Tomorrow’s Fish are Still in the Sea: Women of the Brown Atlantic goes to Plymouth

(Our panel: Kathryn, José, and Ana)

Earlier this month WOBA flew to Plymouth to take part in the Transatlantic Studies Association 21st Annual Conference at the University of Plymouth.

I had never heard of this small (but select) Association. I had the chance to present work-in-progress on the work of Conceição Evaristo, alongside my brilliant colleagues Kathryn Bishop Sanchez and José Lingna Nafafé, who spoke about performing the Portuguese Black Atlantic, and rethinking the Black Atlantic Abolitionist movement, respectively. Our panel, organized by Kathryn, was dedicated to the theme of “Portuguese Black Atlantic Crossings”, and it was surprisingly well attended, considering that we were surrounded by a both-sides-of-the-Atlantic Anglophone crowd.  Throughout the event, during coffee breaks and panel discussions, you could see the minds growing hungry for marginalised Brazilian, Lusophone African and Portuguese angles.

I tested out my ideas on how to engage with the concept of the archive from the viewpoint of women who, like Evaristo, attempt to write about a past (of slavery) that cannot be told, yet needs to be told, or dreamed into existence. Drawing on the arch of the rainbow, I developed the notion of the “arc-hive” to discuss impossible archival gestures such as Evaristo’s, and presented the notion of “rainbow fever” following Derrida’s famously mistranslated concept of “mal d’archive” (“archive fever”).

I have been toying with these expressions in my mind for a while. Talking about them in this conference has given me the confidence to start thinking about Rainbow Fever as a possible book title. I’m quite excited about that.

(The Universe talking to us in mysterious ways)

The conference got more and more interesting as it progressed. Nearly all the papers I listened to dealt in some way or another with the notion of the “Black Atlantic.”

I attended a very interesting panel on Ethnicity, Identity and the Body in the Black Atlantic, where I listened to a paper on transcorporeality in Afro-Latinx Religion, and glimpsed a rainbow serpent in one of the slides. It turns out that Roberto Strongman from Santa Barbara has a number of references that will be very useful in my engagement with the rainbow serpent myth. Note to self: this is a contact I ought to pursue in the next few days.

Another paper presented a number of diary entries written during the speaker’s trip to Ghana in search of her origins. It reminded me of Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother.

(Neisha Terry Young from Drexel University delivering her talk on diasporic heritage and identity exploration in the Black Atlantic)

The keynote that left me in awe was delivered by Professor Michelle Wright. Dr Wright took off effortlessly, without a single paper in her hands, easing us into a whirlwind journey on the meaning of the term blackness. If it is not biological, then does it change over time and space? In order to answer this question, she discussed the time and temporality of the Black Atlantic, arguing that blackness is not a what, but a when and a where. Her engagement with the laws of motion and gravity, as well as physics’ theory of multiverses, in order to think through the multiple positionalities of black identity and the almost erased lives of black Africans, black feminists, black queers, and black immigrants, was absolutely enthralling. I’m glad to report that she also attended our panel and seemed very interested in what we had to say about the Brown Atlantic!

Everywhere you look in Plymouth, something is being refurbished or built. On the last day of the conference, I entered the Rolle building but could not retrace my steps because building work had suddenly began while I was listening to the talk, blocking the entrance. The seagulls wake you up at night. They sound like aliens imitating cats imitating newborns. Waterstones was full of great tips from its book lover employees. The Barbican was picturesque. My B&B (Cassandra Guest House) was neat, immaculate, and comfortable (minus the seagulls). The streets were rainy and sunny in equal measures. The food was delicious. I checked out Toot, a fabulous Persian restaurant, and Rockfish, a restaurant with fabulous fresh fish, delicious Portuguese white wine, and a cool quote that somehow summed it all up: tomorrow’s fish are still in the sea.

(Plymouth by night)


Early Career tip:

Out of curiosity, I attended a session targeting Early Career Researchers, and offered my opinion on the value of blogging as one is looking to write and publish. Needless to say, I am very much in favor of putting ideas down in writing before/while trying to publish them in academic platforms. In my experience, the fear that someone might steal your ideas before you publish them in a journal or book format is not real. What tends to happen when you blog your research is something else entirely: your ideas propagate and peers start to identify you as the go-to person on such and such. For all the early career academics out there, my piece of advice is: try to attend conferences where you are an outsider. Go with a chatty attitude and meet new people. And blog about it.

What came first: patriarchy or racism?


