My Colour Skin Talks

Sydney and I are aware of our skin colour, but we are also proud of it.

This article was published in the magazine Maailman Kuvalehti. This is the English version.

My skin is black. Therefore, it is broken down by society into stereotypes that I live daily. I have experienced racism in varied degrees and in different countries. 

I remember when I travelled to Saint Petersburg, Russia, years ago, by road from Finland. I was the only one (it was a group of us) detained by Russian immigration officers. They reviewed my passport carefully and asked me, ” Why were you in Brazil, Panama, USA, etc?”. “What was the reason for your trip to these countries?”. They went on and on for over 20 minutes before permitting me to enter the country. No explanation absolutely, was given to me. 

Another racist incident happened in 2018, at a supermarket in Helsinki while shopping with a friend from Irak. A man passed by us and said: “It smells like shit”. 

As a black woman, I live double or triple discrimination because of my skin colour, being a woman, or an immigrant. However, I am not giving up on this fight because I know there is a new generation that will continue it. 

One of those young people is my nephew, Sydney, who is an intelligent 12 year old in 7th grade, and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. He is one of the many black boys and men in the United States of America who is a target by the racist system. 

One day, while riding with his dad, they were pulled over by the police. When he got home, he told his mom about the incident and the way he acted. “I put my hands on the car dashboard so it can be visible”, he said. 

Previous to this occurrence he had watched the movie “The Hate U Give” with his parents at which time he learned that his hands need to be visible; so that is what he did that night. 

This past summer the Black Lives Matter campaign was held in several countries, globally. I participated in the one organized in Helsinki, Finland, with my friend from Kenia. I got skin chill when I arrived at the Senator Square, saw and heard the thousands of voices shouting slogans like Black lives matter, I can’t breathe, etc. 

This protest was held during the pandemic and as result, most of us participants took the necessary precautions. When the manifestation was over, I saw a sign that  read: Racism = longest-running pandemic. Yes, it is because black people’s rights had been violated and minorized over centuries. This is not a new incident.

Many brave women and men before me and my nephew have also lived racisms, some even experienced worse situations than those today. They are our heroines and heroes. 

Sydney is aware of his skin colour and that the dramatic incident he went through can be repeated someday. I am also aware of this. Nevertheless, I am proud to be a black woman. I don’t like people to call me brown, chocolate, blackish, or woman of colour. I prefer to be called a black woman, just who I am. So please don’t try to wash away the colour of my skin that talks. 

My stories of race and gender discrimination

Have you experienced discrimination?

I grew up in a multicultural environment next to the Caribbean Sea in Nicaragua among indigenous people, african groups, and the white population. Yes, there is racial discrimination among these ethnic groups; however, the impact is when you travel to the Pacific part of the country. 

When I moved to Managua to attend the university, it was the first time I realized and confirmed that I was different from others. My physical complexion, my hair, my Spanish accent, and other characteristics  gave rise to a lot of questions, comments, and looks. 

I remember that one night I and my friends when clubbing. Two friends entered without any problem, but when it was my turn, the guy at the door said to me:

Club: You can’t enter.

I: Why?

Club: Because you are under age.

My friends decided to come out because we got it clear that it was a discrimination act since it was not the first time we were at the club. Incidents like this  repeatedly happened to other black girls at the same club. 

But what is racial discrimination? According to Article 1 of the International Convention of Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination describes it “as any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.

Years later, over the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Finland, I  have also experienced racial discrimination. Once I was in a taxi queue with a friend when we heard a man said: black shit. Both of us decided to ignore him. Another incident happened while shopping with a friend from the Middle East in a supermarket, in one of the aisles a man that was passing by said: It smells likes shit. 

Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Today, 21st of March, is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, established in 1966, by the United Nations after considering all the previous resolutions of discrimination and apartheid. 

This day was chosen in memory of the 69 people (women, men, and children) killed outside the police station in Sharpeville, South Africa (1960), while they held a peaceful demonstration against apartheid law that required all black people to carry identity documentation, which was known as “pass book” at all times.

