The Re-Education of Sheree Mack

Fires broke out in 131 indigenous reserves from 15-20 August, 2019*

I considered myself to be an educated person. A person with a certain degree of knowledge, with recognisable qualifications which would signal knowledge and expertise. I’ve talked before about my eyes being opened and becoming wise to the system. At no point did I think I knew it all but when you’ve spent so long in the educational system as a learner and teacher, you do build up the belief that you know a thing or two. However, what I’ve learned or had to be re-educate myself about in the last few months is how this world, not my small insular world, but this global space we occupy and share with millions of diverse species is through an unfair and unjust and unequal and corrupt system.

Blazes have been seen on the Araribóia indigenous reserve in Maranhão state – a heavily deforested reserve on the Amazon’s eastern fringes, which is home to about 80 people from an isolated group of Awá indigenous people, described by the NGO Survival International as the world’s most endangered tribe.

I thought I had a handle on power and who has it and who doesn’t but I have to admit, my understandings were naive and academic. I’ve experienced inequalities and injustice and discrimination and prejudice. I know I’m at the bottom of the pile being a black working class woman in the U.K. But when I see black and brown people who look like me but who are losing their homes and livelihoods and lives because of big business, fossil fuel companies; because we in the global north demand material goods and lavish lifestyles at half the price then I know I enjoy a certain level of privileges.
I choose to be a vegan for environmental and animal welfare reasons. I can make this choice because I enjoy a certain level of income that allows me to pay for these select choices in what I eat or don’t eat. People surviving in poverty do not enjoy this luxury.

Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been widely criticised for failing to respond quickly to the crisis, issued a
decree on Thursday banning fires in the Amazon for 60 days – a move environmentalists described as largely symbolic.

So yes my eyes have been opened to the disportionate distribution of wealth in the world but I still have so much to learn. Consider this the re-education of Sheree Mack because I realise now that I have been indoctrinated into a Western way of thinking and being. And it’s a total
mindfuck. Basically, I’ve been thinking and living as if I’m a white person but really I’m a Black Woman. And always will be. No amount of education and striving and hustling and appeasement is gonna change this fact. This reality. I‘ve been acting as my own thought Police within myself, keeping myself in check with blinkers on, trying to make others comfortable and not really questioning or analysing the news and information I’ve been fed and digesting.

The fires are often used to clear pasture and deforested areas in the Amazon during dry winter months, but there have been 28,000 this month – more than any August since 2010.

I’ve been fed a warped set of norms and values that places colonialism, imperialism and capitalism as the mordus operandi and the only way of operating that is worth my attention and respect and love. The Global South did not exist on my radar except as primitive, backward and unworthy. I’ve been ignorant of my people, my cultures, my heritage, my lineage. That connection was severed 500 years ago and it suits the minority in power to continue that disconnection by any means necessary be that through education, media, culture, science, policing; the system. The system in which I, and those that look like me, will always be viewed as ‘other’ and deemed inferior, not of value on a human level, but worthy enough to be exploited and oppressed and eradicated.

Fiona Watson, advocacy director at Survival International, said land grabbers are targeting indigenous reserves because they are often remote, well-conserved and unprotected.
“It’s clear to me that a lot of these fires are set off deliberately,” she said. “The difference now is that with Bolsonaro’s message, the Amazon is up for grabs.”

This story. This task. This re-education is not linear. Nature isn’t linear. Spiralling. I came here after actively reading and engaging with the fires in the Amazon. I was lead to believe that this was a natural disaster; lightning storms after such high temperatures etc. The reality is all about the climate, but not climate crisis but climate justice. I might be coming late to the discussion but this is better than never. And my eyes are wide open now.

