Out and Proud

Love, Open Letters, Wedding

Saw a lovely post from a teacher who speaks about coming out, after marrying her wife.

He roost reminded me why I came out and keep coming out each year, each semester, in each new class. Being out in my classroom is one of the most valuable lessons and teachable moments I have to offer. It shows closeted kids or those with queer family that it’s possible to live a beautiful, rich and happy life; to be a professional; to be respected and successful as a queer person.

What else motivates me to be out in my classroom? It provides visibility and hope to kids and a learning opportunity about the diversity within our community. So many important steps towards inclusion and acceptance begin with the risk of being seen. For many it is about knowing someone and having that relationship spark the curiosity to question what we have learned or previously taken as truth. It’s hard to bear hatred or intolerance when you have a face to put to the name, whatever the marginalized group or person may be. I am their teacher. Someone they know and care about. Someone who has modelled caring and for respect for all the things that make them who they are. I actively teach anti-oppression and critical thinking about diversity, myth-busting the rhetoric that too frequently is used to promote intolerance.

If it’s safe to do so… come on out. Our kids need to see you there.

Reality in Small Doses

Open Letters

I feel like it’s fair and helpful, when I’m entrusted with the job I have – to educate kids and prepare them for the real world – to actually be honest with them. Sometimes it’s hard, because they’re brittle. They’re babies (comparatively). And sometimes they are so grown-up that it’s scary.

I include tons of media and social justice, current events, character building, resilience and anti-shame education. Not what is ‘required’ to pass, but what I think is essential for living (and maybe even being a kind, empathetic person).

I feel like sometimes you just have to say (when you catch a subtle eye roll, and a face that says ‘here she goes again… trying to make us better humans, can we please just talk about Iambic Pentameter?)

‘Hey, I’m not going to name names here, but I notice the face you’re making. You know… the one I just described.

I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but I am. It’s saying, ‘please shut up. I don’t find what you’re saying to be interesting or relevant. I didn’t sign up for this. I would rather be on Snapchat right now.’

So, on one hand, I’m really happy you’re comfortable enough to have real reactions and facial expressions, but on the other – if that’s not the impression you want to give someone who is up here, taking a risk, standing in front of an audience of 15-year-olds, being themself and caring about what you are feeling – you should tell your face.

But also, realistically, you need to get a grip on your eyes, eyebrows, lips and nostrils… because you have a life ahead of you, full of meetings, training sessions, arguments with friends, long-winded explanations and complaints from people you are dating, stories told by people you sort of know, discussions and briefings led by the people who pay your salary… and all of them will be watching you – so your face needs to be ready.

You need to show up, but also look engaged. And if you’re not engaged, what can YOU do to fix that? Only boring people get bored.

But, this is also advice from someone whose candid eyebrow reactions used to get her into lots of trouble (Sorry, Mom, former teachers, co-workers). Until I Botoxed the shit out of them. Kidding. Sort of.

However, I have been known to rebel. I coined the expression: “I can’t help it if my face finds you ridiculous.”

So, if you actually can bring yourself to listen graciously and attentively, do so. If not… work on that. Making people feel heard is a skill.

 

To the “Canadians” Who Hate Immigration:

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I get it, we have people on welfare, we have soaring housing prices, we have joblessness, we have people that aren’t ourself taking ‘advantage’ of healthcare that is paid for by all Canadian citizens (rather than the obviously preferable state of people languishing in illness, sprawled on sidewalks) and the crowds in Canadian cities and small towns don’t look as homogeneous as they used to. I get that it’s easy (don’t worry, I didn’t say racist, Islamophobic, Xenophobic, or ignorant… gasp) to blame a vulnerable, marginalized population for problems that existed long before these individuals actually arrived… but really, have you considered what our country would look like if you ended immigration and pulled back the welcome mat that has long been extended to many refugees to our country?

Today on Global News, there was an article called: What Will Canada Look Like in 2036?

