Archive | June, 2012

London, March 11, 2010

28 Jun
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. (Photo credit: meg_williams)

I found Black London and it was at “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof!”  (2012 aside: This version starred Sanaa Lathan, Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones to name a few noteworthy Black actors) The play was phenomenal!  Aside from that, the London theater culture is a rhetorical space worth discussing.

Londoners have maintained the notion of theater as an event.  They meet up with friends and buy tickets walk-up.  There are pub style bars all throughout the theater and they still have ushers, true ushers who greet you at the door and point out your needs not just your seat.

Moving to the patrons, in this case majority Black patrons.  They flocked to see this play, not a fried chicken, Tyler Perry, B-list singer turned actor-starred nonsense that is filled with Black faces in the US.  It was refreshing.  I know this sentiment is elitist, but the thought that I am not an anamoly when it comes to cultural interests has cushioned my cultural comfort level.

Oddly enough, today I felt more at home than at home sometimes.

English: Glass art by Dale Chihuly at an exten...

English: Glass art by Dale Chihuly at an extensive exhibition in Kew Gardens, London, in 2005. The boat is in front of the Palm House, where there are two other glass sculptures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kew Gardens was also beautiful today.  Victorian England exuding confidence in her wealth.  To imagine that there was someone tasked to collect plant species so that there could be one housed in the Royal Gardens.  It’s abusive in many respects.  But, that’s the power of England at the time.

English: London black cab (Hackney carriage) C...

English: London black cab (Hackney carriage) Camera: Canon Digital Ixus v2 Exposure: 1/20 sec. Focal Length: 11mm Aperture: F/4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am glad I was able to go to the play tonight.  I even got to ride in a black cab too.  Just a BLACK evening! lol


On Day 6, I feel Black, but not really American.  I feel like an outsider in America, feeling most comfortable with the Blacks I was “with” this evening.

What actually constitutes a sense of belonging?  Is it based on shared experiences or general cultural similarities?


London, March 10, 2010

28 Jun

Homogeneity is that elephant in the room that as a Black female scholar, I always address in terms of its negative impact on me.  Historically my view of homogeneity was framed around Whites who demanded a sense of entitlement in their interactions with those unlike them (and yes, I am clear I have othered here).

Students of Nan Hua High School gathering in t...

Students of Nan Hua High School gathering in the School Hall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Today however I witnessed another type of homogeneity.  A type that has isolated a group to a point where they don’t realize that in every other place but their home country, they are not the majority or privileged.  But their approach to all things different is just as elitist as the White “entitled.”

Electric Avenue 2

Electric Avenue 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)





I am talking about the lack of interest my students have in the people of London.  The disdain on the faces of some of my students as they walked the neighborhoods, quite honestly embarrassed me at times.  I wonder how many of them have actually seen all of the nieghborhoods in Atlanta?

Looking at the naturalistic paradigm it is clear that selective perception is born in experience.  The social constructions of our realities frame how we interpret all situations.  When you are socially constructed to all but romanticize all things Western, you choose not to see those aspects less than romantic.

My concern is when this social construction of reality inserts prejudice.  I cannot say “racist” because my students do not have the power they may have had in China.  That was taken away from them as soon as they left.  But prejudice for sure.  This is where my embarrassment enters.  My embarrassment comes from my own social construction of reality.  Having seen more experiences around socioeconomic status and pride, nationalism and identity, my understanding and perception is different.


Am I being elitist by judging the perspective of my students?


London, March 9, 2010

26 Jun
English: House of Parliament from the London Eye

English: House of Parliament from the London Eye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is amazing to see the albatross of a building that makes up hundreds and hundreds of years of decision making power that determined the fate of the world.  Again looking at the rhetorical space, the vastness and ornate guilded spaces of the House of Parliament is telling of the level of influence this country wanted over the world.  Sadly, the vastness of negative space in the House of Commons is also telling of its current state of influence.

