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  • Kim Senklip Harvey

Systemic Racism

It's Black History month, with some referring to it as Black Futurist month and as I work on my allyship I want to make February's blog posts focused on the complexity BIPoC artists face in a white supremacist and prejudicial sector. I also want to give attention to the exciting work of Black artists happening all over Turtle Island.


I use to see a lot of people and companies posting about systemic racism on social media - there was a peak last summer when companies couldn't hide from the power of the Black Rebellion and their fragility and fear was momentarily no longer more important than the dignity of Black, Indigenous and Poc peoples but where are those committees? What happened to those initiatives? Or were those BIPoC hires just the seasonal help you brought on like temps during tax season at H&R Block.


What was most laughable about the BIPoC temp phase was how leaders believed we bought the initiatives as meaningful. Hiring peeps for small contracts, hiring young BIPoC's, hiring any BIPoC that you could have authority over, that makes less $ than you, that has a big risk of losing their job or opportunities which meant they were never gonna give you the goods that your racism and ignorance was and is the biggest organizational problem. You positioned them to have to serve you and your needs. You have and are racializing them.


I want to bring your attention to a York University article on what the violent process of racializing people is and how it intersects with systemic racism.



Let's use theatrical creation as an example within the racialization paradigm. Decolonial practice is an area of my methodological focus and something I helped lead and was acknowledged for at the 2019 Jessie's winning with Linds, for significant artistic achievement in decolonizing theatre and theatre spaces.


One of my most honoured and important aspects of decolonial work in theatrical creation is creating processes that re-disseminate white power in canadian theatre environments and redistribute it to artists so we can have non-white supremacist creative processes.


Which is something we deserve because canadian theatre processes whitewash NDN stories by way of most org's have white leaders, white majority BOD's, function off of imperial organizational power structures which means, even if you tried to hide your white supremacy with a couple PoC associates whom you've racially posited because you're never given them real decision making power without your white institutional influence. You haven't done any anti-racist work, you've just erected a very slimy white supremacist system and told you and your "woke" white staff - we good people.


The York article goes on to say:


RACIALIZATION ==> STIGMATIZATION==> MARGINALIZATION


THE PROCESS OF RACIALIZATION “LABELS” AND “STIGMATIZES” A MINORITY GROUP BY LINKING IT WITH RACE ====>


STIGMATIZATION: REFERS TO A MARK OF DISGRACE IMPOSED ON AN INDIVIDUAL BY OTHER INDIVIDUALS OR A SOCIAL GROUP. IN POPULAR USAGE IT OFTEN REFERS TO ANY NEGATIVE SANCTION OR DISAPPROVAL FOR NONCONFORMITY. AN UNDESIRABLE DIFFERENTNESS OF AN INDIVIDUAL THAT DISQUALIFIES HIM OR HER FROM FULL SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE. SOCIOLOGISTS ORIGINALLY USED THE TERM TO SHOW HOW HUMANS NOT ONLY SEEK TO CONTROL THE PHYSICAL WORLD BUT THE SOCIAL WORLD. ====>


MARGINALIZATION: REFERS TO THE STATUS OF A GROUP WHO DOES NOT HAVE FULL AND EQUAL ACCESS TO THE SOCIAL ECONOMIC, CULTURAL, AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS OF SOCIETY.


This "othering", rooted in race and thus culture and thus impacting process, is one of the most normalized tools of dehumanization used by white people and arts leaders. It positions anyone not conforming to imperialism to be disqualified from systems structured in whiteness. It ensures that anyone troubling the power of white systems is marginalized - aka positioned without power.


So my work is very very difficult because not only am I stigmatized because decolonial practices make white folk very uncomfortable - I'm inherently marginalized because I refuse to conform and create in processes that dehumanize me and my artists. I refuse to be an NDN who makes work that suckles the comforts of white supremacy.


Methods of Marginalization:

-inequitable resourcing.

