Fragmented thoughts on political correctness and appropriation

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I don’t understand the problem that people have with political correctness. I’m on many sides of this issue. I think it stems from a conversation I had with my boyfriend about how people were outraged with Steve Martin’s tweet upon Carrie Fisher’s passing.

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The responses: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-martin-carrie-fisher-tweet_us_58642c36e4b0de3a08f70427

Here’s one from New York Magazine:

I think Steve Martin was speaking from the heart here. People are allowed to be outraged. I personally don’t believe the tweet was in poor taste, but maybe deleting his tweet was. I can see that Martin probably got upset or tired of the responses he was getting. Keeping in mind that Martin is from a different time, I think of what he might have meant, which was probably thoughtfully considered, especially knowing that he knew her personally. Her fans knew her well too, hence the outrage. The public might have gone overboard, but in this place and time, today, if you’re going to engage with the public, you’re engaging with thousands, even millions of people. And they will respond in multitudes in real time. That is the hyper world we live in now.

This all brings me to the controversies in Canadian literature and western literature as well. Here’s the latest: Editor Resigns Over an Article Defending ‘Cultural Appropriation’https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/11/arts/editor-resigns-over-article-defending-cultural-appropriation.html

Now I’ve spent a good portion of my writing career talking about appropriation. I’ve written about the ethics and colonization aspects of it within the literary establishment. But I want to note that a lot of this conversation, a lot of this backlash is coming from writers of colour. This isn’t about being politically correct, or being too sensitive in this day and age,  or “political correctness” gone haywire. These are legitimate concerns that people of colour have had for ages. We were rarely heard though even though we’ve been shouting it out from the mountains. Why are we not giving more people of colour and the disenfranchised more opportunities to flourish and to be heard?

I like to think I’ve been “woke” since I was a teenager. The Gulf War and the Human Rights Now Tour of the 80s really made a impression on me. Reading the Charter of Rights here in Canada and the Universal Declaration of Rights from the UN, empowered me and made me feel like anything was possible. So when I began writing, I noticed a few things that I was told to brush off. Why weren’t there only a few people of colour at poetry readings, book launches, literary parties, and the like? Why were there so few people of colour as editors to magazines and publishers in the industry? The more I questioned, the more I got consoled.

“It’s not true. We’re trying. It’s all in your head. We’re a community.”

Nevertheless, after a few poetry readings I started to begin my sets by looking around the room and if I didn’t notice anyone like me, or my colour, or diverse like community in Toronto I live in, I would say, “Thank you for inviting me. It is a privilege. It’s great to see people come out for poetry. Looking around the room, we need more people of colour, more people from the community here.” And then I’d start my reading.

It’s a response to gas-lighting. It was a response to truly waking up to reality. I feel it’s a statement that forces attendees and organizers to do something about it. Unfortunately, a lot of that ends up on people of colour’s shoulders. We are asked to solve the problem the privileged have created. We are told to bring solutions to the table. Therefore, instead of us focusing on our craft and our chosen careers, our labour is given to fixing messes or putting up the illusion that something is being done about the establishment’s “diversity” problem.

As soon as that article in Write appeared, I spoke out on twitter and Facebook and quickly retreated. I did speak out a few times on threads trying to point out the ignorance in our literary community, but nonetheless, I had to let it go. I realized how much those debates take out of me on social media. In turn, I also thought about the emotional labour that the indigenous writers who were in that Write issue were about to take on. It’s scary and overwhelming, even full of opportunities because people want to “diversify” their platforms, and hey, you’re there right in the middle of it, so why not?

But it takes up your time and space in your head. It does for me because I feel really passionate about anti-appropriation and for ethical appropriation in poetry and prose. A lot of the fights I feel like taking on, I have to step back and think, “Whose voice is better suited for this?” I can’t speak for the indigenous cause, nor can I speak for the causes of a black person. I can speak from a Latinx (yes I’ve adopted this term because I’ve come to love it and I’ve chosen it), Afro-latin second generation Canadian female perspective. That is who I am and how I was born. I don’t go around saying that is how I identify. That’s just how I try to approach these controversies and debates in the literary and the real world community. At 44, I think it’s a pretty awesome freedom to be able to self-identify nowadays.