Going up the steps to the Public Gallery you see sketch upon sketch of a full House of Commons debating in true form.  The geek in me billoughs with excitement at the possibility of witnessing this event.  We finally get to the top…here it is …the moment of Western government in action…I am escorted to the gallery and my excitement fizzles out like a balloon.

The House of Commons at Westminster: This engr...

The House of Commons at Westminster: This engraving was published as Plate 21 of Microcosm of London (1808) (see File:Microcosm of London Plate 021 – House of Commons.jpg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

House of Commons Chamber

House of Commons Chamber (Photo credit: UK Parliament)

Ten people for the governing side and 15 for the opposition?!  Are you kidding me?!  This is British government hard at work?  I’m barely listening to something about pay rates rather than HFCS.  Instead my mind wanders to the “Height of British Colonialism” imagining a full house determining the fate of the “New World” unseen.

For a moment, I longed for a discussion similar….only for a moment.  As I leave the gallery, the question on my mind is: Do the politicians no longer identify or associate themselves with the power they spent centuries trying to maintain?

Day 4, I feel like the identity biographer I am.  Reviewing the words and phrases provided by the rhetoric of British government through time and adding this rhetorical scene to the book…the chapter has changed.

Day 3, London, March 8, 2010

25 Jun
English: Piccadilly Circus, London

English: Piccadilly Circus, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Picadilly Circus, the theaters were fabulous!  The shopping made me a bit envious longing for a time when I can walk into a store and purchase what I want.  Not overboard, that’s insane.  Just see an item and buy it without worrying about what will be affected, will I be able to pay for necessities later, it’s all really ECK to me.The morning of Day 3, I feel like a green-eyed woman sitting closer to “have not” than “have” but ashamed that this thought has even crossed my mind.

Lunch in Chinatown with my students (2012 aside:  I should let you know I traveled to London with 13 students, only one of which was NOT a Chinese citizen)…if anyone ever thought that the Chinese were quiet, docile people they would have been in for a serious shock at lunch with MY students today!  The bositerous, over-talking chatterboxes who quarreled and asserted a high degree of personal agency are so polar opposite from the timid, non-participative students they represent in my classroom.

At lunch I feel like a foreigner amongst my students.  I now see how my classes may feel to them.  Jokes they don’t understand, customs they just go along with, just waiting for a moment of cultural comfort.

English: The Entrance to the british museum in...

English: The Entrance to the british museum in London, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pillage Factory (a.k.a The British Museum)!  The quantity of artifacts is astounding.  I paid 8 pounds (approx. $16) to experience an African exhibit of Benin/Nigerian art.  The authoritative speculation of the functionality of the pieces, the carefree use of borderline heteronormative bigoted assumptions, down to the obligatory Black Londoner manning the gift shop the exhibit emptied out to once again showed the Imperial power of the Isle.

The Egyptian exhibit (followed later by 4 commercials advertising holdiays there on the BBC) made me uncomfortable.  Huge pieces of walls and statues standing at least 6 ft in height AND width standing prominently (and unprotected) in a mere hallway of the museum.  The audacityof this rhetorical space was boastful and unashamed.  Adding fuel to my heat, the way the White patrons would laugh at it, a novelty, Venus Hottentot as stone artifacts…but still mesmerizing in its splendor.  To be so close to the history of Africa to reach out and touch (or at least imagine touching) art a millenia in age…awe is not justifiable to what I felt.

Overall, on Day 3, I feel like a foreigner, neither American no Black, just not in a culturally comfortable place.  Is cultural discomfort the peak or rise of identity culture shock?

London, March 7, 2010

20 Jun
Deutsch: Das "Jewel-House" im Tower ...

“Jewel-House” in Tower of London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today we visited the Tower of London.  The usual tourist pomp and cirumstance.  The knights, the kings, the wars, the weapons, Tudors, Elizabethan, House of Gloucester, blah, blah, blah.  Don’t get me wrong, it was fascinating history: the period clothing, actors, London does it BIG!  Then I went to see the Crown Jewels……

My heart wrenched as I walked through the long lines with video of the “precious” Crown Jewels.  The stones were absolutely beautiful, yes, but when the parade, or corral, of tourists began at the Hall of Maces, I realized I was looking at millions of dollars of pillaged resources.  I counted 8 maces until I couldn’t take it anymore dating to the 1600s.  Solid gold and….IDENTICAL.  Did each monarch REALLY need his/her own mace?  Doesn’t it fit more with tradition to use the same one each coronation?

