Appropriation: Our Bodies Are Not Yours

The recent weeks of the ‘appropriation prize’ bullsh!t has and probably will stick with me for a long time to come. It’s saddening and hugely disappointing when you learn that people at the top of their field(s) who are widely respected don’t deserve to have anyone looking up to them. For people who are so influential (all of them white) to so casually out themselves as entitled, insensitive, racist pricks on social media, makes the world and this country feel like there have been few societal gains made by Aboriginal people, people of colour and other marginalized people, toward justice or equality.

I’ve lived my whole life knowing that people are treated different because of what they look like, where they come from and what they don’t have. But to bear witness to the unfolding of this event and its aftermath – an aftermath which may just be the beginning for some – has been painful. I wrote two posts about this issue, mainly the facts, without truly injecting myself into them and I feel like that wasn’t enough – or right. It wasn’t enough because I didn’t make it clear that the Aboriginal writers featured in the spring edition of the writers’ magazine were not alone in their hurt; and it wasn’t right because in cyberspace we can choose to be anonymous without revealing which side of an issue we choose to land on.

I am not Aboriginal, but as a person of colour, whose ancestors also had their lands, their bodies and minds colonized, I identified with the pain and anger Aboriginal writers and their communities felt. As someone who writes – although because of illness I do it now primarily for myself – the idea that anyone would find it acceptable, even in jest, to tell others to write about who or what they couldn’t possibly know beyond gross generalizations and dehumanizing stereotypes is maddening. For members of that elite, gate-keeping clique to become indignant and lash out at the ones hurt is irrational and sickening. It pains further that they tried to hide their racism behind supposed efforts to protect free speech – which I pointed out before, on this occasion of overt racism, became the beneficiary of protections when it was least threatened – from Aboriginal writers and their communities speaking out against the harm being perpetuated by the denial of the existence of appropriation.

As one who has been wounded, I know that to be always alert and ready to respond to an incident like this as an individual and/or a representative for your race/ethnicity/community is demanding. To have to restrain one’s self in the face of conflict to avoid perpetually being labelled angry or ignorant of the bigger picture is exhausting. To be repeatedly harmed and then told by the perpetrator no harm was done to you is abusive. To have the things that concern your life flippantly mocked and dismissed as ‘identity politics’ is a form of erasure conveniently applied when those with racial privilege and power have no interest in examining their wrongs, or seeing all of what makes you human.

Moreover, when people throw around the term ‘identity politics’ they seem to forget that in each person’s life it’s not realistic to separate politics from who you are because the personal is political, which simply relates to consciousness-raising, awareness of where you come from, and what makes you who you are in any moment. So instead of attempting to stir controversy with such a ridiculously inflammatory positioning of these words, they might actually think about doing something beneficial with the privilege, influence, and power they continue to stockpile. Perhaps, these privileged few could learn the true unpolished history of this country, which will show how impossible it is for any of them, or other white individuals, to write what they don’t know. It might also clarify, how inherently difficult it is for the Aboriginal writers they belittle, and other writers of colour, to produce beautiful work about what they know when our worlds are overrun by systemic violence, oppression, physical and emotional trauma, lost lives, wounded families, and sometimes fragile love(s).

I’ll give them a place to start. After spending a few days in reflection, I turned to writing this post to purge the bullsh!t from recent weeks and only started feeling mildly better when poetry appeared. In all likelihood, were I to send any of this writing to any of the involved publishers, editors, or journalists, they would probably reject it without consideration because of the subject. Ironically, that knowing might be what prompted the editor to write that offending editorial; why in his words, the face of literature in this country is so white and middle-class…

 

What Matters about the Appropriation Prize

I’ve been engrossed by a shameful display of white (mostly male) privilege exhibited on social media and in widely circulated articles, by a group of powerful Canadian publishers, editors, and journalists in recent days. The words they have used (written and verbal) have caused pain to which they are oblivious. Even as some of them apologized, it was clear they did not understand why so many people are angered and hurt. Some of them, while holding firm or further digging in, continue to defend what they see as an attack on free speech.

This morning, in an interview on CBC Radio, Indigenous critic Jesse Wente, eloquently re-positioned the spotlight where it belongs. He brought back to the fore, the issue of the Aboriginal writers, including Alicia Elliott, who were personally harmed and whose works were overshadowed by the flippant editorial that stated cultural appropriation does not exist and encouraged other writers to write about people and lives they do not know. His emotional and frank statements raise the question of why, in 2017, these discussions are still so necessary.

 

Jesse Wente – CBC Metro Morning

You can also watch the interview and read the written transcript here on the CBC website.