*These quotes are taken from Dom Philips an article printed in The Guardian 29/08/2019 here (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/29/brazil-amazon-wildfires-indigenous-reserves-remote-areas)

5 Problems with Social Media

I’m currently on another social media hiatus.
After my last three months absence, from November 2018 – February 2019, while away I left Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been posting once or twice daily on both my Instagram accounts. I was posting about my #100daysprojects as well as my personal adventures into nature. Things were going well, but I knew a burnout was coming. I was being too prolific and focused. I knew, from experience, that I would run out of things to say. So I called the hiatus before that point, but by the time the end of April came along, I was ready to go.

I value the connections I’ve made through Instagram. I enjoy witnessing what others are doing. I take the time ad energy to cheer them along on their journeys. But at the same time, I’ve my issues with social media and these are what they are.

1. Social Media can be a distraction.

I find that social media can be noisy and distracting. So many people are doing or offering great things and telling everyone about it. And it can mean, I spend my time watching them instead of watching what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s just another way to procrastinate and take me out of my own creative flow.

2. Social Media can be damaging for the self-esteem.

I’m not stupid, and I know people post potted, designed versions of their lives and journeys but that doesn’t stop me from falling into the comparison trap. Sometimes, I see other people’s brightly photoshopped lives and feel paralysed. No amount of effort or time or talent could get me to this level, so why bother, I think. So I do nothing.

3. Social Media can be toxic.

I’ve met some good people on social media. Good people who now support me through Patreon, or through reading my writings and posts. But one reason I left Facebook was because of the negativity and arguments and harm that was showing up on my feed. There wasn’t much love coming my way or being circulated around. I saw a lot of hate and it was affecting me, physically and mentally. So I had to go for my own sanity and well-being.

4. Social Media is not the real world.

I know if you’re living far away from loved ones that social media is a great way to stay connected. With the photos posted you are able to ‘see’ them and feel as if you’re not missing out on their lives and happenings. But this isn’t the same as living in the real world. Nothing can beat having face to face contact with friends and family. And sometimes, we use social media as a substitute for making more of an effort to connect with our people physically.

5. Social Media is controlling our lives.

Being on social media takes time and effort. We post our loves and hates, we post our joys and worries, we post our dreams and successes. We invest a lot of our time and energy and love into platforms that are set up to leach our personal information and money. They profess to be fostering community but really they’re keeping us locked into the vicious cycle of being mindless consumers. Yes I’m still on Instagram and yes I know it’s owned by Facebook. But I’m looking for a way to leave all social media and still be connected with my peeps around the world. One possibliity is here, blogging and my website. I’m trying.

I’m hopeful but …

After my last blog post ‘I’m hopeful …’ I’ve done some reading and I’m not liking what I’ve been reading.

Call me ignorant, call me naive. Call me blinded by love for the common people rather than being critical or cynical or overly politcally.

In my last post I mentioned Extinction Rebellion ( XR) and the work they’ve been doing with non-violent action to put climate change back on the agenda. And they’ve had some measure of success with the all party agreement on calling a state of emergency on climate change as well as a massive influx of people wanting to be involved in the movement. Hell, I’ve even thought about getting involved.

What I’m learning is that XR is predominately white and middle class. This is a long-standing critique of the British environmental movement being too white and middle class and not enough inclusivity.

There should be more black and brown bodies taking part in XR protests and actions. But if XR’s strategy is arrests then I’m fucked, because historially the evidence indicates, my black body would be treated far differently in police custody to a white body. Fact. So you’ll have to excuse me from getting involved in that way. I admit it, I’m scared of what would happen to me if I was arrested.

The main issue I have with XR is that the climate issue is a racist issue and this just isn’t being addressed enough for my liking.
The people of the global south, the poorest people of the world as well as where the majority of people of colour live are experiencing the effects of climate change the most. Communities in the global south bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change, whether physical – floods, desertification, increased water scarcity and tornadoes – or political: conflict and wars and racist borders.

The people and movements of the global south deserve more than mentions in speeches. They should be leading the protests for climate justice. Climate change is the result of colonialisation and
neocolonialism ( more to come on this point).