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Sparked by the shock (I don’t know why I was shocked) of reading this article and seeing the comments (90% of which were anti-immigrant and anti-helping-anyone that-isn’t-directly-related-to-you/like you) I got to thinking… what would the average internet commenter’s life be like, in Canada, if we just got rid of all these immigrants and refugees? Because let’s not be mistaken for people who want to do the right thing even if it’s hard, or has a price tag, or means we have to question our privilege… and let’s instead take a look in a mirror that reveals we’re more self-interested than most of us are comfortable with. Even if those others hadn’t been shown, statistically, to be highly resourceful, persevering individuals, who have worked tremendously hard, courageously overcoming many life-threatening situations, forging ahead for the betterment of their families and often bringing expertise and money into our economy and workforce, seldom expecting handouts, leaving behind family, homes, money, memories and degrees, to try and begin anew… why should they get the same chance YOUR family had, generations before now…?

In this baby-nation, with a declining birth rate, just about to celebrate its 150th birthday…What trumps caring about others more than thinking only about our own interests?

How would your life change if we made good on your plan/dream to ban immigrants, refugees and itinerant labourers? 

  1. You’d have to stop Instagramming about the new Sushi place you discovered. And the Indian buffet. And the roti. And the Jerk Chicken. And the bao. The Dim Sum. And even the tacos. Oh, Shit. And the Bubble Tea.
  2. You’d have to pay your white neighbours’ 12 year old $20/hour to babysit your children, instead of underpaying a live-in domestic from a developing nation who is sending 3/4 of her paycheque home to her own family.
  3. Your cheap wine would cost 4x as much, because Canadian college students would work summers in the vineyards (and not leading wine-country bike tours, swirling glasses for tourists)… picking and hauling grapes, seasonal produce and all of the other back-breaking jobs currently held by seasonal workers who do not get benefits, pensions, job security or adequate pay for the dangerous, specialized jobs they do.
  4. You’d have to ride in taxi driven by a high school graduate named Jake, not a driver who was a doctor in Sri Lanka, before he came here… whose license and schooling our country won’t recognize, but which is super convenient in case you have a heart attack while you are a passenger in his cab, or go into labour en route.
  5. You’d be able to applaud your daughter Stacey’s graduation from wherever, with the highest mark in her class – made possible by the fact that the class average is low… because all of the high-achieving, diverse kids from immigrant families, trying to make good on the opportunities their families scrimped and saved for are no longer making it a challenge for Stacey to come out on top, even though English is Stacey’s first language and she started in Montessori before she could walk.
  6. On the upside, you’d be able to wear any old culturally appropriating Halloween costume or festival outfit you want, because no one would complain about how offensive it is. On the downside, there’d be no teenagers buying costumes, cause they’d all be working at Party City and every other minimum wage-paying job … because there’d be a lot of job vacancies. Also, there would be pretty lame festivals, because every band would sound like Nickelback (I don’t have any real support for this… it’s just a hunch).
  7. People who like Nickelback would be the majority.
  8. Your vacation photos would look way cooler, because you’d be the only person on your block who had been there, because the cool, diverse families wouldn’t be here anymore and that jerk who keeps one-upping you by talking about his childhood in Ghana would be gone. Phew.
  9. You’d be the immigrant. Shit. What? That’s right. If there weren’t people newer than you here, some of the folks  – with names like L. Zeumer, and J. Sikorski (who had some pretty intolerant things to say on the Global News comments) – would be the freshest immigrants here. We all would.  My family has been here for generations (many) and I have no more right to be here than anyone else. Because the only people that aren’t immigrants to this country are the Metis, Inuit and First Nations people. But they’re often targeted by the same people who blast immigration. Pretty horrific. I have benefitted from being born in Canada, as a queer woman, more than I can possibly explain, but I did nothing to deserve that. This privilege is completely unearned. So, I’d love it if -instead of turning their rage against immigrants – those who ignorantly despise newcomers would ask themselves, what do I actually know about immigrants? Stats? Policies? and…If I were at the door, asking to come in… what do I really bring to the table that would make me a welcome, deserving new addition to this country? Good thing we’re a multi-cultural mosaic, ’cause it means there’s room for all kinds – even intolerant bigots.
  10. The landscape and history would look completely different if you were the one being considered a newcomer. As Jef Cronkhite wrote, quite insightfully on the Global News comment page, “Change the names of the countries, and it was the same thing 100 years or so ago. The only difference, is that back then, immigrants came from France, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal and Italy, primarily.”

