Tag Archives: performance

Moving Towards Reconciliation: Why Planting Trees Is Not Enough

Co-written by Raquel Bellefleur & Meagan Dobson 

Originally posted via UR S.T.A.R.S.

What does ‘reconciliation’ actually mean?

Like many, we entered our post-secondary education with limited information about Treaties and the ways in which the two of us are positioned in society as a result of our privilege. We have spent the past three years learning and unlearning alongside mentors (professors) and like-minded peers – all of which has contributed to our personal and professional growth during our time in the Faculty of Education. We established S.T.A.R.S. (Student Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society) Regina in 2014 as an outlet for our exploration as socially just, anti-oppressive educators.

Despite progression towards change in our hearts and minds, we continue to struggle with the disconnect between thought and action. Yes, we are our own toughest critics; however, it is important to be critical of ourselves because that’s how we will continue working through our privilege/push ourselves to keep doing this work.

We know reconciliation is important, but how can our inner changes translate into outer action?

False Facade

In the work we have done, one thing we have struggled with is our ability to switch off or walk away from the work, especially when it becomes most discomforting. We can do this because of our privilege.

Although performance (meaning the ability to “try on” an identity as an anti-oppressive educator) can be a positive thing, there is a fine line between using performance as a starting point and completely abandoning anti-oppressive work while continuing to receive recognition and praise for it.

For example, although we both believe that meaningfully engaging in ceremony is part of the reconciliation process, there have been many times that we have turned down opportunities to participate because we were “too busy” or had other things to do.

Ultimately, our lists of priorities that prevented us from participating was our privilege in disguise.

Our privilege means that we can say and think things like: I don’t need to go to this; this doesn’t affect me; my life won’t change whether I go or not. Yet, even when we have participated in ceremony the potential to be unaffected by the experience is a reality – we can cut ourselves off from it just enough so that we are not personally affected by it.

What is being an ally?

We would love to be able to say we are allies of our Indigenous friends and colleagues; however, we realize that we cannot give ourselves that status. Showing up to ceremony does not make us allies; putting ourselves in a physical space is not enough. We need to make a consistent effort to authentically work towards reconciliation rather than superficially and periodically visiting the idea – committing to being witnesses, not tourists.

Receiving Cookies

Something else we’ve struggled with is receiving so much praise for our work with S.T.A.R.S. Regina. Noel Starblanket often wears his S.T.A.R.S. t-shirt and often commends our group when he speaks. Our #TreatyEdCamp event was recognized in the Legislative Assembly. Dr. Jennifer Tupper, the Dean of Education, sends out tweets like this:

We are grateful for any recognition we receive, but it is still problematic. Due to our privilege, we are positioned as “good white people” and praised for doing very little. Dr. Michael Cappello calls this kind of praise “receiving cookies.” We’ve been really uncomfortable with being positioned in this way and are unsure of how to respond respectfully.

Moving Forward – ReconciliACTION

This post started with us asking each other:  What have we ACTUALLY done? We provided opportunities for learning through PD events like #ReadtheTRC; we brought teachers together to learn about integrating Treaty Education into all subject areas; we’ve had many conversations about power, privilege, and reconciliation. But what effect is that ACTUALLY having on us and others? How do we move from talk to action?

Although we are still wrestling with these questions, we’ve tried to identify a few of our next steps:

  1. Listen to Indigenous colleagues when they say this is good work. 

Although it’s important to be critical of ourselves, we must be careful to not fall into a cycle of cynicism. We won’t dismiss encouragement and praise from our wonderful allies, but we will not to take it as more than it is. We cannot allow these ‘cookies’ to lead to our complacency or tempt us into apathy. We must remember that our Indigenous allies are happy to see these starting points, but also expect much more from us. While we are grateful for any recognition, the feedback and input of our Indigenous colleagues and friends is most important because they have been directly impacted by this history. It is these relationships that are central to reconciliation and our movement forward.

  1. Start with conversations.

We know they are ‘Calls to Action’, not ‘Calls to Conversation’, however, we need conversation to guide us to the right ways to do this work. As Gary Edwards explained at Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, we know we’re in a time of real change because nobody knows what to do or how to do it.