Five years previous to this incident, in the United States of America, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger while she was going home from work in Montgomery. At this time, bus was segregated, white people were allowed to sit in front and black people in the back. Black passengers were permitted to get on the bus in front to buy their ticket, but after, needed to get off and re-board the bus through the back door. 

Today, Rosa can sit anywhere on a bus, I can “move around in a city” freely without my Passport; nevertheless, racial discrimination is palpable around us. Even though a lot of countries had signed the convention mentioned above, it does not mean that society and governments  have stopped practicing policies that violate our fundamental human rights. 

It looks like it never ends because to the above list I need to add sex discrimination which, is defined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as  “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, or any other field.”

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

 Human beings are different and also hassle among us. Unfortunately, some people live more discrimination than others. For example, I can be  a double or triple discriminated person,  because I am a woman, black,  and immigrant. We all have different categories of discrimination, some have less and others more, but,  the fact is that we should not have any.

I experienced double discrimination in Cuba. I was painted on the wall for many since they thought I was a prostitute, therefore; I didn’t have the right to ask or comment. It pissed me off a lot, even though, I knew it was a possible scenario. I got to admit it was annoying and frustrating. I remember that I had their attention when I got sick and they realized that I was not a Cuban. 

It makes me mad and sad to know that there are people with a narrow and ignorant mind, globally. Nevertheless, I continue to fight against any form of discrimination, and for that, I think it is important to know your identity and be proud of who you are. 

Moreover, it is important to create ways or codes for your physical and mental well-being to struggle with this issue. I use, for example, the “mirror code”, ask the same question they ask you, ignore the comments, looks, etc.,  and say positive phrases to her or him. If you see someone being discriminated,  support them. It is better two than one to kindly confront this situation.  Last but not least, avoid being violent. 

Race and gender: Being same -being different

Black women facing racism in two countries across the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, a lot of discussion and debate are taking place about black matters in  society, on media, social networks, and panels. The varieties of topics go from racisms, discrimination, human rights, movie, music, to fashion. One day for example, I came across with an article that developed how it is being a black woman in a liberal city. While reading it I realized that things described by the writer didn’t suit me but others did. So it was an affirmation that a black woman does live similarities and differences labelling in Africa, America (continent), or Europe. Have you ever stop to think about this? 

People have the perception that Finland being a European Nordic country doesn’t have a black population, but it’s a mistake Finland has a native and immigrants black community that is active in society in different scenarios such as, performance, art, politic, activism, music, etc. 

The Finnish organization Anti-Racism Media activist Alliance (ARMA) is a three years project sponsor by Kone Foundation that combines academic research and activism. It aims that both be an equal tool to discuss racism in Finland thought innovated way in media, arts, and pedagogy. This is done through three pillars: creative publishing, international networking, and knowledge exchange. 

Monica Gathuo works at ARMA along with Leonardo Custódio. She is a native black Finnish woman, student, activist, freelance writer, who has been influenced by her mother regarding topics such as justice and equality witch, are hard-core elements that aligned her daily life and work.

As part of the international exchange programme from ARMA Monica flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She admits that it was a great opportunity to learn, debated different topics, had lifestyle experiences in the community, and most importantly she collaborated with their partner organization Criola. 

Months after with the coldness and beauty of Finnish winter Silvana Bahía arrived to Helsinki to have her exchange. She describes herself as a journalist, writer, actress, filmmaker, but most of all a curious person who likes to experiment and learn. 

Silvana’s is delightful to meet people and hear stories. Previously she worked on human rights in one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. They are a city by itself stigmatize for its violence, sadness, injustice, lack of basic quality services for the people such as education, health, and opportunities. However, they “are also happiness, live, innovation, and a lot of people are looking for solutions toward problems they are facing day by day” confessed Silvana.