“Extinction Rebellion US have already added a fourth demand  – a just transition that prioritises the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a liveable, just planet for all.” source

And in the words of Wretched of The Earth, a grassroots collective for Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups and individuals demanding climate justice and acting in solidarity with our communities, both here in the UK and in Global South, “The climate movement will be decolonial or it will be nothing”.

Get up, get out, into the sea

I rise at 6.30am on a promise. A promise to myself to take my medicine. My medicine is getting into the sea. And sometimes it is diffcult to take my medicine.
Day to day commitments, life just gets in the way. I allow other people’s wants and needs to get in the way.

It’s as if I don’t value my needs and wants. A great growing stone of guilt weighs upon me when I choose me over others. It isn’t the natural order of things. Self-love and self-care isn’t encouraged or promoted in the main, in the mainstream.

The sea makes me feel free. The sea releases me from real worries and cares. The sea connects me to my true me. After being with the sea, the rest of the day flows easier and with gratitude.

Really, it isn’t that difficult to get up and get into the sea, if I get out of my own way.

Things I Know About Starting Over

Work in Progress

In 2015, when the shit hit the fan, I had to change. My whole life was in tatters and I had to find a way to live again. But live on my own terms. Live true to my soul.

For decades I’d been on the production trail. Do do do. Produce produce produce. Because I’d eventually I’d get to the promised land. I’d be successful, famous and accepted.

What I know now from having to start over is that there is no end point. There’s only the journey. I’m in a constant state of becoming. Becoming a better version of myself. But I will never be complete or perfect because that state just doesn’t exist. It’s a fallacy we’re fed to keep us keeping on. The desire or promise keeps us working with our heads down, selling out our souls for very little rewards. We think we are living the life we want to live but really, we’re living the life ‘they’ want us to live. The system, that is.

Now, I’m happy with less. Happy to work small. Happy with little ripples I create because I know in my heart that this is the authentic me at work. I know now, what I do, I do from the heart. I do in service to others with no expectations or need for anything in return. Living my life on my terms is my reward. And that’s enough. I’m enough just being me.

Black British Art – a series

I’m a Black British artist. I’ve been involved in the union for artists in England. I’ve been involved in different exhibitions and events around the arts. What I know for sure is that the British art scene is elitist and exclusive.

I’m actively attempting through my own practice as well as research and reading to make visible the invisible; the invisible history of Black British art. For centuries, Black artists have been visible amongst themselves/ ourselves being involved in individual and collaborative projects. But within official records and archives, the Black presence remains little and absent.

Histories and lives and stories are missing within British arts from an African diaspora perspective and I hope through my creating and agitating and archiving I’m changing the narrative.

Through a series of posts I hope to explore the Black British art tradition to bring this rich and diverse and valuable history to light and more recognition. I look forward to sharing my findings with you.

The Minimalist Vegan – A Review

The Minimalist Vegan: A simple manifesto on why to live with less stuff and more compassion by Micheal and Maša Ofei does what it says on the cover.

This is not a ‘how to’ book but a ‘why’ book. For me, is serves as a reminder and an inspiration as the world we live in continues to suffers from “The More Virus”: the mentality of always wanting more.

This book doesn’t tell me anything that I haven’t read before, but I’m just grateful that this information is all in one place and up to date.

Micheal and Maša, the creators of the website The Minimalist Vegan, mark out how minimalism and veganism intersect, how these concepts work hand in hand to help us live more mindful and grateful and compassionate lives.

Our economic system is based on constant growth by any means necessary. It thrives on us consuming more. Each day we are bombarded by thousands of messages and adverts which persuade us to buy and consume more. The adverts promise us happiness and satisfaction and connection, playing upon emotional triggers. But once we get this new product home, it fails to provide the promised benefits. The thrill soon wears off and we’re left seeking another fix promising happiness and satisfaction and connection.