I want my country to be our country. I want it to stand for the things I was taught as a child to be proud of. Closed-fistedness and closed-mindedness are not traits to be admired and if we know and have learned anything from our past – it’s that Canada aspires to be good, kind and inclusive. It hasn’t always done well. We have major reparations to make for our past, but we will get there faster, better and stronger (sorry Kanye) if we empower all Canadians, new and old, to work towards a goal where our diverse talents, voices and skills make the country ‘strong and free’ for all. That doesn’t mean it will be a free-for-all, as some fear, but it sure would be a good start if we could become a place where the only time we ‘immigrants’ being stereotyped, or disparaged is in a satirical blog post that calls out behaviours that are antiquated, backwards and just plain wrong.

*** Just in case you missed the sarcasm, my black, Jamaican-Chinese-Indian, lesbian wife thought I should include a little disclaimer that this is a satire. 

Words of Wisdom: Fashion Edition

Open Letters

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I read this on Refinery29 and smiled:

“Clothing Shopping Mistakes: “The Too-Small Thing (That Fits If You Haven’t Had Lunch Yet & As Long As You Don’t Breathe)”. News flash: You like lunch. And breathing. Buying clothes that don’t fit with the assumption that they may fit if you do a bunch of things that aren’t that fun is a terrible idea. There will always be another version of that item in your actual size. You can wait.”

On that note, as someone who loves clothes, I cringe a little as I recognize the traps we create in ‘justification land.’

I feel like I have this problem with coats … and shorts. I always envision myself being this kickass person with the perfect, polished winter coat. I usually buy a discounted version of the coat I really want and end up not loving it, while secretly envying other people’s amazing outerwear. I need to learn to hold off. I need to cull and then just wait for the perfect coat… not its kid sister.

I have the same problem with shorts and leg-revealing items, but worse. I trick myself into thinking that if I just buy the right pair of shorts,.. I will be a person who likes to wear/looks good in shorts. Buying the right pair of shorts will not change my legs. Only eating less cheesecake, drinking less wine and working out more will change them; and I’m not sure that the sacrifices I’d have to make to get those legs (ie. living without the joys of eating delicious desserts) would actually be worth having those model-esque legs… or make me the kind of person I’d enjoy being around. So, rather than envision and be tormented by clothes that fit a “better” version of me – a deluded, unrealistic version – I should focus on wearing the clothes that make me feel great NOW. I’ve been going to Polefit (more on that another time) and it has totally changed my relationship with my thighs; I can now go to the gym in shorts and be proud of how hard my legs work for me. Win.

Although it would be kind of nice if just buying the shorts Shay Mitchell is wearing on Instagram made me look like Shay Mitchell…

But clothes, for me, are like a superhero costume – items that send a message out into the world, transforming and arming the wearer, concealing tiny weaknesses (our personal kryptonite) and letting us putting on a braver face to the world. It’s not quite an ‘I woke up like this,’ as much as a ‘I created the me before you. Good work, me!’

If I spend too long living in fashion ‘future’, I will miss fun present. I have a great collection of well-worn faves, vintage, hand-me-downs, handmade items and a mish-mash of pieces from contemporary stores, and making good with what I have has been the focus of this past year.

I want to be focused on enjoying my slice of life (and cake), while relishing the great assets that might I might be overlooking while considering my (mostly) shorts-averse pear shape. Also, when I do wear shorts, I ought to consider that the strength in these legs is what lets me do all the things I love, like dancing in the kitchen, walking the streets of foreign places, and shaking it to music out on the stage, or on the dance floor.

It’s a fashion mindfulness moment: be present. be happy.  and eat that cake.

The Forer Effect

Open Letters

Learn something every day. Thank you Wikipedia for providing me with this awesome nugget to rebut some pseudo scientific silliness today.

“The Forer effect (also called the Barnum Effect after P.T. Barnum’s observation that “we’ve got something for everyone”) is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some beliefs and practices, such as astrology, fortune telling, graphology, and some types of personality tests.

A related and more general phenomenon is that of subjective validation.[1] Subjective validation occurs when two unrelated or even random events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy, or hypothesis demands a relationship. Thus people seek a correspondence between their perception of their personality and the contents of a horoscope.”

Racism in the Media: Update

Open Letters

In an interesting twist of events, a recent article has clarified some big misconceptions about the GAP Kids ad that was deemed racist by many in the Twittersphere. I wrote an article about it here and am happy, or sad (depending) to see that as I suspected, more information is really what people should be looking for … before leveling huge charges and accusations of racism.