-failing to learn the paradigms of BIPOC artists

-preferring artists and processes that assuage white guilt

-selecting projects that speak to white comforts

-prioritizing work that speaks to histories of marginalized populations and not present realities

-talking about values and not embodying the ones your BIPOC artists work within

-failing to learn the processes of artists not working in colonial frameworks

-making decisions to protect white audiences instead of understanding your ethical responsibility to ignite all members of the community - particularly BIPoC peoples.

and finally, I can't believe I have to write this but NOT TALKING TO YOUR BIPOC ARTISTS BECAUSE YOU ARE TOO SCARED.


All of these are tools of white supremacy to silence the work and stories and withhold opportunities and power from BIPOC peoples - whether white folk consciously comprehend this or not. This is the truth. This is the white supremacist reality many of us Indigenous, Black and PoC artists face.


In a bid to deflect responsibility, organizations often pit BIPoC's associates against one another - which is very racist and blatant act of white supremacy. It's like throwing the poor, into gladiator a ring while the powerful position them to have to fight for their lives/careers. It's a disgusting and disgraceful and yet well played white power move.


I want to honour that many BIPoC artists feel powerless, who so nod and smile in gross and obvious power imbalances because they want their show to go up, they have rent to pay and or they are ignorant of their own complicity in serving imperial power structures because it's a trap. It lures and traps us because that's the insidious nature of white supremacy.


And I won't ever fault BIPoC's who are being positioned by white leaders in their supremacist reigns - even when white leaders try to lure us into it this racialized positioning. I will never ever hold BIPoC's at fault for white supremacist leaders shirking their own responsibility.


Leaders failing to account for their organizations racialization of BIPoC artists is white violence. Leaders failing to have the fucking courage to admit they are over their heads, lack capacity and will not to do The Work to remove white supremacy from their systems, practices and decision making and selves is admission and evidence that they are the upholders of white power systems.


I saw this video on insta this morning. I want you to watch it. All of it.



Amber Ruffin and her team breaks down systemic racism so cleary. And I want to give props and respect to that work. I also want to offer that this example of systemic racism - this racialization, is very present in theatrical creation processes. Loans are grants and opportunities, and have been systematically denied over decades, arts leaders are the banks and let's call the BIPoC temp consults the bank clerks - everyone is conditioned and trained to not give opportunities to anyone in the red districts.


Every aspect of the system is constructed to give as much power to the banks and art org's to deny opportunities again and again and withhold white power via technicalities that systemically racialize peoples to have no real or sustained possibility to succeed. White folks will use anything - find any rationale to excuse racist behaviours and that is terrifying. This assertion of white power reminded me of this scene from Ava DuVernay's Selma.



Ooooof. Oooooooof. The barrage of attacks on Oprah's character, the insulting line of questioning, the racial positioning and the omnipresence of white supremacy. How many "name them" moments have BIPoC artists faced in a system designed for ourselves, stories and peoples to remain oppressed under white control. Name them. Name them. Name them.


There are many times in my career where I get sucker punched by white supremacy - down right sucker punched by the theatrical sector and it hurts. But hear this - it's never going to break me enough to submit to white supremacist leaders and systems who want us to nod and smile in a meeting to assuage their fears and guilt and I will never submit to the attacks on our humanity and dignity. That's not my job - you've hired other coloured people to do that for you.


The racialization of us goes against every mandate, mission statement and strategic pillar of every funding body in the country. So I ask how are we resourcing white supremacy at the level we are. Why are all the white org's getting the most $ and serving BIPoC's the least when priorities are set to be on Indigenous and BPoC peoples. This is not an ethical funding model and I've recently had some time freed up to really take a look at the systemic racism in these sectoral areas and I'm just tickled to offer some new models to redistribute public dollars and hold institutions accountable for their racist and unethical decision making practices.



With deep respect to all the Black, Indigenous and Poc peoples being sucker punched by a system designed for us to fail - I bear witness. We rise - together and stronger, And with the hope that white people some day soon recognize that our peace and freedom is bonded.


With love to BIPoC's,


Kim.


P.S if you haven't heard about 21 Black Futures presented by Obsidian Theatre please do yourself a favour and go take a look. You can watch the trailer here.






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