 

As often happens in controversial cases involving race, Mr. Wente was also called upon on Saturday, by CBC News, to engage in debate about Aboriginal cultural appropriation with the editor/journalist whose offensive tweet was the catalyst for the call to donate to an appropriation prize. In that interview, it was remarkable to watch as Mr. Wente’s words fell on the ears of a person who is so disconnected from the barriers racism and other social justice issues can sometimes impose. From his position of power, which is propped up through multiple societal constructs, said editor/journalist was both condescending and immovable.

 

Appropriation vs. artistic freedom – CBC News Interview

 

That editor/journalist has since resigned from his role as editor-in-chief at a Canadian literary magazine. As part of his reason for resigning he noted, “The Walrus Foundation is moving in a direction that is different from what I was hoping. My dream was always to create a Canadian version of Atlantic magazine, which offers intelligent well-researched viewpoints and articles on all sorts of issues, including controversial topics,” he said. “The cultural appropriation issue would be only one small example of that.”

 

 

For further insight into this issue more articles are listed below.


 

The cultural appropriation debate isn’t about free speech — it’s about context – Alicia Elliott – CBC Arts   –

The unbearable whiteness of being (oblivious to privilege) – Ricochet

A Note from the Publisher and Executive Director – The Walrus

‘I invoked cultural appropriation in the context of literature and writing only’: Hal Niedzviecki – CBC The Current

Jonathan Kay resigns as editor of The Walrus amid cultural appropriation controversy – The Globe and Mail

Walrus editor Jonathan Kay quits amid free speech uproar: ‘I have been censoring myself more and more’ – National Post

It may be harmless appropriation to you. But it’s our preservation – The Globe and Mail

Cultural appropriation and the privilege of creative assumption – The Globe and Mail

Cultural appropriation: Why can’t we debate it? – The Globe and Mail

Debate over cultural appropriation a centuries-old battle for Indigenous groups – The Globe and Mail

 

The Appropriation Prize Through a Pain Clouded Lens

It’s hard being me right now. That’s not me feeling sorry for myself. I’m referring to living with a chronic illness that causes me constant pain. It makes it difficult for me to keep up with the social justice issues I once passionately followed and supported in my daily life; and it is harder still because I constantly doubt myself because pain affects my concentration, as do the pain medications I take to manage it.

It’s especially tough when I engage with people who may hold a privileged place in society because of their race, gender, sex, class and/or profession. If they say or do something that resonates negatively to my core, I question whether I heard or understood the words or actions correctly because my mind is sometimes so clouded by all the medications I take to manage my pain; and I question how or if I should respond.

I’m not American. However, since the arrival of the Trump Era and the relaxing of the niceties of political correctness – which served for so long as the thinnest shield between people of colour, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, the differently abled, and women, and the bombardment of overt racism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia; I’ve witnessed a shift. Even in my personal relationships. People now say what they think and feel without fearing repercussions.

Yesterday, I didn’t have to doubt, not even for a second, that members of the upper echelons within Canadian media have discarded all pretense that it matters if people know what they truly feel about marginalized and racialized people. In fact, a career journalist for the Toronto Star, went as far as pointing out in her Friday column that she loathes identity politics and racialized is “(an invented word)”, while applying her 20th century views to the state of modern-day journalism in reference to a black freelance writer’s activism.

My head wasn’t clouded at all yesterday. I had no doubt, when first I read an article in The Globe and Mail about the poorly received editorial in which the now former-editor of a writers’ magazine stated he did not believe in cultural appropriation and that there should be an ‘appropriation prize’. I had no doubt when I read the full editorial in the opening pages of the Spring edition of the writers’ magazine dedicated to Aboriginal writers, where the former-editor’s beliefs overshadowed content from the very writers whose stories are so often silenced.

 

Write Magazine Spring 2017 – Hal Niedzviecki’s – Winning the Appropriation Prize

 

I still had no doubt when I later saw a list of white publishers, editors, and journalists facetiously jump forward to raise money to start a fictional ‘appropriation prize’ for the writer (assumedly a white one) who could best and most believably write about people, cultures, and races they know nothing about. That late night fundraising effort on Twitter was allegedly in response to protecting free speech – the beneficiary of protections in cases of overt racism always tend to be the thing that is least threatened. In the wake of fallout from the editorial written in the writers’ magazine, the editor resigned. This group of media power brokers voiced their outrage that a member of their clique was punished for something they too view as non-existent. They mocked the suggestion that the editorial harmed anyone. Harm which because of their privileged perches they could never see.

 

On Glibness And Diversity In Canadian Media – Buzzfeed – May 12 2017

 

Appropriation Fund – Contributors – Credit to Jake Mooney on Twitter – May 12 2017

 

I’ve chosen not to write the names of the people involved in this outrageous game of “this is who I really am” because I once held some of them in high esteem. I did, however, include the original offending editorial (above) and links throughout the post to informative articles I read yesterday, as well as additional links to more articles below.