Turns out that the two girls ‘oppressing’ each other are SISTERS. One black, one white. This reflects my initial discomfort with the way adult internet users were labeling this young woman as a victim without knowing her story or hearing from her.

The article clarifying this mysterious ‘new’ detail can be found here.

As I said previously, I think we need to step back and look at the bigger issue:

Intention versus perception. Perception is subjective.

We bring ourselves to the conversation and our own experience can add new dimensions to  the dialogue. That is not to say that we should ever overlook racism, or any ism. But that facts should factor into our reactions. There is a fine line between willingly choosing to ‘hear or see no evil’ and plugging our ears, covering our eyes and claiming to see, hear and feel it – despite our better judgement, upon a proper weighing of  the facts. Let’s not plug our ears and pretend we are having a productive conversation.

 

Race 4.0: in black and white 

Open Letters

This Open Letter is going to be a two-parter. First from my wife – a Black, Jamaican-Canadian woman. Second, from me, a Caucasian Canadian woman.

Refinery 29 featured an article about the backlash and controversy over Gap Kids’ new athletic line; people were outraged and divided over interpretations of one image in particular. More info can be found in This article. By way of response, I asked my wife to consider her analysis of the issue, then offer my own for juxtaposition.

Part 1: 

It’s complicated…

My wife shared a post with me the other day about the reaction to Gap’s new ad campaign. A campaign that’s in partnership with Ellen DeGeneres’ lifestyle brand ED. I instantly knew what the article was about having seen articles pop up on my social media feed days before touting “Racist Gap Ad Receives Backlash.” I scanned those previous articles not thinking too much into what people were saying about the campaign.

 Le Petit Cirque, an all-girls pre-teen dance group, was featured in various fun, acrobatic poses. What was supposed to be a cute and empowering message promoting Gap’s athletic ware for kids instead drew backlash when in one image the only black girl featured was used as an “armrest” by an older troupe member, who yes, is white. From offensive examples of the ways in which black women and girls are undermined and dehumanized in the media to others arguing that the response to the ad is a wild over-exaggeration – there was lots to consider in between those two reactions.

 My reaction? As a mixed, Jamaican, queer woman who works in media and LOVES to call out the lack of diversity in any situation, I found the pose to be pretty harmless and thought it’s a shame these four little girls are caught up in the crosshairs. After reading the Refinery article Al sent, I took a closer look. First, I would ask people to look at Gap’s history of promoting their kids athletic line.

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2016 Gap Ad Campaign                                                                    2015 Gap Ad Campaign

Gap’s 2015 ad campaign pretty much mimic’s the 2016 campaign but the roles are reversed. Does this picture make the 2016 campaign okay though? When there’s so few powerful and positive representations of black women and girls in media (yes, things are getting better, all hail Beyoncé and Shonda Rhimes), it’s unsurprising to me that the photo would touch a nerve. I’m lucky to work and live in an environment where I don’t experience racism overtly. For those people who aren’t as lucky as I am, I can see how -when looking at the 2016 campaign picture and even watching the Gap videos – I’d question the intention or message it’s sending. I also understand the “wild over-exaggeration” argument when there’s so many other problems that could be seen as more important.

At the end of the day, it’s a complicated issue and one that will come up time and again and lead to debates over the representation of people of colour whether in film (#oscarssowhite), television, advertising, sports, etc.. Are more people of colour needed in positions of power in media and advertising? OF COURSE. Will that change debates like this happening? Here’s to hoping.

 ———————–

Part 2: 

I wanted to let my wife speak first; letting people speak for themselves and being willing to listen are a few of the things that help dialogues unfold about equity. That being said, I penned my own thoughts before hearing hers, wanting to get an unfiltered perspective.

Question: How far is too far?

I recognize, even as I write this, that what I am asking will be/may be met with skepticism.

Whenever you feel the need to preface something with ‘my wife is black/my friends are black’ or to list your own marginal identity, like it’s a pass to get into the equity conversation, you’re probably walking on thin ice. That being said, I feel like if we aren’t able to have conversations about race, including diverse opinions, and considering each others’ perspectives, we aren’t really going to make progress. Ever.

You can’t solve racism by convincing marginalized people that racism has a negative impact on them; you need to convince an ignorant majority that racism is real and has pervasive, negative effects, even when it’s not intentional. Becoming more aware is a potential step to stopping inadvertent, latent racism.