What enriches a community is not taking from its members nor imagining what their experiences might be. What enriches literature and art is taking from one’s imagination and evolving that fictional or non-fictional world through a centre of empathy and compassion. We can imagine ourselves and write from another person’s shoes, for freedom of speech is an inherent and fundamental right, but we can not steal and appropriate to our sole benefit. We must acknowledge if we’re taking a scene, a slice of life, or a culture that comes from a place of pain and colonization.

Many would dismiss colonization as real today, but all you have to do is look at your televisions, the books you were taught in school, our world leaders, and the people that hold positions of power in our literary community. I just want most of you to go out there and notice. Keep a keen eye. Open your mind just a tiny bit and see how many people of colour you interact in media and in those literary communities. Who are your professors and who are your publishing editors? Take note of the people around your neighbourhoods. The establishments you visit and the things you promote. Is it truly reflective of the community around you? If good work stands the test of the literary establishment, why is it there are so few people of colour being published or in those positions of power. We are hard working and for the most part, talented, for our stories are rich and interesting. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be appropriated by so many white privileged folk.

The personal is always political. You can’t dismiss injustice or you will get told. Get ready to interact, get ready to truly expand your work by engaging.

I’ve spent the past few years reading people’s written defences for appropriation. That we need to learn to be free to express however we want to become one people instead of a world of races. I’m sorry (not sorry), but we can’t be one people if you fail to acknowledge and listen to why we are complaining and outraged right now. Why be politically correct? I see it this way, if you’re a writer, you try to engage your reader to feel with your character and their lives. Not only that, but you have to bring something new to the table, something that innovates literature, and emboldens it like the writers of the past have. If you keep appropriating and not innovating your own experience, you stagnate and literature becomes dull and droning. Those who have learned to appropriate ethically, who have opened the doors to an empathetic and considerate new world in literature will move on without you. And when you finally wake up to the issues, for it can never be too late (oh can’t tell you how I hold to that thought fast or I’d sink), then you will be offered a seat at the table and we will share freely, full of heart, and full of good work.

Sure, outrage can go all over the place, but really, I’d rather be able to read stuff like Steve Martin wrote about Carrie Fisher, read the outrage, and then discuss. Humanity and our creative output doesn’t evolve by dismissing, but by interacting and listening. Radical empathy, please google it and do the work yourself. : https://this.org/2016/11/08/what-it-means-to-practise-radical-empathy/

 

(P.S. You can write from the imagination and from experiences that are not your own in fiction and poetry. You can learn and appreciate different cultures and be influenced by them in your style and comportment. However, the point of all of this is that people are asking you to think, express, and create from a space of consideration. If you want to share and take part, you have to listen and consider.)

 

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Society causes trauma when it is against women’s right to choose

 

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I stand with Planned Parenthood.

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The thing I don’t get about trauma is how people tell you to get over it. Stuff happens. Stuff does happen, but it doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it all right.

Abuse happened to me through other children, adults I trusted, strangers, and these were all times when I was either vulnerable or strong. There’s no formula for the conditions of abuse. It happens. However, a violence that happens to you is a violation that makes a scarring imprint. How do we heal?

I grew up in a very Hispanic family as I’ve mentioned before. Much of the stuff women in Hispanic families are told is based on maintaining a weird patriarchal-matriarchal tension that has become an ideology. You either listen to your mother or you listen to the man of the house. But you always default to the eldest man of the house. If he isn’t around it’s the mother’s words you heed, but if you’re married or seeing a guy, you default to his needs and wants.

You also are taught to repress a lot to maintain appearances or an upstanding status within the community. Women are always shamed into submitting. Women bring shame, men bring honour. Supposedly. This is why abortion is still illegal in many Latin American countries like Colombia. You get put in jail for having an abortion, regardless of how you got pregnant.