By the time I actually got to the jewels, visions of a raped Africa clouded my appeciation for the grandeur of royalty.  The pure golden christening basins made to drop dribbles of water on a baby’s head (who doesn’t know the difference) who happens to be royalty?  THOUSANDS of MY ancestors were raped, tricked and enslaved (I add in 2012 often by their own) so that the Prince of Wales could have his christening oil land on gold?!  Foolishness as my mentee would say.

Imperial Great Britain showed her face early today.  Today on Day 2, I feel unmistakably AFRICAN.

I found that after that ordeal, my conversations drifted back to either the glory of African peoples or the atrocities they or I have faced being Black.  Was it subconscious or purposeful?  Most likely, a bit of both.  Trying to assert a particular type of identity for myself in order not to let it wander back to the anger of the vaulted jewels stolen from my land in order to perpetuate the violently asserted power of the monarchs here.

Yup…unmistakenly AFRICAN today, “no hyphen, no hype!”  If I could remember the name of the sister I heard say that in a poem, she’d get a high five AND dap right now.  Tomorrow, I am going to the British Museum…tomorrow may not be much different from today…

Will my unapologetic African womanness keep me from appreciating art?

London, March 6, 2010

19 Jun
English: The City of London skyline as viewed ...

English: The City of London skyline as viewed toward the north-west from the top floor viewing platform of London City Hall on the southern side of the Thames. In the foreground: Dixie Queen and Millennium Time at Tower Millennium Pier. This is a 5 segment panoramic image taken by myself with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


So, although my trip to Brazil has since ended, my travel blogging has not.  As I await my next adventure, I figured I’d bring you up to speed of some of my “pre-blog” thoughts with my travel to London.

London- Day 1(1/2) March 6, 2010

Note to self: seasons are exactly the same as the US.  It is cold!  There was a brief moment of “good” weather complete with sunshine.  That did not last very long.

I went to the bar across from the hotel to observe.  A Manchester United game was on.  There weren’t many women in the bar unaccompanied, so that felt a bit awkward.  I saw a total of 3 Black men.  However I did not have my usual rush of comfort as I do in other foreign cities. It was mere novelty than anything else.  My “that’s cool” moment when I see something intriguing but not quite interesting enough to warrant further analysis and reflection.  It could be travel delirium and all will be well and normal tomorrow.

The one thing I see almost immediately in regards to ethnicity is the shear number of groups that travel in “formula packs” but not necessarily for the sake of tokenism.  Surviving my first day on the Tube and the National Rail today, I witnessed that many of the groups were diverse to their own level of comfort, but no member appeared outwardly out of place.

I recall how in the US when you see a group of White youth with the lone friend of a different ethnicity, be it Black, Asian or Latino (or even the reverse), that lone friend can often stick out like a sore thumb raising critical questions in my mind that go so far as to speculate the intended desires of his/her parents that may have resulted in the group of “friends.”

I find here in London though that rationale does not cross my mind when I see an ethnically diverse group.  Have I put qualifiers to bracket this bias just because I know I am in another country?

Day 1, I feel more AMERICAN than anything else.  However the trip has only just begun……..

Going back to family

18 Jun

After a series of unfortunate travel events trying to get back to the States, I am finally back to give my last debrief of my travels to Brazil

As I spend Sunday as my last day in Brazil, it is only appropriate that it is our “free” day.  I now get an opportunity to view a bit more of leisure life in Bahia.  The plan was to visit the Museu do Rodin.  Also a part of this plan was to walk…extensively (I’m not sure some of colleagues knew about the “extensive” part).