I have nothing to add to the discussion of how the Pandemic has led to an explosion of violence towards women, which you can read in ‘Disaster Patriarchy: how the pandemic has unleashed a war on women‘ published in The Guardian this week. Here, V develops Naomi Klein’s concept of ‘disaster capitalism’ to address a parallel and complementary process, ‘disaster patriarchy’, whereby men exploit a crisis to reassert control and dominance over women.

But does the article’s understanding of patriarchy as being at ‘the root of so many other forms of oppression, from imperialism to racism, from transphobia to the denigration of the earth,’ help us to conceive of alternative emancipatory knowledge, in particular as regards the relation between gender and race?

Patriarchy continues to suffocate and police people who identify as women all around the world, and as such it remains a very useful concept. But while it is urgent to acknowledge that women are all subject to patriarchy, it is unfair to suggest that it is the primary locus of oppression for all women. Sustaining a hierarchy of oppression that places patriarchy above racisms is harmful to non-white women because it forces them to fragment their experiences of subordination in ways that do not reflect their everyday experiences.

Thinking of patriarchy in this way is equivalent to seeing gender difference as a universal issue whereas race is a secondary priority, a concern that only pops up where racial diversity exists. As a result, the favouring of gender over race (and other factors of inequality such as ethnicity, age, health, environment, class and so on) almost inevitably benefits middle-class white women. This is the definition of white privilege, and it may help explain, for example, the pervasiveness of institutional racism in the UK, despite the presence of equality and diversity policies and the 2010 Equalities Act.

In ‘Racism and patriarchy in the meaning of motherhood’, Dorothy Roberts argues that:

Racism is patriarchal. Patriarchy is racist. We will not destroy one institution without destroying the other. I believe it is the recognition of that connection – along with the recognition of difference among women – that is truly revolutionary. (pp. 3)

Racisms and patriarchy remain two distinct but interrelated systems of domination, and to submit one to the other is, in itself, to reproduce patriarchy, by ignoring how women’s subordination works on the ground.

Hearing the multiple voices of the Women of the Brown Atlantic requires a conscious effort to decolonise existing feminist theories and strategies of resistance. Only then can we begin to conceive alternative emancipatory knowledge.

“Quase brancos, quase pretos” – uma discussão sobre o termo “pardo” – Universa UOL

“O movimento negro, historicamente, sempre trabalhou com a ideia de que a condição do negro está para além da mestiçagem. O lugar dele sempre foi de exclusão social. Por isso que o termo negro é um guarda-chuva que abarca todas as pessoas descendentes dos africanos escravizados”

Ler a reportagem de Nathalia Geraldo no Universa aqui.

Ilustrações de Jess Vieira.


Atlântico Pardo? (Texto de Miguel Vale de Almeida – Iscte e CRIA)

No ano 2002, em Trânsitos Coloniais[1], usei a expressão num capítulo intitulado “O Atlântico Pardo: Antropologia, Pós-colonialismo e o Caso ‘Lusófono’”. Tratava-se assumidamente de um take da expressão “Black Atlantic” de Paul Gilroy[2]. Um take, mas também um pun. A expressão pode ser interpretada de múltiplas formas, consoante o leitor. Mas não desejava que fosse interpretada de certas formas. Talvez alguns pontos ajudem a esclarecer – e eventualmente a tornar útil a expressão.

  1. O volume Trânsitos Coloniais foi o resultado de dois encontros – um em Campinas, no Brasil, e outro na Arrábida, em Portugal – entre antropólogos e historiadores de ambos os países preocupados em refletir sobre os debates pós-coloniais da época.
  2. A questão que nos preocupava a todos tinha duas vertentes em equilíbrio tenso: (a) como abordar especificidades do processo de expansão do estado português (expressão usada por Pina-Cabral); (b) como evitar reproduzir crenças lusotropicalistas nesse processo, e criticá-las.
  3. No caso do meu texto acrescentei, por assim dizer, uma terceira linha de tensão: (c) como evitar que as abordagens pós-coloniais ficassem prisioneiras do anglocentrismo, permitindo contributos de áreas académicas e linguísticas não-hegemónicas, como as de língua portuguesa. E fazendo-a – em continuidade com a alínea (b) acima – sem reproduzir os intuitos políticos e identitários do estado português democrático em torno do uso da expressão “Lusofonia”.
  4. Resolvi inspirar-me em Paul Gilroy e na sua extraordinária obra. Tal permitia que o ponto de ancoragem fosse a experiência negra do tempo do comércio de pessoas escravizadas, da economia de plantação, do colonialismo e do pós-colonialismo e não, como tem sido tradicional em Portugal, o estado português e as narrativas de identidade nacional construtoras de branquitude. Digamos, para continuar com alguma ironia, que substituí as leituras e apropriações de Gilberto Freyre por uma leitura e apropriação de Paul Gilroy.
  5. Tal estratégia permitiu (creio, ou desejo) introduzir a ideia de multiplicidade nas experiências do mundo do Atlântico Negro, multiplicidade essa sem dúvida resultante das forças de poder, violência e opressão de diferentes colonialismos e de diferentes experiências de independências americanas feitas pelos descendentes dos colonizadores, como no caso brasileiro, e africanas.
  6. Prosseguindo o gesto irónico (creio firmemente na vertente literária das ciências sociais e, mais ainda, da antropologia), recorri à expressão “Pardo”, que tem múltiplos sentidos:

