One of the things that has been on my mind has been solidarity. In part because of a council orientation session I attended a couple weeks ago for my Graduate Students’ Association, but also because I do not encompass all ways of living or inhabiting this world. Yes. I am a black-woman-immigrant, who is a young-educated-citizen, in pursuit of her career. These intersections encompass and speak to certain degrees of privilege and disadvantage, but there are countless more spaces to be inhabited. For example, I am a cisgendered and heterosexual woman who does not form part of the LGBTQ2SIA* community. Yet I continually aim to make myself aware of the ways in which heterosexism and bi-genderism structure our world and are used to silence and oppress. I also do not form part of the Indigenous community that has lived through not only attempts at cultural genocide, but the mass-murdering of their people and the thieving of their lands. And although I am black, I am not African Canadian. I do not have roots (on this soil) that can be traced back generations, to people who have survived and thrived in spite of racist discrimination.
In other words, I want to make sure that I bring an awareness of the history and struggle of all socially oppressed groups to my work, but doing so in a way that is reflective of solidarity runs counter to the norms of my discipline. Philosophy is grounded in the practice of independent thinking. While empirical research (and here I am talking about sociological, not scientific research… Philosophers have been fans of the natural sciences) is coming to be more accepted, collaborative work is not quite there yet. The president of the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA), Sandra LaPointe, addressed this in her presidential address to the CPA this year, entitled “Why Philosophy Has no Impact and Intellectual Engagement Is Futile/ Pourquoi la philosophie n’a-t-elle aucune incidence et l’engagement intellectuel est-il futile” (this title is of course tongue-in-cheek).
Being an ally, especially if the goal is to include different perspectives in one’s research, requires much collaboration. It requires not only speaking to, but forming genuine connections with the persons or groups whom you wish to include. Not as objects of study, but as subjects with perspectives that are as valid – and in many cases, even more valid – than one’s own. One cannot be colonial in mentality when engaging in this kind of work, and appropriate the views of others as one’s own perspective. Credit must be given where it is due.
And yet, a fine line exists between being informed and honouring the time, energy, and resources of those who help to inform. Standing in solidarity as an ally means not asking too much, learning new habits and unlearning old ones. For example, I was made aware that my argumentative style (ahem, philosophy-speak) can come across as offensive in certain contexts. My knee-jerk reaction of interrogating information that I am unfamiliar with or that does not line up with my “version of events” is not ideal for building bridges. So when someone is an authority on a topic because of first-hand experience, my job is to listen without judgment. Doing so may require me to defer some of my opinions to the experiences of others – a difficult thing to do for someone so used to thinking independently.
I included this photo series by K C Adams, which was shared at a CPA session this year, because of how powerful it is. In the first set of images Indigenous persons react to being stereotyped. In the second, they react to speaking about themselves and highlighting who they are. This series challenges us to get beyond perception, to the heart of the matter. We are united on many more fronts than we are divided, and have a basic set of needs and concerns that are often shared. So the next time you come across someone whose difference causes you discomfort, look again. You might be seeing them through the wrong lense.
T. M. G.
Below is an excerpt from MacLean’s on the moving photo series, by visual artist K C Adams, that I included in this entry.
Starting next week, downtown Winnipeg will be blanketed by art meant to challenge negative perceptions of the city’s indigenous residents. The project, spearheaded by the city’s Urban Shaman Gallery, will showcase new work by visual artist KC Adams. With Perception, Adams asked prominent indigenous Winnipeggers to pose for two photos: “I want you to look right into the lens. I’m going to say something. I don’t want you to react. I just want you to think of the words.”
Image sources on MacLean’s: KC Adams/Urban Shaman Gallery