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September 4, 2018 - ARMA in Brazil


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September 4, 2018 - ARMA in Brazil

Caroline Suinner

by Monica Gathuo, Photo by Fábio Da Silva Conceição

This is my first blog post of our Anti-Racism Media Activist Alliance (ARMA Alliance). As a start, I’d like to share  my experience in Brazil. There, I met some of our  very important partners in Rio de Janeiro. ARMA, as you know, is funded by the Koneen Säätiö - Kone Foundation.

As soon as we started ARMA last January, we’ve been excitingly talking and messaging about the planned trip to Brazil to meet our partner  organisation Criolaa.

When Kone announced the funding, both sides in Finland and Brazil immediately got anxious to meet each other. In fact, Leo had already met and seen them during the planning phase. But both of us were really looking forward to meeting Criola’s general coordinator Lúcia Xavier and other members of the organisation.

For me, the long wait ended when I landed to Rio de Janeiro in the last week of July. It really paid off.

Personally, landing in Rio de Janeiro was the end of a long journey.  Landing in Rio felt as if it ended an almost three-decade-long feeling of not belonging. In a rather unknowingly way, this trip was also to be one of the trips for which I had waited so long. A trip to give me so much hope for the future.

Before starting my trip I had been instructed to do my best to keep safe. The instructions included tips like how to only take an official taxi, to send a message to confirm when arriving to my accommodation, not to wander around empty streets and to possibly carry some cash in my pockets and a phone worthy of giving away without pain if it was to be exchanged for my life.

These tips, i have to admit made me a bit uneasy to start with, but i realised after arrival that they were part of everyday life of people living in Rio.

Changing from a continent to another seemed like a big jump, but climate wise the difference was not as grand as I had believed. Only missing the scorching sun of Helsinki, Rio was warm and the sea gave a refreshing breeze.

The big difference was that, unlike Helsinki, the representation in Rio was amazing.

First day in the city and I had seen myself in so many by-passers the way I had never even thought I would see. Walking down the streets of Copacabana on a Sunday afternoon was a terrifying thought, since my biggest fear was to stand out and to be seen as the vulnerable “gringo”.

But I learned fast that I had blended in without any suspicion. Cariocas (word used to describe anything from people to things and behaviour coming from Rio de Janeiro) seem to go on their daily lives without thinking that I was anything different!

During events and meetings at Criola, I was very inspired to be with these women who have been doing for a long time something that I have only started.

Sitting down a few times with different audiences - we had a couple of presentations both for students at one of Criola’s courses (photo) and for black female activists - made it clear that even though we live in different countries socially and politically, we have so many similar issues touching the wellbeing of the racialized population.

Even though the amount of physical violence is not as overt and present in Finland as it is in Brazil, we still experience the same psychological violence in forms of micro and macro aggressions and othering without any doubt.

Opportunities for people of color in both countries are scarce. Notable also was that in both countries the youth of color are more often directed to same future paths without caring about the individuals’ dreams and hopes.

People of color are blamed for the structural problems and the violence that is inflicted on them. White supremacy has predominant space in public discussions.

Even though all this is happening, the women I met and I found so much comfort and support from each other. We are definitely looking forward to a future where we can build stronger ties and work more together.

On the last days of the trip, I was walking around the nearby streets of my accommodation with all these thoughts in my head. I craved to learn more and to be more involved. As we say in Finland, we had only cracked the ice and I know we were going to dive deep in this cold water.

It felt like the best thing to do would be  to come back to Rio with more beautiful black Finnish activists and create stronger ties with Criola. I can’t wait!

Landing back in Finland I thought, for a brief moment, that I was only left with an unfinished pre-paid metro card and another flu caught during  the return flight, but my heart melted as soon as i opened my phone and Facebook notified me of all the pictures in which I was tagged.

That made me realise I am now part of this community. A bridge to the other side of the planet is in the making. This trip was definitely not just a visit, but the start of something bigger. After being in Rio, I feel ARMA has become something bigger than just a 3-year-long activist research project.