Nowadays, she works at Olabi as project coordinator of Preta Lab witch, works with black and indigenous women base on teaching them technologies and innovative tools such as server security. This lab was created when Silvana’s realized that she was the only woman of race in programming and coding space.

At Preta Lab besides, imparting workshops to women they also have discussions with different actors from the society about new technologies production because it is believed that everyone should acquire knowledge of the new technology. 

Photo: Heljä Franssila/Kone Foundation

The black society in Finland-Brazil 

What have you heard about Brazil or Finland? For sure, that they are spotted in two different continents, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Both are completely diverse in too many elements such as territorial area, population, language, culture, governmental structure, weather, and others. However, they also have far more similarities and differences in the black community. 

In Brazil, the black-skinned people represent more than 50% of the population distributed around the country. On the other hand, in Finland statistic is not defined yet, they are also spread in the different cities.

Silvana and Monica are part of this minorities group that day-by-day live blackness challenges. After sitting, laughing, and chatting about the exchange experience with these two strong women confirmed that there are differences but also likenesses among black persons in both countries.

Monica expressed that the meaning of equality is different “in Brazil is said out loud, there are overt, but in Finland is done in a Nordic way silence and covert”. 

In Finland there a lot of things that are not said regarding the minorities community because most people rather keep their emotions for they self or it is demonstrated by offensive microaggressions by using hateful language, gesture, comments, etc.  

On the other hand, in Brazil people discuss the issue openly even though they know it’s a high risk of being assaulted, threat or dead.  For example, in March 2018 Marielle Franco da Silva who was a political, feminist, and human rights activist was killed in her car on a street in Rio de Janeiro. 

Both Silvana and Monica coincide that black women are more safely in Finland. Walking on the street of Helsinki or Rio de Janeiro is totally not the same for black- skinned women. Being a black woman in Brazil means facing a vulnerable reality of sexual and racial harassments, rape, thread, or to be murder since the social iniquities have colour and gender. 

Is obvious that there is a huge gap in percentage regarding the figures concerning this social problem. According, to a study released in November 2018 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that 4 women dead for each group of 100 thousand women. 

On the other hand, a resemblance between Finnish and Brazilian black women is that they are “constantly fighting for the rights, there is an inequality no matter where you are whether it is in a Scandinavian country or in Latin-American” said Silvana. 

There are different countries far away yet, it matters that the black women movement and community can find ways that connect them, understand one another, and work toward the unification of a stronger black community.  

In Brazil black women have a history of long slavery struggle, hierarchical, and invisibility.  They had been marginalized by race and gender. They don’t have the same background as white women; they had been working long before. Thus, they have a lot of challenges in reality, such as be recognize as a human being and not being stigmatized like party women and sexual objects. They need to have more opportunities in society. The black feminist looks toward including more women “we need to take care of our self since we always take care of everyone” manifested Silvana. 

Take away

During her visit, Monica was taken away with the black community in Rio de Janeiro. She admitted, “is the first time I feel in the correct place as a black woman. It was funny for me because I never feel that I fit anywhere because of being mix-black. {…} when I go to Kenia witch is my other home country I am white, but in Brazil people think I was from there, they didn’t believe me”. She also added that the warm welcome of people is something she loves. 

On the other behalf, Silvana considers being a privileged woman during her three months stay in Finland by learning a lot of new things. When I ask her what she is taking with her back to Brazil, she laughed and said that is a good question. Silvana said, “is a bigger country than I thought, we need to stop looking at things in a small way there are more possibilities out there”. 

Black-skinned women day by day are looking for stories that match the lifestyle, way to develop their race and gender identify, learn new methods to dismantle perception, and most of all have influencer or heroes examples. 

So when I ask from both women advice for other women Monica said: “take care of your self and support each other”. 

My advice to younger black women is “continue to dream for a better future, dreams make people move and change” expressed Silvana. 

It matters that young black people continue the core and believe that they can create a more fair-minded and humane world.