We also need to have conversations with our peers, colleagues, profs, siblings, parents, grandparents, and anyone else who might not know about the horrific historical injustice, or the painstaking work put into the TRC, or what the Calls to Action mean for reconciliation. Although this conversation may be uncomfortable and difficult, we must commit to it. It’s far too important to remain silent and our silences will not protect us anyway. These truths must be spoken.

  1. Build relationships.

We have often heard, “Reconciliation is about relationships,” but wondered how we could go about springing up relationships out of nowhere. The best we can come up with is putting ourselves in spaces where there is potential for relationship building. We will participate in ceremony and seek out public events, like the lecture by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair and the roundtable discussion Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, where connections and relationships might start to form. We will listen to the advice of Emerging Elder-in-Residence Joseph Naytowhow, who encouraged us to use laughter as a way to enter into relationship.

  1. Take responsibility. Pick a Call to Action and commit to it.

After Sinclair spoke, many people stood up in the lengthy line for the microphone to ask questions that sounded like: “…So what do we do?” to which he replied, “I just wrote a 5000-page report. What are you willing to do?” He urged us to read the report, or at least some of it:

He encouraged us to pick a Call to Action, to work to make it happen, and to never stop.

Sinclair used the metaphor of planting trees to describe the importance of starting to do this work and never stopping. We will not see reconciliation fulfilled in our lifetime; our kids may not see it fulfilled in theirs. But we need to start with planting seeds and teaching our children to water them so that their children might see the saplings and then their children might see the roots deepen, the trunk widen, and the branches fill out. We need to commit to this work for future generations.

We commit to Call to Action #62. We will teach about residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada. We will continually learn how to integrate and utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into our classrooms and we will provide opportunities to help our colleagues do the same.

The Choice

We’ve realized that instead of carrying the weight of undoing colonialism and achieving reconciliation, we need to start with planting seeds. Is planting the seeds enough? Not even close. But we have to start somewhere. And for us, it starts with the decision to commit to this work for the rest of our lives.

We will need help along the way to ensure we do not give in to our privilege, which will tempt us to apathy, to smugness, to being tourists rather than working towards witnessing. Will you challenge us when we set foot there?

 

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is life’s work, and we must choose it every day.

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Social Media Is Not A Brainwashing Monster

As I engage with my classmates’ posts regarding digital identity and building online networks, I find myself continually coming across a strange paradox. People are acknowledging how important it is to build a positive digital identity and how beneficial it is to have a supportive PLN yet simultaneously framing social media as this evil, wraith-like entity that threatens to brainwash us and take over our lives.  

It sounds like a great plot for a horror movie. We’ve created a monster, and it will destroy us! (Oh wait, that’s Frankenstein. Give up on the horror movie; it’s been done.) It sounds silly, but posts and videos demonizing social media in this way are extremely prevalent.

Posts on Disconnection

My classmate, Larissa, wrote this post describing how she is able to disconnect from the craziness of social media when she travels. She encourages readers to live in the moment rather than be constantly attached to social media via our smartphones.  

Inspired by Larissa, Ryan wrote this post about the importance of “unplugging” and the need to find a balance between technology/social media and what’s happening right in front of our eyes. He challenges readers to a “digital detox,” or a commitment to take a break from at least one form of social media.  

His post also included the popular “I Forgot My Phone” video, which I’ll embed here:

This video sends the message that as a society, we are far too attached and addicted to our phones. It accuses us of being more focused more on capturing moments than enjoying them or fully engaging with them.

Ryan received many comments on his post as others affirmed his beliefs in the power of disconnecting:

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Similarly, Matthew’s post “Enjoy the moment and put that phone away!” describes the disconnectedness that social media causes during daily interactions with others. He also criticizes concertgoers who forget to watch the performance they are at because they are so busy trying to capture it through pictures and videos.

And finally, Gillian describes herself as a “slave to her cell phone most days of her life” in her post “The Ambiguous Balance.” She states her belief that constant indulgence in cell phone use is changing the face of society and ends with this spoken word poem by Prince Ea.  

This piece asserts that social media is controlling our lives as we spoil our precious moments by recording them, take pictures of all our meals, and “perform in the pageantry of vanity.” It encourages listeners to disconnect so they can be closer to humanity.

Social media as Frankenstein’s monster

Evidently, the idea of social media taking away from our ability to fully participate in life resonates with many of us, and I think there is some truth behind it. However, I wonder.. What if social media, much like Frankenstein’s monster, is being misunderstood? What if its purpose and all of its possibilities are being horribly misconstrued?

Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good — misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” –The monster to Victor Frankenstein (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)

The monster had the potential to be good; however, continual rejection and isolation drove him to seek revenge on his creator. Now, I’m not saying that social media is going to seek revenge on us if we reject it and choose to disconnect. What I am saying is that we are making problematic distinctions between what is “real, authentic, human” connection and what is “virtual, inauthentic, less human” connection.  

This critique of the “I Forgot My Phone” video helps to illustrate my point. Nathan Jurgenson asserts that the whole premise of the “we are connected but alone” idea is false, citing research that states that people are using social media to connect more with others, even face to face. He then exposes the real problem with the video – the obsession with the real, human, and connected. This obsession positions those who disconnect as more human and more alive than those who use mobile devices/social media, who are positioned as less-human-unthinking-robot-zombies.  

I think it all goes back to the idea of performance vs. authenticity. People see the way social media can force us to “perform in the pageantry of vanity,” as evident in stories like this one. Although this type of performance can be very harmful, I think it’s important to remember that the conflict between performance and authenticity did not start with social media. Because identity is fluid, not fixed, performance happens IRL just as much as it happens online.

The performers of this amazing spoken word piece describe it better than I can:

The point is that we are constantly enacting particular discourses as well as changing the way we portray ourselves to suit the social situation we find ourselves in; however, people often attribute this idea of performance solely to social media.

As this important piece states: “The disconnectionists see the Internet as having normalized, perhaps even enforced, an unprecedented repression of the authentic self in favor of calculated avatar performance.” But I have to ask – what is authenticity? Is authenticity authentic? Is it really a thing?

What’s the point?

Instead of fully disconnecting, maybe our goal should be to use social media productively. Maybe the new “digital detox” could be identifying what types of social media use are beneficial to us and what types are serving the purpose of comfort blanket or distraction.

Online interactions are not repressing our authentic selves. You will still be performing your ever-changing identity whether you decide to disconnect or not.

Social media is not an evil monster that brainwashes and enslaves us, or a mysterious entity that blinds us to the beautiful, authentic, human things we used to enjoy. Rather, it is another space where we can make powerful connections with others – connections that are just as real as our face to face interactions.

Why we cannot stay silent: performing online to build networks of solidarity

Digital Sleuthing and Context Collapse

In my ECMP 355 class, we recently engaged in a digital sleuthing activity, where we were put into groups and challenged to find out and record as much information as we could about an individual in about 7 minutes. This activity launched discussion around the importance of having a strong, positive digital identity in today’s world. This article even suggests that digital profiles, including professional Twitter, YouTube, and blog accounts, will soon replace the paper resumé.

Naturally, after digital sleuthing Alan Levine, I felt compelled to Google myself and check out my digital identity these days. When I did, I was pleasantly surprised (and slightly uncomfortable) with the results. Everything that came up on Google’s first page was actually about me. It came up with my portfolio, my Twitter account, pictures of me, my profile on the Regina Cougars Athletics site, my Storify account, an article about Katia and I presenting at an education conference in London, my YouTube channel, and my Pinterest account.

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What freaked me out a little more was looking through the images associated with my name: 6 pictures of my face; a bowl of the delicious honey lemon chicken I pinned on Pinterest last week; pictures from #TreatyEdCamp; STARS Regina logos; and pictures of my friends, classmates, and profs.

Google knows me very well… (and therefore, anyone with Internet access potentially knows me that well). It creates an interesting and strange dynamic. I can no longer control who knows what about me (context collapse); I can only control what is out there for people to know about me.  

Performing Online (and IRL)

I like to refer to “what is out there for people to know about me” as how I perform online. To me, ‘performance’ means mean the way I choose to portray myself in certain online spaces (ie. the topics I deem important enough to tweet/write about, how I choose to respond or not respond to controversial articles, whether or not I share that picture of the super healthy salmon, quinoa, and broccoli dinner I had last night, etc).   

I like to use the word ‘perform’ for a couple of reasons:

  1. It felt a bit like acting when I first started sharing on social media. I was unsure of myself, I was overthinking my hashtag use, and I was constantly wondering what others would think about what I was sharing. However, I sneakily pretended I knew what I was doing over and over again until I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. 
  2. I’m taken to the Butler/Foucault idea of performativity – that everything is performance, that we are constantly enacting particular discourses, and that identity is fluid rather than fixed.
  3. I think performance is a constructive starting point (and sometimes the only possible starting point), as I describe in this blog post and Arthur Chu describes in this critique of #NotYourShield.