First things first:  the streets of Salvador are not conducive to strollers, so if vacationing with babies consider the baby harness (check Babies R Us or your baby gear outlet of choice).  As we walked along the coastline of the Barra (BAH-ha) neighborhood, families filled the beach and the streets.  There were also running groups and other groups of people living an “active” Sunday.

There is a portion of Avenida Oceanica, between the lighthouse and the fort that is closed off to through traffic for trampolines, children’s bike lanes and family dance classes to be put in the street for family entertainment.  This definitely caters to the middle class life of Brazil, so do not expect to see much diversity among the group when it comes to Brazilians.

There are a few things that I have learned on this trip that I did not expect to learn:

1) Afro-Brazilians are appreciated by culture only.  There are many Brazilians who tout the democratic horn of cultural and traditional appreciation, yet the people of whom these cultures and traditions belong have a difficult time rising up the socioeconomic ladder in the country.  This is not to say that ALL Afro-Brazilians are poor, however, it IS to say that if Afro-Brazilians make up 76% of the state of Bahia’s population and 95% of it’s poor,….well you draw your own conclusion.

2) Despite some of the grim and grimy aspects of the country, it is a place you MUST visit.  See it for yourself, experience it, and take it all in.   If traveling with family, I recommend you stay in the Barra neighborhood.  It is safe for family to travel and you can get taxis relatively quickly and easily to visit Pelourinho and other parts of town.

3) If you are of African descent, living in America, by all means, LEARN PORTUGUESE.  I liken this advice to what we tend to say here among certain circles, “if you model it, eventually, somebody will repeat it.”  I say this because I, in my humblest of opinions, believe that if we as African Americans take the time and the effort to adapt culturally to as much as we can about Brazil and then go visit, we will in essence be modeling the Black intellectual for the Afro-Brazilians (a 2006 statistic states that Afro-Brazilians make up 2% of the intellectuals at the universities partly due to the blight that is the public education system there).  I am convinced in a Washington/Duboisian mixed model, it can do some good in motivation.  I’m sure I may catch a bit a flack for this statement, but I ask you to think about your role models or people you admire, what did you do in your life because of just seeing them live theirs?

I leave Brazil with a desire to return…with my family.  I need my children to experience what I experienced and I want my family to see what I saw.  I cannot say we will definitely be there for the World Cup 2014 (some airports need a bit of work to handle that traffic still), but we can always make it a goal.

Back the US reality, but I do have a lot of writing to begin!



To the margins…in order to push it center

10 Jun

English: Hospital of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, B...









As my time winds down here in Brazil, there is a burning question that I cannot seem to put at ease:  Of all these wonderfully beautiful Black people, where do they live?  I have not seen a Black person leave any of the ritzy homes around this hotel?  I see them in the streets.  I see them heading somewhere when they leave their jobs at the end of the day.  But where are they going?  Why haven’t we been able to see those neighborhoods?  The program’s title does include “Afro-Brazilian Heartland.” Where is the heart of this land?

The program of which I am participating is wonderful in terms of exposing us to various aspects of Bahian culture: the African roots of food, dance, religion, music…..but what about where the Africans planted their roots?

The other day, we had a scholar on environmental justice talk to us about about the concept of environmental racism in Bahia.  Aside from wonderful information about that (I encourage ALL people to read up on it, we might learn a thing or two about our own society), she showed us some maps of Salvador….demographic maps. Salvador is 77% Black (I think I said 85% in another blog, here is my correction), many of whom live in substandard conditions around the city.  I urge you to do a quick internet search of Salvador, look at the images that come up, and point to where those areas “around the city” are located in those images.  I am almost positive you will not see them.

I visted Saramandaia neighborhood (what we Americans would call a favela).  To get to this neighborhood, we had to park the van and walk through and up very narrow streets.  With all the twists and turns, we probably walked about 1/2 mile above where we parked.  This neighborhood, although visible by the main roads, is not accessible by the main roads.  Here in this visibly invisible neighborhood above the city, I found where the Blacks (that make of the majority of this 77%) were living.