I often get into these discussions with my wife and find that sometimes we’re not on the same page. I have an academic background in equity studies and am a louder person, comparatively. I go with my gut, but also try to consider all the potential interpretations. I can, admittedly, be somewhat detached in my dissection of issues when I go into ‘analysis’ mode; this is a strange contrast to my bleeding-heart, empathetic side. I feel everything, but I’m critical of my own emotional responses, because I know they are subjective.

Are these Gap images ‘offensive’ and are they ‘racist’? The answer might be different depending on these two terms.

At any rate, the most important thing is to recognize that if someone feels that something is racist –  it’s racist. Maybe not blatantly, or intentionally, but impact is more important than intention. I may not mean to hurt someone, but if I do it, amends need to be made.

When we are creating media and representing race, what is permissible? How can we avoid an accusation of bias or unintentionally negative messaging, even when well- intentioned ?

These ads could definitely be argued as ‘racist’. But someone could also argue that sitting on the couch with my wife watching Netflix, feet stretched out across her lap, is also racist. Except we love and respect each other. Does that matter?

At what point is our own baggage and experience, subjectively and culturally, going to shape our view of things? Is it fair for us to load all of our negative and positive connotations onto and attribute our views to a creative team we’ve never met?

One Tweet read: “This is why it’s important to have diversity behind the scene for marketing projects. @GapKids

If the assumption is that the creators should have ‘considered the impact on black girls’ … what do we actually know about the real model in this shot, or the team who created the image? If we assume that the team who created the ad has no diversity on it, aren’t we presuming that no women of colour are not represented behind the scenes, when it’s entirely possible that a diverse group saw this (and the other pictures) thought, “goodness, these girls look strong and confident and capable and adorable.” Job well done!

Are we actually disempowering the very subject we are seeking to liberate by assuming she should feel ‘less than’ based simply on one, of many, poses in an ad campaign? I wonder, how these young girls will/do feel about being featured in an ad campaign that aims to celebrate their female talent and awesomeness … and instead they have singled out one member, based on her race, insinuating that she is not wholly part of the team, that one pose causes the world to see her as separate from her troupe-mates, foisting society’s biases onto her, when for all we know they have an amazingly supportive camaraderie and mutual respect. There are many ways to interpret the pose and one might be that the ‘rock’ of this group, small but mighty, is the girl in the ‘love’ t-shirt. She is central to the group and stares down the camera. Why do we assume that the pre-teen in the pose beside her must be ‘dominating’ or subjugating her? To read into the pose without the models’ consent and without allowing them to have a voice is, perhaps, disrespectful; revealing more about US than them. Or maybe I’m just being naive. We have superimposed power relationships onto what may be perfectly harmonious relationships.

Is our take on the image more harmful to this young girl than the pose itself? It’s one thing to say it “could” be taken this way, it’s another to say it  is this way. 

Our interpretation of an image, like Oscar Wilde argues, may have more to do with us and our views than the image-maker; the artist reveals the spectator, Wilde claims, more so than the artist. If we consider the power of the viewer to interpret an image, is there any image that includes multiple figures that is not, in some way, about power or an interpretation of it?

For example, you can make a case for pretty much any image: Below you have an image of two friends, cheerfully playing around…or is this an insidious image with a subtext about one woman’s need to be carried by her peer because (we argue) she is incapable of getting there on her own two feet?

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Remember, this debate was sparked by: This article.

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Tagline: “meet the kids who are proving that girls can do anything. check out :

If this image (above) featured a gorgeous black model, perhaps we might claim that she is being put behind the lens/telescope because space in front of the camera is still being withheld from her. She will only have a supporting role. Which is often, sadly, unfairly the case. But not necessarily in THIS example.

Ellen Degeneres is, I’d argue, one of the nicest, most inclusive white ladies on the planet. She celebrates the small and large victories of icons and underdogs, laughing at herself and using her celebrity (hard won after facing her own public battle for acceptance for her own marginalized identity) to make space for others who deserve a chance to shine. I’m not saying she ‘can’t’ be racist; but must she be, simply by virtue of her skin colour? Looking at the pattern of behaviour, context, awareness and track record may help to illuminate whether this should bother us, even if it ‘could’.