(a) No Brasil foi (e é…) usada como classificação racial nos censos e na auto- e hétero-identificação das pessoas no sistema local. Ela significa misto de “negro” e “branco” ou alguém localizado em pontos intermédios do “continuum de cor”. Como o sistema de classificação racial é intrinsecamente também um sistema de distribuição de poder e estatuto, “pardo” acaba significando uma posição intermédia, ambígua e instável.

(b) No Portugal contemporâneo o termo perdeu essa conotação, não tendo permanecido nem como termo usado na retórica sobre miscigenação. “Pardo”, em Portugal, evoca, sim, expressões como “de noite todos os gatos são pardos” ou “eminência parda”.  Juntando as duas aceções, brasileira e portuguesa,  era à ambiguidade que desejava aludir.

  1. Em que consiste essa ambiguidade? Num elogio da miscigenação lusotropical? No elogio duma excecionalidade do processo colonial português? Numa celebração da cordialidade racial brasileira? No universalismo intercultural da narrativa portuguesa pós-25 de abril de 1974? Não. Tratava-se, sim, de ver as especificidades (certas formas de resistência, de criatividade, de perceção, de narrativas, etc.) como resultantes de relações político-económicas – de poder – concretas. Essas relações denotam simultaneamente a forma como o “império” português foi organizado e gerido (por exemplo, o papel do Brasil português no mesmo, nomeadamente em África e no tráfico de pessoas escravizadas) e a forma como o império português se inseria numa dinâmica de poder relativo com outros impérios (nomeadamente o Britânico). Posições de semi-periferia, recorrendo ao conceito de I. Wallerstein.

Em suma: que “Atlântico Pardo” não seja visto como um “conceito”, mas sim como um artifício retórico que permita navegar nas águas pardacentas  em que se misturam várias correntes: a do lusotropicalismo e da “democracia racial” que criticamos; a da crítica pós-colonial (e, hoje, anos depois da publicação daquele artigo, a da crítica decolonial); a da desigualdade de poder entre tradições académicas nacionais e linguísticas;  a das diversas (mas também, por vezes, estrategicamente unidas) experiências das comunidades negras e afrodescendentes. É como pensar o samba e o rap no mesmo quadro de produção cultural negra, mas também saber distinguir os processos históricos, culturais e político-económicos da produção de cada um.

Miguel Vale de Almeida (Iscte e CRIA)

[1] Bastos, C., M. Vale de Almeida e B. Feldman-Bianco, eds., Trânsitos Coloniais: Diálogos Críticos Luso-Brasileiros. Lisboa: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais.

[2] Gilroy, P., 1993, The Black Atlantic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Decolonizing the ‘Women of the Brown Atlantic’ project

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate our choices.

(Audre Lorde, ‘The Masters’s tools Will Never Dismantle the Masters’s House’, 1984, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110-114. 2007)

Women of the Brown Atlantic (WOBA) came to a halt in March 2020, when the novel coronavirus (COVID 19) was declared a global pandemic. The restrictions implemented meant that our 10th March invited talk dedicated to Maria Firmina dos Reis had to be cancelled and postponed. The same happened to a workshop we were organising, titled “Oficina da Memória: histórias de memória e mobilidade no Atlântico Pardo”. Soon after, in May 2020, I gave birth to Benjamim and started a period of maternity leave that finished a year later.

