Kamloops BLM demonstration offficially cancelled due to intimidation

The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kamloops on June 4 was well-attended considering that it was officially cancelled just before it was about to start.

image: Kamloops This Week, Dave Eagles

The organizers were apologetic about organizing it in the first place. In their notice of cancelation, they said on Instagram:

“We want BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) to lead these protests. The original idea was to create a space for people to express their feelings of injustice and for us to be able to be there to protect the BIPOC in this space. The goal of this protest was to open conversation and change for local and international individuals. The goal of our organizers and all non-BIPOC is to create a safe space for them. We do not want to speak over them, we want to amplify them.”

Since they refer to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour as “them,” I can only assume they are white and that was a factor in the cancelation.

Being white, I guess they felt uncomfortable about organizing a demonstration for an oppressed people that they were not a part of. Or perhaps it seemed patronizing –as if Black, Indigenous and People of Colour couldn’t do it themselves.

Maybe they felt they were appropriating the culture Black, Indigenous and People of Colour by assuming to speak for them.

It’s paralysis due to political correctness.

I would have liked to ask the organizers these questions and why they felt intimidated but they have pulled down their Instagram account and I had no way of contacting them.

Allegations of cultural appropriation and insensitivity are rampant. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the Ottawa BLM demonstration, calls of “blackface” could be heard directed at him; in reference to his now-shameful 2001 yearbook photo of him dressed as Aladdin in blackface and in a turban at an Arabian Nights-themed gala. Dressing up in costumes that represent other cultures is now seen as cultural appropriation.

Is it cultural approbation to show up at a demonstration in support of Black and Indigenous people? Can white Canadians not “feel their pain?”

Cultural appropriation was on the mind of Kamloops resident Sarah* who attended the demonstration. “I try to be very mindful of cultural appropriation as well,” she told me by email.

Her Facebook photo shows her smiling in front of three RCMP of colour at the demonstration. She was hesitant about asking permission for the photo but:  “They were good sports and took no issue.”

The colour of a people organizing a demonstration should not be a factor.

We are long past the biases developed by Europeans when they first encountered various colours of people around the globe and thought they were a different species.

As I have argued in this column, we are all Homo sapiens, the last remaining species of humans. There is no “them” and “us.”

Says Sarah of her photo with the police:

“I hope you took note of the ‘We are All African’ T-shirt I was wearing…as in we can all be traced back to a common humanoid ancestor in the rift valley…this is why Racism makes zero sense! Love that message, that t-shirt!”

*name changed on request.

Fiction is not cultural appropriation

The fires of cultural appropriation were fanned recently when the editor of a small magazine published by The Writers’ Union of Canada wrote “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation.” Then he poured gasoline on the fire by promoting a “Cultural Appropriation Contest” in which the winner would the writer who appropriates culture the most: “. . . the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.” He was forced to resign.

Credit: Illustration by Jon Foster

Fiction is not cultural appropriation because storytelling is not the property of any one culture. Fictional characters are, by nature, inventions of the storyteller. Writers may invent talking animals (Animal Farm) or wizards and magic (Harry Potter). In all cases they are fabrications, not cultural appropriations.

Cultural appropriation is not fiction. It is real. Grey Owl (aka Archibald Belaney) didn’t just write stories about indigenous North Americans –he completely assumed their identity. The British-born Belaney fabricated his persona after arriving in Canada in 1906. In 1925, he married a Mohawk Iroquois woman, 19-year-old Gertrude Bernard (aka Anahareo), who later encouraged him to write about his experiences.

Some indigenous writers claim that only they can fictionalize indigenous characters. But to what extent should a writer be indigenous? Prize-winning Canadian novelist Joseph Boyden wrote extensively about the indigenous experience. Boyden is primarily of Irish and Scottish ancestry but also claims Nipmuc and Ojibway heritage. How pure should an indigenous writer’s linage be to qualify?

A writer for APTN National News called out Boyden for faking his indigenous roots. I can understand calling out an author for not portraying authentic fictional characters. However, Boyden’s characters are authentic. I his novel, Three Day Road, he tells the story of two Cree soldiers serving in World War I, inspired by an Ojibwa sniper. Would Boyden’s story be more authentic if his pedigree were more indigenous?

Cultural appropriation is layered. An art gallery in Toronto recently cancelled an exhibit by a non-indigenous artist Amanda PL because her paintings carried elements of the indigenous artist Norval Morriseau. PL made no pretence at being indigenous. However, Morriseau himself has been accused of appropriating Christian symbols in his work. Author André Alexis finds a certain irony in the layers of appropriation upon appropriation:

“There are levels of irony at play in all this. To begin with Norval Morriseau was criticized for using sacred symbols in his work. He was accused of debasing them. There is a consistency, here, but how strange that some of the condemnation of PL would be a condemnation of Morriseau, too (Globe and Mail, May 14, 2017).”

If anything is appropriated, it is the entire volume of human storytelling from when early humans looked up at the constellations of the night sky and told of Ursa Major, or “great bear”. These tales are so ingrained that they can be used to trace ancient migrations of humans across the globe. Julien d’Huy explains in Scientific American:

“This research provides compelling new evidence that myths and folktales follow the movement of people around the globe. It reveals that certain tales probably date back to the Paleolithic period, when humans developed primitive stone tools, and spread together with early waves of migration out of Africa (September, 2016).”