Let’s take a few more examples, just to belabour the point: maybe the only safe way to photograph a subject is in isolation? But there is also a claim that isolation itself is ostracizing. Here, the child is being singled out. Left out. Put to the margins. Or worse, we’re preparing him for super-racist, police profiling and replicating a toddler-version of a mug shot. This adorable kid deserves better than the worst possible stereotypes. Offering this kid just one option of how we interpret him is a huge injustice. It reminds me of “The Danger of A Single Story.”  (watch an amazing speaker and author sum it up!)

 

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If someone is faced forward, it’s a mug shot. If someone is getting a piggy back ride,  it might be implying that they require a leg-up to succeed. lukensia-piggyback.jpg

Maybe it’s a manifestation of the white saviour complex. This is a real thing. But real here?

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Is this a great shot of a good looking kid, or a stereotype about athletic ability and an affinity for time-pieces? Below, is a comment on … who knows what? Images speak a thousand words, but what if we’re only focused on the negative ones?

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In the image below, she is facing away from the camera, because she is faceless and not deserving of attention. Or because… she is doing a cartwheel. Rather than focus on her talent, we are adding a lens to the image that presumes bias and intent. These are not Mapplethorpe images, deliberately infused with salacious power-commentaries. They are cute pictures of cute kids. Hopefully these youngsters haven’t experienced the horrible things, to the same degree, that many of the adults of our world have.

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That’s why I wonder what these conversations do to the subjects we are discussing; we’ve taught the girl in the photo that people will see her skin colour first and foremost, not her ability. That it won’t matter how talented and accomplished she is… even when that’s what the campaign is about. If this is true, it breaks my heart. Because I feel like I’m lying when I tell my students that they can accomplish anything and everything they dream about and that the world is getting better and that together, through alliances and critical discourse, they can repair this damaged world and make space for each other to reach their potential. Regardless of who they are, they can acknowledge their privilege and extend a hand to help others rise with them; make a bigger pie, so we can all get a piece.

How can we do better? I’m not, never, advocating for ‘forgetting’ the past. But how can we move forward when even good things, intentionally good, can be bad? If we villainize our champions, who will we have left? The relentless actual villains? But it’s not about not hurting white people’s feelings.

When will a beautiful, diverse group of models, expressing a positive message for gender equality and empowerment, be allowed to pose as they’d like, when EVERY pose could be unpacked and made malicious? When will we get to a point where people are hired based on merit? When will I not worry that people think my identity, my family and marriage are revolting? When will places and spaces be accessible and inclusive, by default?

One tweet said:

” @GapKids proving girls can do anything… unless she’s Black. Then all she can do is bear the weight of White girls.  ”

If, in the case of these young models, it’s hurting the young girls who may see these images, I have to ask: How much of what we perceive is really ‘damaging’ as opposed to being a reflection of damage already done? We are perpetuating a victimhood that is not necessarily felt by that young woman. As a viewer, this doesn’t negate YOUR feeling, but it doesn’t mean that she should be viewed in this way. She’s not a prop. She is a person.

This narrow focus doesn’t, I worry, contribute to real discussions that promote insight and progress. It makes me angry to imagine that my future children’s image will be decided by others. I’m not ignorant to the systemic issues, but I don’t choose to see a marginal position as powerless.

Most recklessly, I’d like to ask if attacking an ad with such possibility to be read as positive and empowering actually does harm to other, more obvious instances of racism? Does it deflect attention from the urgent, life-changing work that needs to continue gaining attention and traction? Does it make people recoil from efforts to do anti-racist work?

I humbly, openly ask you to tell me your thoughts. Teach me. Help me to understand. See my willingness to learn and to question. Be gentle with me, not to spare my feelings, but to leave me some energy to keep going and growing, to help move this forward. The most important person is my life is a black woman. The most important future people in my life are my own children. I am an ally and am happy to add my clout to the fight, knowing that I’m part of the problem, but also eager to be part of the solution. 

Here’s what the company has to say:

“The retailer announced on Monday that the image (one of numerous shots featured in the campaign) would be replaced in response to the deluge of critical feedback.

Le Petite Cirque’s founder, Nathalie Yves Gaulthier, released a statement on Facebook today about the situation. “The child in the ad is not an ‘armrest,’ she’s the other girl’s little sister, they are a very close family,” Gaulthier writes. “The child is a very young Jr member with Le Petite Cirque, a humanitarian cirque company, and therefore a wee shier than the more seasoned older, outgoing girls. Our company is deeply saddened by some people misconstruing this as racist.” Gaulthier also voiced her support of Gap Kids and DeGeneres in the post.