As a Canadian, I’ve been hoping for the better part of a year that what is happening south of the border wouldn’t take hold here. The thing I forgot is that even when you think you have no weeds in a garden, it’s impossible to see what’s rooted below the surface of the dirt.

 


Editor quits amid outrage after call for ‘Appropriation Prize’ in writers’ magazine – The Star

Cultural appropriation prize fund was the unkindest cut of all: Paradkar – The Star

High-profile Canadian journalists pledge to raise money for ‘appropriation prize’ – The Star

Indigenous literature’s fearless aunties respond on cultural appropriation – Ricochet

André Alexis: The complex issues within cultural appropriation and art – The Globe and Mail

Christie Blatchford: Magazine editor the latest to be silenced for the sin of free speech – National Post

Editor Resigns Over an Article Defending ‘Cultural Appropriation’ – New York Times

In the end, cultural appropriation is about the cash: Walkom – The Star

 

Pain Clinic #10: The Hope of Bluebells

I had to be up and out of the house early in the morning for an appointment at the hospital yesterday. I had to check in to the Day Surgery Department at the hospital where I am seen by my Pain Specialists by 7:45 AM so they could prep me for yet another pain treatment. I haven’t been writing about my Pain Clinic visits much in past months because they are so frequent and usually consist of just a check in to see how I’m coping and what might be the next course of action. I’ve also been doing research about the procedures and medications they propose so I can better advocate for myself and not allow anxiety, due to lack of knowledge or understanding of what is being done to my body, to potentially create a mental block or resistance so my body can fully benefit from what I’m undergoing.

Yesterday’s pain treatment was particularly tough to handle mentally. However, on my way home from the hospital afterwards, I saw bluebells in a flowerbox outside a restaurant. I took some photos of them because, to me, they have always symbolized the beginning of Spring and the resurgence of life after the deepest cold of winter. It made me so happy when I saw them. I’m hoping they are a sign that what I went through yesterday in the treatment clinic, is the start of something better in my life…

 

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Layering Colours

I’m focused on learning so many creative skills that sometimes I miss the plain fact that I’m already capable of doing lots of the things I tell myself I can’t do. In the pursuit of learning, I’ve purchased stacks of art supplies (pens, graphite pencils, coloured pencils, sketchbooks, specialty paper, paints, brushes, and markers), so much that I often don’t remember what I bought years ago and sometimes surprise myself when I find things in nearly new condition. On the other hand, at other times I sit with the intention of teaching myself something “new” only to realize that, although not perfect, I might already have the skill and I may just need practice or not be aware of the technical name of what I’m attempting. I’m not sure if it’s the passage of time or my illness – or more likely all the pain medications I take – that make me unaware or doubt myself, but it’s an odd space to occupy at times.

In March, during a visit to one of my local Dollar Stores, I found some inexpensive sketchbooks that have pages made from kraft paper, instead of the usual stark white or off-white pages found in standard sketchbooks one might buy in an art supplies store. There were four unique cover designs to choose from so I bought one of each. The sketchbook I decided to start using first has a sketch of a fountain pen, bottles of inks, a pencil, and a micron pen on its front cover, but it’s the blank golden paper behind the covers that piqued my interest. I started drawing on the bright kraft paper pages as soon as I brought them home.

I started out doodling in it with a graphite pencil and a fine point black ink pen. Then, maybe because these sketchbooks are so inexpensive or simply because I was curious to see how other media would work with the kraft paper, I started trying out other things. So far, the pages have held up nicely to acrylic paint pens, gel pens, the application of white gesso – which I’d never used before –, markers, and oil pastels. Then a few weeks ago, I discovered that coloured pencils pop on kraft paper. How did I discover this? While looking through the profiles of some artists on Instagram, I saw some of the most beautiful bright illustrations created using coloured pencil on kraft paper by Australian artist Deb Hudson, and I decided I had to try it out for myself.

However, before opening my package of 60 brand spanking new Prismacolor coloured pencils that I bought last year to experiment with, I went in search of what’s left of the 24 coloured pencils from the same brand I bought years ago when I used to do creative things on a regular basis. Back then, I used to colour with coloured pencils by pressing hard on the lead to get bold colour on the page from the first stroke of the pencil, which meant that depending on the colours I used most, I had to replace individual pencils often; and I built up a collection of tiny pencils.

Since that time, from watching videos, reading books and articles on creative websites in recent years, I’ve learned that you need to build up layers until you get the bold colour you desire. I’ve also, learned that layering allows more flexibility – it’s easier to correct mistakes or change a colour palette – and most of all it is calming. While you work to achieve the rich colour and paper coverage with the slow repetitive motion of the pencil, you become more relaxed.

