTA. The survey is now underway and will continue through May 2015. They are seeking input from all people and are reaching out to the LGBTQ* community to give their perspectives in the Greater Toronto Area.

 

Friday
Dec192014

Self-Determination For Our Bodies

 

Was just cleaning out my hightail account (online file sending site) and I found these pictures taken years ago by brilliant photographer @nabilshash and all these memories come rushing back. At the time I couldn't share these, not even the ones where you couldn't see my face. I was at the beginning of my career and had to work so hard as a ‪#‎BlackWoman‬ to be taken seriously as a ‪#‎careerartist‬, in ‪#‎business‬ and in my ‪#‎humanrights‬ work. Femininity is always so policed, and that is why I work so hard with whatever visibility I have to fight for the right for women and genderqueer folks to wear what they want in public and private space. We all deserve the autonomy to contribute to our communities in looking the way we want to, in the ways we see ourselves. This means women wearing the hijab, and strippers wearing nothing at all. It means glitter, and prosthesis or heels or hairy legs. What someone is wearing is not an excuse to disrespect them or take away their rights. ‪#‎Tattoos‬‪#‎piercings‬‪#‎surgery‬ and all the ‪#‎bodyarts‬ are all choices that individuals are making that hurt no one but themselves. What matters is the content of our character. If you don't like it, then do not wear it or do it. Making assumptions about my capacity despite a genius level IQ and a wicked work ethic because I like short skirts and push up bras. ‪#‎phuckthat‬ ‪#‎younggiftedandblack‬ And whatever your genius and gift is to bring to the world, let us work towards a world where the capacity of women in saris or in next to nothing will not be doubted. As for whatever you all wanna do with your bodies; if you like it, then I love it. ‪#‎self‬ determination

Friday
Sep192014

Centering The Margins

"I often hear black girls complain that their hair is difficult to control, and its precisely because we are not meant to control it.
I have always found that jeans hurt my body with waistlines digging into my stomach as I try to exhale.
T shirts that cut into my arms, bras that dig into my flesh leaving scars that remain today.
We are not the architects of this system, of course these things wont fit us when they come from people who refuse to acknowledge that we exist. We know this because we see their runways, their print ads, their magazines. We are not wrong.
Beige is not the definition of 'nude', my hair does not need to be restrained, it needs to be liberated. My hair isnt too thick, I didn't go through puberty too early, my mama is not 'plus sized' - these statements all use an invented standard of whiteness and then define me in relation to that standard.
Fuck mainstream. Fuck counter culture and sub culture. We are our own mainstream. We are our own culture.
Fuck standards and constructions of normal. Nothing ever grew by being measured. We grow by being nurtured and affirmed for who we are as we are.
Standards are always relative."


Monday
Sep082014

Chronic Illness

I have been chronically ill for my whole life. The pressures of having to excel as a queer Black femme and over a decade in abusive household, being houseless and with a string of abusive partners forced me to manage my illness as quietly as I could, which compounded it. Right now, I am about 3 months into a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis. There isn't a cure and medical doctors have offered me either endless medication or removal of my colon as options for treatment, neither of which personally work for me. 

Western medicine operates in this isolationist way, where a cure for them is just to remove the part of your body that is dis-eased, as opposed to treating things in their context, both historical and environmental. Their solutions? To medicate with drugs whose side effects range from depression to tuberculosis or to remove my colon entirely. And although I respect anyone's decision to address their illness in whatever way makes the most sense to them, these don't work for me and to have doctors literally yell at me when I refuse these options is so profoundly wrong. Especially considering that the studies that are constantly being cited are funded by the same companies who are producing the drugs and stand to profit the most from their use. When the health of any community is tied directly to profit, it is impossible for it to be accessible and equitable whether our healthcare is 'free' or not. Especially as an immigrant of colour, ‘this modern western’ medical industrial complex is touted as being the best in the world, despite the fact that our bodies and our experiences are rarely if ever included in their studies and when they are it is based on experimentation and abuse, Henrietta Lacks and ‘modern gynecology’ as two examples of violent, abuse targeted at Black women that benefited ‘Western science’.

I am still needing to work to support myself which is hard as stress is a primary trigger cause I am still a cash-poor in debt artist & organizer. My partner is amazing at taking care of me as I explore natural options. Trying to find a way to manage the whole 'you don't look sick' ableist bullshit and still exist in capitalism is also so hard. 

With chronic illness, you often operate on a 'hope for the best, but plan for the worst mentality'. You give all that you can to your friends, family and community and then sometimes you can't. You plan for parties and events that you may never be able to show up to. You focus your energy on the things that you hope are the most generous to your community and to your own spirit but sometimes it just isn't enough (I try to still share lots of knowledge on fb, but can rarely reply to messages and I am really sorry for that)

It's hard to talk about illness especially as a Black girl. People, including and most often doctors either dismiss it entirely as exaggeration or they assume that you can no longer do anything or contribute in anyway and then stop asking you to participate in community. When people rage about how writing on the internet isn't activism and people need to actually 'do something', it is such an incredibly abelist framing that excludes sick and disabled folks who are necessarily a part of our community and continue to try our damndest to keep up with the capitalist ethos, namely that you are only as valuable as what you produce'. 

So I share this in solidarity with all my other sick folks who so choose to identify. I share this with those who are hurting and hustling and those who can not even imagine what it would be like to leave the bed. With all the folks who are in debt up to the hundreds of thousands just trying to stay well. In a free world, being alive would not be tied to making money. All life would be a right as there is more than enough to go around to sustain us all and at no one's expense. I am gonna keep fighting and healing in all the ways I can, and continue to try to love and be accountable and grow and transform. The words of my sister Imani rings so loud and true in my mind, ‘Get it how you live’. So often when we have been made sick by our histories and environments, we have to go away for a while and get better and then subject ourselves to the same contexts that made us sick in the first place. If capitalism creates the equation that time is money and healing needs time, it makes wellness a privilege of the elite. For those most marginalized by systemic oppression, we are in desperate need of time, resources and care in such a way that these things don’t come at a cost to the very things that we are trying to protect.

This isn’t a plea for pity or sympathy, but a call to examine a system that leaves us with so few choices no matter how hard we try. I want so much more and so much better for us all.