“As a brand with a proud 46-year history of championing diversity and inclusivity, we appreciate the conversation that has taken place and are sorry to anyone we’ve offended,” a Gap spokeswoman said in a statement, according to ABC News. “This GapKids campaign highlights true stories of talented girls who are celebrating creative self-expression and sharing their messages of empowerment. We are replacing the image with a different shot from the campaign, which encourages girls (and boys) everywhere to be themselves and feel pride in what makes them unique.”

Confessions

Open Letters

I have a few things I need to admit; secret confessions, if you will…

  1. I use Facebook’s Birthday reminders as a cue to delete people as friends. Instead of going and wishing a happy birthday to them, if I don’t really remember who they are, or accepted a friendship from someone I haven’t spoken to in ages… I just click delete. Sometimes if I feel a little bad about it, I wish them Happy Birthday… then delete them.

2. I get more than usually bothered by people littering and small acts that go against rules people should know… like line-hopping, stealing shopping carts, playing games on your phone at full volume while in public, and people swearing in public where families with children or those who don’t feel like listening to cursing are likely to hear them. There is currently a shopping cart sitting on the curb outside my house. I feel a deep rage each time I drive by it. I fantasize about one day catching these culprits and publicly shaming them, or creating a piece of protest art from the abandoned cart.

3. I love my neighbours, but hate that they have Christmas decorations up from last year, and their yard/front stoop is strewn with no less than twenty-five children’s toys (cars, bikes, hula hoops, buckets), pieces of lawn furniture, fake potted plants, Easter wreaths, shoe racks… seriously. I dream of ways to preserve my sweet relationship with them, while also eliminating the junk pile that is visible every time I go to my own front door.

What irks you? What do you think about that makes you feel just a teensy bit guilty? 

Being Style -Savvy Includes Avoiding Racist Halloween Costumes: An Open Letter to Loulou Magazine

Open Letters

Dear Loulou Magazine,

I was excited to see your fashion story on last minute Halloween ideas. But…

Please know that cultural appropriation is SO behind the times, especially for a Canadian Magazine. Our government is currently struggling to right and acknowledge the wrongs done to generations of First Nations peoples (including the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women).

Your costume suggestions (like the Pocahontas outfit idea), for people who need a quick get-up, won’t just make you look like you dropped the ball in planning your Halloween costume; a ‘Pocahontas’ costume will also make you look ignorant. Appropriating another person’s culture as a costume is racist and completely inappropriate for an individual, let alone for a Canadian magazine (vetted by many individuals) who should at least understand that while ‘Spirits’ carries products that oblivious people still buy, Loulou Magazine should know better.

Unless you have lived that identity and shared that history, stereotypical representations of a group that has been historically marginalized are not up for grabs so you can look ‘cute’ at a one-off party. I don’t care if she is a Disney character. She is also an iconic, often misrepresented version of a racial group… with traditions, beliefs and experiences that the majority of our society know nothing about. A Disney movie doesn’t cut it (sorry). 

I was recently invited to a party that specifically put on their invitation:

*For those coming in costume, we encourage fun and creativity but ask that persons be mindful of not wearing racist and/or offensive costumes

Meaning: Please do not wear costumes that are culturally appropriating, or stereotype gender identity, race, faith, etc.

Just in case people weren’t aware of this great new cultural trend of being inclusive and respectful of people’s history and identity.

So, thanks for finding me bargains in the Canadian Shopping World, but please, don’t bother suggesting ways I can make myself look like a bigot through my fashion choices.

Sincerely,

A

ps. We also don’t really do ‘blackface’ anymore.

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Don’t Appropriate Culture

photos for poster

Because it’s not nice.

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And whether you mean to… or not…

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It’s racist.

International Baccalaureate – An Open Letter to a Workshop Facilitator Who Didn’t Know What She Didn’t Know

Open Letters

I recently attended a workshop to prepare me for teaching a course called Theory of Knowledge in the IB Program. TOK “asks students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know.” A heavy task, to be sure. I wondered, before attending the Toronto conference, would I be up to the rigors of the academic environment? Was I up to the challenge of pushing students to think at this elevated level and to get them to engage in the kind of dialogue that really gets to the heart of ‘questioning what we think we know’?

