I attended #MeToo-Moving Forward Conference in Reykjavik Iceland in September 2019. I was invited there to present and participate. My presentation was on the last day of the conference, which was good, because I was then at liberty to bring up the issues that were not yet presented.
I already blogged a bit of my encounters there, mainly sharing time and space with Dr.Angela Davis. It was a well organized and curated event and I was super happy to listen to all the wonderful and though provoking speeches at the event. One thing that was missing, were the voices and speeches by Roma and Sapmi peoples, which was a shame because I believe there is so much to learn and to build on from these histories, experiences and struggles as we move forward.
When I find myself in a space, occupied mainly by white people and I am given the mic I usually ask a question to test the waters. The question is: Who here knows when the Roma people gained civic rights in Finland? The answer too often, is no one and that is quite telling of how little we know of the histories of each other in our communities here in Finland. I didn’t need to ask that question at the conference.
So my speech however, was addressing this. Not just to be critical, but as a reminder to all of us just as I was reminded of other histories that are not present in my every day life nor activism. And also out of respect for the people who came to build change and out of accountability towards the communities that have educated me and engaged me in conversations in the past years.
I missed ALL of my classes for a week and it was hell to catch up, but to be honest, it was worth it. I met some amazing and beautiful people from all over, connected with this crew in UK, Fam,that is LIT af and experienced Iceland with folks on higher planes of thought than myself. Also I HAD DINNER AND LATER LUNCH WITH ANGELA DAVIS, that’s at the very least worth of some late night work on class assignments.
here is the speech:
It’s humbling to stand here today in front of room full of esteemed trouble makers, intellectuals, academics, activists, dreamers and nurturers of a tomorrow free of oppression.
I am based in Helsinki Finland. My roots connect me to continent Africa. And here I am today, speaking in front of you beautiful people.
Ironically, I am still considered voiceless and often asked about reasons for my so called voicelessness. Today I would like to use this space to discuss margins and robbing of voices. Metoo has given countless people a platform to use their voices and name their experiences in Finland and globally. It has changed something in our societies and the backlash has been discussed in the last couple of days, so I will not go into that.
As a kid, when I was taking a first aid course, I was told to approach the victims of accident who were not moaning and crying. The silent ones. Because often, their condition might be worse, than those who are still making a sound. As a young person, that was quite confusing thing to take in. How can you ignore the cries of someone who’d been in an accident and attend to the silent one?
I have been dragged into countless discussions, on different platforms, TV, Radio, seminars, interviews, some up against people who proudly declare their ideology as nothing less than fascist. In those spaces, I felt emotionally violated, but somehow I was the only one who seemed to notice, that the balance was off.
Not so long ago, I was invited to participate on a life radio program, my co-guest was a man who calls himself a science journalist but fascist would be more accurate description of him. As the discussion went on, this man sitting less than a meter away from me, said to me and to those listening two things. One was that Muslim men are aggressive sexual predators and this is why Europe shouldn’t allow them in, they are not able to integrate. The second thing he said was that Muslim women, consider sexual violence a norm and thus do not report it. He would not look at me, but at his laptop. He seemed to think, that he had authority to tell me, how I view my body and what I consider violation. My interjections were ignored by him.
What is more, along with these ’debates’ as they call them, there is absence of minority groups that have deeper roots in the Finnish society than I have.
The Roma have a history of 500 years in Finland, longer in Europe or if we narrow it down, The EU.
The Roma women are not given the courtesy of asking them why they are voiceless as I am. They do not exist in the context of the conversations around gender and equality. This is not something that only happens in Finland. It’s epidemic all over Europe.
James Baldwin once said that ”the story of the Negro is the story of America”. I would make the claim here, that the story of Roma is the story of Europe. Nations united not only in the efforts of creating democracies and technology and foundations for human rights, but also as nations united in their disregard for the plight of the Roma.
How can we speak of sisterhood, and not fight for the liberation of women and girls?
The stereotypes and the stigma are so deeply rooted, some of the more progressive people might actually claim that their marginalization is self inflicted.
How are the Roma women and girls in Europe today? Are they free from sexual harassment? Are they afforded the same rights of having a genuine choice over their bodies and lives?
We as people who are referred to as women, need to discover what solidarity means.
The only European based indigenous group recognized by the EU are the Sapmi. The sapmi lands spread over what is now national state Finland, Sweden and Norway.
The Sapmi people have been victimized and colonized by these nation states. Still, we do not discuss this in the colonial context. What I find troubling in the discussion around Metoo and the changes we wish to see, is that we are still not ready to hear all of the stories.
Marginalized groups that struggle for basic human rights and dignity and right to their cultural heritage cannot afford to join the conversation, because the price is too high. Because their accounts of what they encounter can and will be used against them to further justify their oppression.
And for this movement, for any social justice movement to be radical enough to succeed, we need to set out to liberate everyone, because as Fannie-Lou Mae said, no one is free, until we are all free.
#Metoo as a movement, sometimes makes me wonder, is it all about what we recognize as woman? What is it to be recognizably woman?
I am happy about this movement and as our sister Marsai Larasi said yesterday, it can be as strong as we will it to be and also as inclusive as we will it.
In closing, I want to quote a dear friend, visionary and artist Pauliina Feodoroff, a Skolt Sami woman who once wrote (and this is my very poor translation):
Mari Boine’s music has kept me alive my entire youth. Her C-tapes adopted me and raised me as Sapmi at a time, when I did not have anyone else to raise me. As have later Buffy Sainte-Marie, Sainkho Namtchylak and Wai Ripia, into consciousnesses of a world that went into hiding before I was born. And into responsibility to sing it out again. Matriarchy, whose imperative is the protection of all life and all existence. Ensuring continuance. Women, whose songs bring us closer to earth and the stars. I need those songs, to know how to be a woman. How to be a person.
And I for one, I need my community to be a human. I am, because we are.