Saramandaia was and may still be considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Salvador.  But if I go back to the environmental racism lecture, the reasons may be similar to whythere is  Black on Black crime in the United States.  My brother -in-law says (paraphrasing) “there’s nothing worse than a man who thinks he’s got nothing to lose.”  What do we tend to do when we think we have no options and no way out?  We fight back with whatever is closest, sometimes, that’s our own.

But there is hope for Saramandaia.  There are a group of men who grew up in the neighborhood who are giving the children other options.  Grupo Cultural Arte Consciente.  Look it up.  Learn about it.  Share it with a friend.  Why?  Because too many people come to Brazil and will never have the desire nor the opportunity to visit the favelas.  They will remain, hidden from the tourists, and pushed aside by the state.  Environmental racism:  Because no one in a favela has the money to own the  land in which they live, the Brazilian government will not fund programs to ensure that there is public sewage and solid waste disposal.  So long as nobody knows about them to help them with land rights, it will never happen.

Afro-Brazil is the pulse that drives tourists to flock to its land.  The pulse of samba, the pulse of the cuisine, the pulse of the vibrancy that is Brazil.  But the coracao (I know, no accents) of this pulse is pushed to hills, by way too expensive property and a desire by mainstream society for the true Afro-Brazil to be heard but not seen.


I want to expose the heart.  So we can watch it beat.


Boa noite!




Bahian Cuisine: Part European, part African, part Amerindian….All GOOD!

9 Jun
Moqueca capixaba

Moqueca capixaba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So let me just preface this by saying Bahian cuisine by United States health food standards could possibly be a coronary in training according to preparation; however to be able to taste it and to learn the modifications for it, is REALLY worth it.

We visited the SENAC Culinary Museum and School in Pelourinho this afternoon.  Admittedly, after an entire morning of lectures I think we may have all been too tired to recall what SENAC stood for, so I will not try to guess it now.  We had a fabulous chef and instructor teach all about the history of Bahian cuisine and taught us how to prepare some of the meals that were most closely asscoiated with Africans, particularly, those dishes used for offerings in Candomble.

Let me say two words in regards to food preparation….palm oil…..used in abundance and with a VERY free hand.  Now there is a myth that palm oil is horrible for you because of a high cholesterol content.  After today, I have reason to believe this is a myth created in order to degrade all things African as it is used almost exclusively in African and Bahian cooking.  Truth is, palm oil is a great source of Viatmins A and B and is not high cholesterol, it binds to the enzymes of cholesterol to help balance it in the body (quote the chef, he said it, not me, but I did look a little bit to verify his info).  I do have two more words in regards to Bahian cooking….coconut milk…also in abundance and with a free hand.  Every single dish we had today contained both of these ingredients and they’re the only ingredients  for which there are no exact measurements in our recipes.

So what did we have?  Moqueca de peixe e camarao, farofa, vatapa, pepper sauce and coconut rice.  Now I know my husband has already tuned most of this blog out due to the use of coconut, and he may very well be “taking a reading break” at the mention of the coconut rice, but he’ll be back to finish reading later to at least see what all these names mean (to look out for them should they appear in our kitchen in the future, lol).

Moqueca is a type of stew made with tomatoes, onions (again, my husband has left the blog), cilantro, green peppers, LOTS of coconut milk and palm oil.  You layer it almost like lasagna with the fish in between the vegtables (let the fish sit for 40minutes in lime juice before adding).  Once the dish starts boiling you’ve got about 15minutes left to cook.  In the last few minutes, add the shrimp.

Farofa is of African origin, it is cassava meal with dried shrimp and this “secret ingredient” of a shrimp, cashew mix.  It’s cooked in (of course) palm oil.  This dish needs to be dry and mealy if you prepare it.

Vatapa is a very thick stew of palm oil, blended onions, coconut milk, shrimp, cassava flour, bread crumbs blended with coconut milk and mixed well until a thick paste consistency.