Performing as Anti-Oppressive Educator

I perform the role of anti-oppressive educator online in many ways:

I include #starsregina, #socialjustice, #treatyed in my Twitter bio, and I identify my location as Treaty 4 Land.

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I tweet about social justice issues.

I write (not often enough) about privilege, racism, sexism, and mental health.

Why engage with these difficult topics in online spaces?

  1. Because they are important. Plain and simple.

It can be terrifying to share about these topics, as Kendra describes in her beautiful post, The Untold Story; however, silence often means complicity in the dominant narrative.

Audre Lorde challenged others on their silence in an incredible speech she gave way back in 1977:

“What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?

She also warned against staying silent due to fear:

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

And finally, she emphasizes that speaking out bridges differences:

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”

You should probably just go read the whole thing. It’s amazing.

  1.  Because sharing and bridging differences in this way builds powerful networks.

We talk all the time about the importance of building a PLN and how these connections provide us with invaluable resources and relationships, but it’s even more than that. Our networks help sustain us when we feel we are falling short, when we lose ourselves in fear and drift back toward silence.

As Sherri Spelic eloquently describes in this post:

Pooled with other folks’ resources, the radical can grow, the imagination nurtured, a collective power set free. Precisely when I am feeling small, deflated or unheard, when I am asking myself that critical question: “Who am I to do this work?”, this is when I have to see that I do not and need not walk alone.”

So I will continue to perform in real life and online, aiming to maintain and strengthen my positive digital identity. When sharing, I aspire to overcome my fears, reject my silences, and respect my need for language, definition, and discussion around important, sometimes discomforting topics. In doing this, I hope to build a network that will support, encourage, and challenge me, but most of all, remind me that I’m not alone.

Has your PLN ever helped you through challenging times or times when you felt isolated? Has your network ever encouraged you to break your silence on an important issue?  Comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts on this!

Can we pretend our way to becoming anti-oppressive educators?

Lately, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about the ideas of performance and authenticity. As a chronic people pleaser, I often feel myself “performing” or taking on certain roles to suit the social situation I find myself in. Watch this unreal spoken word piece describing performance to understand what I mean.

I am also constantly performing my gender. I don’t do this intentionally, but I do think of it as performing because I’ve learned to act, walk, speak, and even take up space in “feminine ways” through regulated discourses of what it means to be female since before I was even born. This might also have something to do with why I’m a people pleaser..  Food for thought.

Likewise, my journey to becoming an anti-oppressive educator began as a performance. I was performing “good student” in ECS 110 and ECS 210, which both focused on the “isms,” dominant discourses or common sense, and oppression in schools and society. To perform good student, I read about racism, gender performance, national identity, white privilege, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism, and social class; I critiqued popular culture for problematic representations of self/other; I started thinking and talking about race; I reflected on my positionality and privilege; I engaged on Twitter and on my blog to start to build my PLN; I learned about treaty education. The list goes on… And all of those things started because I was determined to perform good student.

When I first realized that I cringed at the idea. Why did this journey have to start as a performance? Can’t I be authentic in anything I do? (Possibly not, because I’m not sure that authenticity is a real thing.) I thought that since anti-oppressive work is important to me, it should have been “real” from the start.

Now I’m realizing that maybe it had to start as a performance because these are uncomfortable issues to engage with. Maybe performing helped me ease into the role of attempting to be an anti-oppressive educator because I was able to “try it on” first. This gets even more complex when I think about the different social media platforms I engage on, because I perform anti-oppressive educator on Twitter but not on Facebook (but that’s a blog post for another day).

Anyway, at some point in my performing, I found real value in and passion for this new role.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when I shifted from performing anti-oppressive educator to truly believing in and trying to live out this role, but I don’t think it really matters.  I’d like to say that I no longer perform it at all, but that isn’t true either.  Performance is ongoing, but I believe this kind of performance is constructive.

I’ll leave you with a few questions and I’d love to hear thoughts, feedback, or more questions in return!

How are performing online and performing face-to-face similar and different?  Do you agree that performance can be constructive or do you think it makes anti-oppressive work less authentic/less valuable?