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In several circumstances, women and children are silenced within Hispanic families for speaking out against sexual abuse. If you reveal it, the first thing that’s asked of you is how you provoked it or maybe why you didn’t speak up sooner, implying a sort of conspiracy of some sort. This isn’t always the case, but my impression growing up with and around Hispanic families, this was/is the norm for children and women.

And yet, abortion is still illegal in some parts of Latin America. Women are still shamed for not getting married or immediately labelled as lesbian, as if that were a derogatory term.

The way I dealt with trauma was to repress it. Buck up, learn from it, and deal with it. You’re better than your trauma. The problem with that though is if you live many years this way, that trauma manifests itself later on in weird ways. You hurt yourself or hurt others, or your body starts to internally explode with destroying schema. Schemas are supposed to help deal with stress (ie., panic attacks, anxiety, psychogenic seizures, etc.). They help the body deal with mental confusion and pain. It’s injurious though.

There is no obligation to anyone who has had a trauma to speak of it. Everyone finds respite and healing in their own way. I’ve had injurious schema and have lessened it through writing online about it. Why does anyone silence anyone, especially women, who have trauma? If we were allowed to speak of it more, we could understand why it happens. If we understood why it happens, then maybe we could help prevent it from happening so often.

I’m speaking solely as me because I can not speak for every woman, but I can speak to support every woman’s right to choose. I’m writing through the lens of an Hispanic woman who sees abortion as a life saving operation. A women’s right is to be safe and have the potential to do anything that doesn’t involve being with a man. If she chooses not to have a child, regardless of the circumstances, no one has a say in that except because it is her body. A life is not a life unless it is lived. There is no such thing as “potential life.” Maybe we should be imprisoning men who masturbate. Why don’t we? Because they’re men. Why does society try to tell women what’s right and what’s wrong? Because we’re women. That’s the illogical logic.

The attacks happening at abortion clinics around the world are atrocious. They’re trauma over trauma and a way silencing women. You’re killing people. Women who have an abortion are saving themselves. They’re saving themselves from a society that tells them what to do, how to be, how to look, and what to say all in the name of keeping them down and silenced.

There are parts of the world where they arrest women who have an abortion. There are parts of the world where you have to give birth to the child born of rape and incest. There are parts of the world where you are forced to give birth to a child without any regard for the body aka the person it came from.

The terrorists bombing, shooting, and committing violent acts against women to maintain a dominion over them are no better than rapists and violators. They are inhuman pieces of shit procreating a culture of violence and trauma that will never end unless woman take up their inherent right to speak out and claim their own rights.

I stand with Planned Parenthood.

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On World Autism Awareness Day

I write this in response to this day because Autism Speaks does not speak for me or my children. (http://tigerbeatdown.com/2012/04/09/autism-speaks-but-you-dont-have-to-listen/)

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My children have autism. I am their mother.

Usually I’d type out, “I am the mother of two autistics,” but it always sounded selfish to me. I try to modify the sentence so it’s them first, but also they are not defined by autism. My son and my daughter are two of the greatest people I know. They are kind, generous, stubborn, beautiful, talented, intelligent, and they are all that is right and good with the world to me.

When they were first diagnosed with autism at three and four years of age, I remember I wrote this long suffering blog post about “mourning.” Soon after I grew to regret it. I’ve regretted a lot of what I used write to back then. In an internal effort to try to make sense of my struggling with motherhood, I’d forgotten that I wasn’t just around to love my kids and to keep them safe. I am a mother because I chose to bring them into this world and thus it is my responsibility to make sure they can navigate it. Not only that, but I realized that there was no way I was going to let society ever point the finger at their “disability.” My children aren’t disabled. Society is disabled in every single way. I must try to help make a society that is accessible to all, especially to my kids.