Now some of this may not seem the most attractive in their description, but if the Internet would let me leave a taste at the end of each description, you wouldn’t care about the appearance.  Also, it is crucial to note, these are Afro-Bahian dishes, therefore born out of a slave culture.  How often have you heard of slaves having lavish meals that were beautiful to look at and eat?  The meals fulfilled their purpose.  The chef did note that as Afro-Bahians moved up in status economically (which we learned in one of our lectures this morning could have been by owning slaves….stick a pin there, more on that in another blog), the shrimp was added because the inclusion of protein in these dishes reflected your wealth.

The layers of flavor including the pepper sauce made for a wonderfully delicious, satisfying meal.  That is why this evening, I am only have a few pieces of bread and water because I am still full!

Tomorrow is our last day of lectures.  We begin our transition back home.  I may begin to re-pack my suitcase tonight.  I have gifts for my family I need to squeeze in.


Boa noite!

Syncretism and the Brazilian Way

7 Jun

So in a teachable moment, it is important to note, that the Internet is not always reliable in Salvador.  Here’s hoping my notes and my  memory can merge yesterday and today into one blog post.

The idea of syncretism has been discussed a lot by the lecturers in this program over the past few days.  But what exactly is it and how can the average person understand it?  I hope to use some cultural information about Salavdor and Bahia in order to help to provide some insight into syncretism, the layers upon layers of culture and traditions that make up what is Afro-Brazilian and in essence, Brazilian.

One of our guides told us it is custom to keep the colonial face of buildings and renovate everything behind it.  This would be part one of syncretism, the Portguese culture.  Why is it first when it is the least ethnically prominent in the rgion (Afro-Bahians make up 85% of the population).  Because it was with the Portuguese that society and social mores were founded, therefore it is the foundation upon which the other layers are placed.

In Cachoeira (ka-SHWEAR-ah), there is a sisterhood of “more seasoned” (the youngest is a vivacious 55) Afro-Bahian women who use the principles of Catholicism to serve the community in particular ways.  They also have a Celebration of Boa Morte (good death) every August.  The Public Relations person for the Sisterhood told us that the majority of the participants are African Americans who travel to Bahia to celebrate with the women.  However the Sisterhood did not start off as an Afro-Bahian organization.  It began as a Portuguese women’s sisterhood and the older slave women requested to be a part as a way of devoting to God.  The Portuguese women allowed it and tasked them to collect the alms to pay for the annual celebration.  There were 200 slave women who were a part of the Sisterhood collecting alms around Bahia.  When they finished, they kept a portion in order to buy the freedom of one of the slave women.

Over time, more slave women joined and it soon became known as a way to gain your freedom.  After a number of years in the Sisterhood, the slave women were granted freedom and it continued until slavery was abolished in 1888.  Now the Irmandade de Boa Morte is exclusively Afro-Bahian.  The oldest woman currently is 108 years old!  Part two of syncretism: The implementation of African traditions adapted through slavery and placed on top of what is Portuguese to a point where over time it is difficult to distinuguish what is Portuguese and what is African but you know for sure, it is Brazilian.

Tonight we are going to a candomble celebrating the orixa (oh-REE-shah) Oxossi (oh-SHO-see), the hunter.  Candomble is an African-rooted religion that has infused elements of Catholicism (it just so happens this celebration falls on the national holiday, Feast of St. John…well not really, St. John is the Catholic equivalent to Oxossi).  Candomble is also syncretism.  Traditonally African, infused with Catholicism practiced by ANYONE, not just the Blacks.  Remember the UK-born, Puerto Rican raised White woman lecturer I mentioned in an earlier blog?  She was initiated in the house of Oxum in a terreiro (the equivalent to what US practitioners of Yoruba call an ile) in Salvador.  This in essence, makes her syncretism manifested.  Like it or not, agree with it or not, syncretism encompasses all things in Brazil.  The Brazilian way is how you adpat the Portuguese and the African to make up your life.  Which means the evidence of syncretism can look different from Brazilian to Brazilian.  How the white by appearance Brazilian incorporates syncretism will look very different from the Afro-Bahian selling the African based acaraje to her, incorporates syncretism.

One thing I do know, syncretism or not, this is going to be a long night…

Boa noite!

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