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That leads me to this week’s IFDrawAWeek challenge. The prompt for this week was balloons. When I think of balloons, I always think of the brightest colours, happy sunny days, and floating, whether it’s the balloon alone or me with it. This challenge was an opportunity to apply the drawing and colouring skills I’ve learned over the years. I not only wanted to make the drawing colourful and cheerful, I also wanted to create the perception of depth and to make my sketchbook page pop.

I know I may have taken some creative licence with this drawing, but I doubt that there aren’t many people out there who might have imagined floating away with the help of a bunch of balloons once or twice…

 

Spring Cleaning Pain

I’m late posting my entry for last week’s ‘IF Draw A Week‘ challenge that I found on Instagram. It’s not because I didn’t complete it. For whatever reason I had more technology hiccups yesterday, so I diverted my attention to do attempt some Spring Cleaning. I’m cleaning because I feel mentally cluttered as a result of my home becoming cluttered. Actually, it’s been cluttered – and my version of shamefully messy – for a while now because I can’t clean the way I used to and the person I had coming to clean my home for me hasn’t been able to be here for several months. Happily, she found a full-time job that pays enough so she doesn’t have to clean other people’s homes anymore to make ends meet.

Sadly, what that means for me is that I’m sinking under the weight of undone chores. It also means that after making any significant effort, as I did yesterday, I pay for it with added pain. When I finally fell asleep last night – it was actually early this morning – I knew that I’d be in for a painful day, and my body has not disappointed as it continues to narrow the parameters of my life. In this instance, it’s a clean house vs. manageable pain, but the cleaning is not finished yet, so I have to prepare myself for the painful days ahead until it’s all done.

However, if I can’t address the clutter in my home in one go, at least I can briefly put aside the clutter in my mind. The prompt for last week’s ‘IF Draw A Week’ challenge was to “sketch something from real life”, and because it’s not possible to draw pain and I don’t want to depict the growing stack of paper on my dining table, I decided to draw some of my art supplies. The objects I drew are a black binder clip, my trusty Staedtler pencil sharpener, and one of my newly discovered – and quickly becoming favourites – Muji gel pens.

My effort to spring clean my home may not have been successful, but I hope that I successfully captured what these items look like in real life on paper.

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Instagram

Last year in October, I joined the InkTober challenge. To fully participate and share what I drew each day I set up an Instagram account. Since then I’ve been using the app a lot. No, I’m not posting selfies every chance I get. It turns out that Instagram doesn’t only cater to teens and millennials and has more depth and purpose than posting vanity shots. Although, if that’s why you use it I’m not going to judge you for it. I’m sure if I felt healthier I’d probably post more than a few.

 

 

So, why have I continued to use it? First off, it’s an easy and somewhat addictive app to use. Once you select a few users to follow you’re sent suggestions for users with similar profiles e.g. photographers or news feeds. I can, and have, spent hours flipping through the feeds of some interesting people and organizations. National Geographic is one of my favourites because not only do the photographers on assignment post breathtaking images, the information accompanying the photos is informative and educational – I’ve become aware of some alarming global issues through that feed. It’s also a forum where I can easily post from my phone by adding short captions to photos – usually of my doodles –, which was great when my laptop died on me recently.

Apart from the ease of use, through Instagram, I’ve discovered so many things and people I would have had to search tirelessly over the interwebs or travel to find. Sure, some of them are things I never knew I had any interest in, but I think that’s what keeps me going back. For instance, I have discovered artists that work with materials and methods (pointillism, block printing, collage, linocut and chine-collé) I would never have imagined to create some of the most strikingly beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Whether they are starting out in their careers or seasoned experts, the commitment to their craft(s) is incredible to witness. I’m able to see the creative process of these artists and see how their work evolves over time.

Because of the window Instagram provides into who they are, I now own a few pieces of the artworks created by some of these incredibly talented people. Being stuck at home, as I am most of the time, the app is giving me the opportunity to virtually “travel” to meet and connect with these people so I can bring the beauty of their creations into my home. This is yet another thing I’m realizing I took for granted when I was healthy: going to galleries or interesting shops where I could find small treasures, which is now available to me in a way that doesn’t feel as impersonal as visiting an internet auction site.

Also, for someone like me who only uses art as a way to cope with illness, seeing all this talent is motivating me to continue my creative learning. I recently joined a weekly Instagram challenge called ‘IF Draw A Week’ that provides a drawing prompt for what to draw each week and then post it with the challenge hashtag. Along with my regular doodles, I hope this will be another way for me to improve my skills. If not, at the very least I have another outlet to connect with people while I pass the time.

 

 

If you’d like to see what I get up to on Instagram click here: @mysmallsurrenders