I am wary of these type of awareness days, especially when it pertains to autism. Their abilities are treated as freakish and abnormal. Whenever someone posts about an autistic child/adult suddenly singing opera like a pro, or drawing detailed landscapes from memory, or communicating the words,  “I love you,” on a computer, it’s always treated as if it were a “miracle.” Listen, autistics aren’t freaks and they aren’t here to perform a “normal” to you for your amusement. Autistics are human and are as complex and as special as every single one of you out there.

I am also tired of movies of parents of autistics and their struggles. Although I am highly aware and have benefitted from the support that awareness brings to us parents, what about the autistic adult? One day my teenagers will be adults functioning in a world not made to accommodate their specific needs. What of their struggles?

My eldest is a high functioning autistic. As a toddler he’d have meltdowns that would have security in malls called on us and kicked out. There were instances were people would get so fed up with his noise that they’d try and “assist” by yelling in his face. With every ounce of patience in my bones I’d take my son to a safe place away from those people and out of his way yell in their face to see how they’d like it. My son used to make the world hear his confusion. Now as a teenager, he can be awkward, but he’s so funny. He’s smart, handsome, very unaware of the potential in him. He surprises himself every time he’s able to excel at the stuff he enjoys. My son plays guitar and he’s a voracious reader. He’s a stubborn teenager, and his issues are now mostly social navigation (he’s been heavily bullied in the past), but who doesn’t go through that? He’s got friends and takes the bus. Now I try to get used to the fact that he just goes out on his own without me holding his hand or prompting him. My son is a fierce independent.

My youngest is mid to low level autistic. This spectrum descriptor is not at all accurate, but it’s how people understand her. A few hours after I gave birth to her, she turned to me and gave me a huge smile, with giggles even. She’s always been a happy child. With three words sentences she makes her needs known. She bangs her head against the backs of seats, can’t cross the street by herself, stims almost constantly, and can’t stand crowds of people. Certain noises affect her greatly and there’s nothing worse than delays on the subway. She makes brilliant media pastiches on youtube and picks up musical instruments as if she’s known how to play them all of her life. Her intelligence knows no bounds and between her school assistant and I, we can’t figure out how she makes everything bend to her will. I call her Daughtermonster mostly because she always leaves people feeling good about the world. In three words she’s able to bring insightful and honest perspectives. When Daughtermonster smiles, it’s a mixture of mischievousness and wonder. You never know what she is truly thinking, but never assume you do know because you’ll be shown how wrong you really are. She’s a spitfire and a princess warrior. She’s tall and beautiful and although she depends on me for a lot, I can tell that one day she won’t. I’m trying my best to make sure that she will only need to depend on herself.

I am wary of these type of awareness days, especially when it pertains to autism.

Autism Awareness Day is every day for autistics.

To autistics:

Thank you. Thank you to my children for helping me grow. Thank you for being who you are. You are the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. Thanks for the adventures so far. Never change and keep fighting for your right to party. I’m behind you, supporting you in a perpetual standing ovation, all the way to infinity and beyond.

If you are the new parent of an autistic child, I’d like to say this: 

Congratulations! Wipe your tears away. You are about to embark on the most challenging, but amazing adventure yet. Your children will change you for the better and make you stronger as a result. Your children are perfect, beautiful, and amazing people. Try your best to defend them, to advocate for them, and most of all, to understand them in their way. Now I know there are challenges all over the spectrum. I know most of them well. But not all autistics manifest their stimming or behaviours the same way. Each autistic is different and some treatments work and others don’t. You help your child in the best way you can, but listen to them. Listen to autistic adults. They have perspectives that might help you in advocating for your child.

Happy World Awetism Awareness Day. It’s time we all step up to the plate.

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My kids and their dad.

Many thanks and hellos to Farida Peters, Abee Ellen, and all the other parents who share and try their best to make this an accessible world.

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If you’re looking for a good autistic themed movie, I highly recommend Snow Cake.

I welcome autistics to recommend other films or books in the comments.