Image Source: Clayton Windatt
I have been in a lot of conversations lately that pit “Artistic Freedom” against the “Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, specifically when it comes to discussing “Self-Determination”, often referenced as “Cultural Appropriation”.
Comments defending discrimination-based actions under the guise of “Freedom of Expression” or “Artistic Freedom” are confusing and often only look at a situation from one vantage point. An example would be the recent scandals involving several major magazine editors being pressured to resign after making statements against the Rights of Indigenous peoples, apparently without any fear of social response. The public did respond and it was a rude awakening to many within the media world showing just how removed major media producers have become from modern-day political correctness. Among these media heads was Steven Ladurantaye, managing editor or CBC’s The National, who engaged in the privilege parade and quickly apologized once the public started getting angry. Steven Ladurantaye has since been “reassigned” at CBC without any public statements of mandatory sensitivity training or financial penalties to his wages.
I personally blame CBC for feeding Canadians controversial facts and creating debates around issues without effectively educating people first. Debates create an environment where people feel that they can sit comfortably on either side of an argument. Having a nation-wide debate implies that a significant number of people represent each side of that argument, and that either side is valid. In the recent debates around Artistic Freedom and Cultural Appropriation, there is nothing to debate about as these are very clearly different things.
Artistic Freedom is the right to present your own ideas and represent yourself. The Indigenous Right to Self- Determination also follows the same path, but more specifically to represent one’s self and their inherited culture. Cultural Appropriation has nothing to do with representing yourself; it is the act of representing others, usually without their consent. The idea that Freedom of Expression allows for someone to steal intellectual property from another is ridiculous and not worthy of any debate.
Things get even more confusing when you consider how Freedom of Expression has never excused anyone from anything. Freedom of Expression applies to both sides of any argument and cannot be used as a justification for having an unpopular opinion. An individual’s right to have an opinion allows them the ability to express themselves. The argument currently presented by CBC is actually about that right being taken away from Indigenous people. Labeling occurs when someone imposes onto someone the invention or idea of someone without their consent or even involvement. It imposes onto their rights and silences them. This is a core aspect of colonial mentality, the idea that appropriating someone else’s identity is acceptable behaviour. For Indigenous people Freedom of Expression is the same thing as the Right to Self-Determination in many ways. The term is used to defend our right to represent ourselves, which for everyone else is called Freedom of Expression.
CBC has radically confused this issue and I challenge them to prove it is not in defense of their own corporation’s accountability in regards to infringing on Indigenous rights. Recent captions and headlines in the media call for “Cultural Appropriation vs. Artistic Freedom” or “Cultural Appropriation or Artistic License”, why isn’t CBC discussing “Close-Minded Bigotry within Media Leadership vs. the Right to Freedom of Expression and Self-Determination”. Perhaps this is not one of the many reports they have given because they want to keep this issue in a debatable arena instead of acknowledging that their staff played a role in creating an environment of oppression where privilege-politics fundamentalists run riot… Oh wait, did that sound glib?
Please do not confuse my distain for CBC’s behavior as glib. The notion that this term can even be used in describing the behavior of these privileged few represents further disparagement. Several apologies have been made stating individuals were being glib when they advocated for Cultural Appropriation. Glib means that a person is or their words are “fluent and voluble but insincere and shallow”. Does this reference diminish the severity of acts by making them seem like off-hand comments that were not publicly stated or circulated to millions of people? Should the term glib be used to describe any Manager within a major public broadcaster or media outlet? Is CBC proud of employing someone who is glib about culturally sensitive issues? Most government agencies or major corporations use other terminology for this behavior.
Cultural Appropriation is not debatably interchangeable with the right to Freedom of Expression. September 13th, 2017 is the 10-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We are entering into a new paradigm in acceptable modes of behavior. UNDRIP will continue to be included in more and more policy around the globe, hopefully leading to fewer “debates” and more inquiries by the United Nations Human Rights Tribunal. What is the new paradigm? Here is part of it: Ask someone how they want to be referred to and stop pretending that anyone is comfortable with you imagining them.