The redefinition of family and social dynamics resulting from childbirth and the pandemic meant that the WOBA project and its blog lay dormant for months. During this time, I discovered a room at the back of my mind where I often sat looking at the project, as one looks at a baby asleep to see if it’s breathing. Conversations with collaborators such as Shenia Karlsson and Rosane Carneiro Ramos also played a role in this process of peering, as well as books read here and there. One of them, Plantation Memories by Grada Kilomba, had a particularly disquieting effect. In it I read something that made me shuffle in my seat: ‘Em geral, mulheres brancas são extraordinariamente relutantes em enxergarem-se como opressoras’ (p. 102). Despite the rigorous ethical processes integrated in the practices of WOBA, this triggered a number of questions. How many of this project’s concerns – black maternity, memory and mobility – are a reflection of my own preference for dominant feminist paradigms that emphasise gender over race, even when race is on the equation? How much of this project’s methodology derives from the traditional academic viewpoint that historically privileges research stemming from emotional, social and political distancing? How hierarchical is my practice, my way of thinking, my writing? How (in)adequate? Have I memorised colonialism so well that it resurfaces in my research? Most importantly, can all of this be undone? Is it even possible? Does anyone have a map of the lost land of pre-colonial scholarship?

It is with these unsettling questions, for now left without answers, that I gently bring WOBA back to life, and prepare, once more, to reignite collaborative research and conduct partnerships across the Atlantic is an egalitarian manner. For me, a white European woman researching gender and blackness, it is paramount to continue this imperfect enterprise by at least noting my interest in these questions, even when – especially when – these questions threaten to undo my entire critique.

Welcome back, WOBA.

The Transatlantic Thread – Guest Post by Dr Rosane Carneiro Ramos

(‘Sem titulo (Exu) – Divulgacao Masp’, por Maria Auxiliadora)

I have always had to allow my mind to be in a contemplative state to write. Any creative task of mine has always implied a meditative mind. Even better, an oblivious mind. That is why it was not a surprise when many years ago, reading Harald Weinrich for my Master’s dissertation I could learn about the potentiality of deep forgetfulness to creation. In Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting the author shows how these two, the dialectical duo forgetting/remembering and creation are interconnected. If I use the Portuguese expression ‘o fio da meada’ (something like ‘a memory thread’) what comes to my mind is always Ariadne’s ball of thread, the one she gave to Theseus to escape the labyrinth in Greek mythology.

This loose association leads to another disjointed assumption: memory helps to escape. As remembering or forgetting, her twin sons (excuse-me, but memory is female). However, escaping from what? From whatever is needed. If it is to escape from the burdens in life, so be it. If it is to escape one’s own fate, it is still valid. And, if it is to escape an enforced silencing in order to fight injustice, excellent.

These two instances, remembering and forgetting, provide highly potent tools for changing destinies. Not for other reasons the archives are apparatus of power, allies of grand societal rulers such as governments, churches, privileged institutions. Official archives in their many and imposed forms decide what to remember and what to forget. In a very rough way, following this line of reasoning, they pretty much decide, then, whether we can escape or not. Nonetheless, are we prisoners?… I did not mean that, I do not remember why this thought is here – perhaps there is something about institutional power that impels us to escape.

This outward labyrinth I am taking you in is Água de barrela’s accountability. Eliana Alves Cruz’s work exposes this tension of memory very well, the remembering/forgetting role in how we deal with our fate. A fractured history which is still unfolding, the Afro-Brazilian past lingers in the present in Brazil like a wounded monster (a Minotaur may come to mind, that’s fine). However, this beast is still alive. And, we know, it is hungrier than ever. The merit of this book then is to offer us a thread. Less mythologically speaking, Cruz takes in the hands of her writing the determination of choosing what to remember or to forget, and how to remember or forget. The author’s decision to dive into her great-aunt memories as a schizophrenic and to collect and assemble, for six years, facts, objects, letters, and to revolve the cultural memories of so many peoples involved in the crossing of the Atlantic is admirable. As are the works of female Afro-Brazilian writers, artists, citizens who, in the last years, have voiced their challenges to past and present archives in order to create a fairer society.

As a student in life I can just consider Água de barrela a piece to be disseminated, to inspire generations, to contribute to the history we are building in Brazil and in the Lusophone Atlantic. The book comes to join this transatlantic movement of knowledge and creativity undertaken by many women lately, which includes the project Women of the Brown Atlantic. Eliana Alves Cruz’s work is necessary, as a chosen act of remembering the humanity we are made of. I hope that in this Memory Residency I am able to highlight this enough.

There could not be a better time to follow this thread.

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