This book upholds the less is more doctrine. How if we simplified our lives, became more mindful of what we consume, becoming more aware of how every decision we make impacts our lives as well as everything and everyone around us, then we will stand a better chance of saving our lives and the life of this planet.

I found this book a quick and easy read but still important in terms of the messages it advocates. It serves as a reminder that change isn’t easy especially if we’d rather do what everyone else is doing to fit in rather than stand out and make a stand against the industries and practices which cause animals harm.

Did you know that about eight million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every single year? The figures in this book are shocking. What is more shocking is when we know the figures and could do something to change them, to make this a better world for all species, we still
choose to do nothing and continue along this path of self and others’ destruction.

Reading this book does affect me and makes me question what more I can do. What behaviours can I start to change today in order to buy and waste less and be more compassionate? Anyone who reads this book and isn’t compelled to make change really is missing the point.

Plans for May

I announced on Instagram the other day my plan to go on another social media hiatus in May. This is something I periodically do as a means of self-care. In the past, I’ve left it too late before taking a break and I’ve been left rolling in the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. I’ve been burnt out and rendered speechless with nothing productive to say.

I’ve learned from this experience, I’m planning my retreat ahead of schedule, when I’m still in a good position and enjoying the experience. I’m taking a rest while the going is good. And there’s a voice saying to me, I’m a fool for going now, for leaving the party early so to speak. Things are getting exciting, I’m making connections. I’m also receiving a lot of support for my #100daysproject. I go silent and I will loose all momentum, all exposure etc.

My sanity and health is more important. I take breaks from social media as an act of self-care. The time away gives me the time and space to go within and listen more carefully to my own wisdom. Going dark on the internet, gives me a chance to create without distractions or comparisons. It gives me space and permission to breathe.

I’ll still be posting here as well as on Patreon and sending out Studios Notes during this time as I feel as if I’m just getting started with this blogging malarkey.

This break is coming at a time when our new project is beginning, which involves more Black, Asian and ethnic minorities getting out into the British Countryside. I’ll share more details soon.

5 ways to cultivate creativity

In the past, I’ve struggled with creativity. I thought I could neglect it and keep it under wraps. But creativity is an energy which won’t be silenced or railroaded.

It has to be respected, nurtured and practiced. Frequently.

Here are a few ways that I stay creative, they might even work for you too.

1. Turn up daily.

Being creative is a practice and you can only practice when you turn up. Turn up at the page, the canvas, the computer. Turn up without expectations, just commit to giving creativity some time and attention and see where it takes you.

2. Never give up, never surrender.

Some days the ideas are flowing. The words are all making sense. The colours are working together. I’m in the creative flow and I feel so much joy. But other days, I’m finding it difficult. I’m struggling to make sense, to feel good about what I’m doing. It’s icky. But I keep going. I keep turning ip because I know I’ll get back to the flow and joy and sweet spot.

3. Fall in love with the process

Process over product every time. Through focusing on the process, I’ve a much enjoyable ride. I learn so much about tools and skills and techniques. I’m present in the moment rather than jumping ahead to the end and stressing about if anyone will like what I create. With focus on the process, it doesn’t matter if anyone gets what the finished piece is about because the value comes through the practice.

4. Diversify

I suspend attachment and worries and stress when I create multiples or dabble in multiple creative projects. When I create in batches or move between different art form such as writing poetry and painting an abstract, it means I don’t place all my eggs in one basket. It means I’m not focusing on perfection or completion. I’m focusing on this mark now. And then the next mark. And how they talk to each other. I’m lost in the movement and the creating.

5. Trust yourself

This is probably the hardest thing to cultivate in terms of creativity as far too often we listen to our fears and self-doubts. We spend time and energy overthinking the process or second guessing our actions. We doubts our abilities and intentions. We fall into the comparison trap and before we know it we’re paralysed. We cease to create and feel a failure.

Trust in myself as a Creatrix has developed over time through practice. Through showing up and doing the work and enjoying the process. The more I do the more confident I am in what I have to say and share creatively with the world.