I was relieved to realize, quite quickly, that we were all in the same boat. Our workshop had twelve teachers, from Canada and abroad, who were all ready to think about ‘knowing’. I suppose that given my background in equity studies, where thinking about my own privilege, ignorance, assumptions and lenses, I was well equipped to start thinking about how I ‘know’ things and how that might change depending on my own experiences and identity.

The twelve of us were remarkably similar for a group whose mission included ‘thinking about diverse perspectives’ and exploring knowledge systems like Indigenous, Religious and Historical areas of Knowledge. We were all white, all able-bodied, employed, English-speaking adults. And as far as I could tell, everyone but me was straight. That became apparent quite quickly.

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Sometimes you don't know what you don't know until you are hit in the face with it; at some point, you have to consider that your ignorance has an impact on others. The biggest take away from my three-day conference could just as easily been taken from my grade nine's study of To Kill A Mockingbird: you can't really know a person, until you've stood in their shoes and walked around in them.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you are hit in the face with it; at some point, you have to consider that your ignorance has an impact on others. The biggest take away from my three-day conference could just as easily have been taken from my grade nine’s study of To Kill A Mockingbird: you can’t really know a person, until you’ve stood in their shoes and walked around in them.

Welcome to my experience of Theory of Knowledge:

With a conference hosted in Canada, it would seem logical to have leaders be familiar with Canadian expectations regarding a teacher’s obligation to provide a safe and equitable classroom free from discrimination and hate speech. Differing opinions and exploring how we come to understand and establish what we ‘know’ is an important part of an IB education and certainly there are opportunities to explore these issues deeply and to look at sensitive issues that are globally relevant, but instructors need to be aware of how to deliver this material in a way that does not marginalize their class or create an oppressive learning environment; first and foremost, our students must feel safe and supported in order to engage in the rigorous academic challenges that we create in our programs, and consciously establishing respect for differences is a key part of this goal. Productive academic discourse is very valuable, but there was a definite lack of equity background and knowledge in my session and the instructor struggled to effectively create a safe space for dialogue about issues which are protected by law in Canada/Canadian schools. There were some very troubling materials and content recommended by the instructor (anti-gay marriage essays, etc), and no context or preamble was provided by her. As a lesbian who is out at work and fully supported by my school community it was extremely offensive to have to sit in a room while educated adults debated the value of a resource that proposed, from an ‘ethical’ standpoint, to eliminate me and my family from existence. The casual manner in which the material was introduced was very alarming. Facilitators of workshops should assume, as in their classes, that diverse identities are present in the room and that we are not statistics to be discussed dispassionately as though we are not present for the conversation. Certainly this is a huge issue of debate, globally, but it was not presented in a thoughtful or ethical manner. This had a very negative impact on my experience, and the instructor was extremely obtuse about her own lack of equity practices and how to create a safe(r) learning environment. On a positive note, it was a great teachable moment because it gave us lots to talk about at lunch, as many of the other teachers hadn’t considered the impact that articles of this kind can have on invisible minorities within the room, but it’s alarming to think about what a horrible effect this would have on a student if delivered in a similar manner in a school setting. IB, as I understand it, celebrates diverse perspectives and the IB Learner Profile strives to build Caring individuals. An awareness of these important points was markedly absent in the delivery of the workshop I attended.

————–

So, to you, Mme. Facilitator,

How did you picture that conversation going? What did you think a queer person in the room would feel while you debate their right to exist? Did you expect me to sit there, smiling, happily contributing to your discourse about the what a useful and well-written article this was?

I’ll leave you to ponder a Theory of Knowledge for a question I definitely know the answer to:

At what point does the human cost of an academic exercise outweigh its usefulness as a lesson? What is the value of subjecting a student to being a spectator to yet another example of oppression and dominance in discourse? I’m sure I could find a super article that eloquently outlines why rape is an effective strategical move and a brilliant tactic used in times of war to dehumanize and oppress a civilian population and wage psychological warfare on a nation you are trying to subjugate. I could probably find similarly well-written analyses of child-labour, slavery, racism, human trafficking, genital mutilation and myriad other issues…

But just because I can argue it, doesn’t mean I should. That much I know.