where my artistic freedom begins another’s may end

I continue to reflect on the cultural appropriation blow up last week. First the resignation of the Editor of the the Writers Union of Canada’s Write magazine. He resigns due to an opinion piece he wrote flippantly saying he doesn’t believe in cultural appropriation, and furthermore why not have an award dedicated to cultural appropriation. Then the Editor of Walrus also resigns. He doesn’t seem to understand how his words around identity privilege and fundamentalism yet another blow to understanding cultural appropriation, another blow to what this means to the very people whose cultures were/are stolen, annihilated, made fun of, made money off of. And then other privileged big job, big position, white folks pooling their money to actually start an award, a cultural appropriation award. And then these same people having to apologize the next day.

Inevitably got me reflecting on my own journey. A white middle class woman with dreads painting multi-racial women in celebration, in solidarity, in community; writing poetry , short stories, a novel — Caribbean community culture my backdrop, my canvas.

I know my situation is unique immersed in Caribbean culture for over 20 years not from the outside but from the inside, immersed and embraced by community living and bearing witness to stories all around me. Getting to know people’s stories intimately by being a neighbor, a community and family member, a wife to a Village man, a Mother to a village daughter.  Bearing witness to so much pain and so much joy, from the deep grief of unexpected tragedies to the thrill of unexpected victories.

When I sit down to write poetry or stories it is sometimes dialect that slips from my mind to my fingers, it is the details of a Julie mango flowering or the whir of the fishing boats heading out in the morning, it is the slap of a cutlass on the back of a dog that’s attacking a neighbor’s sheep, or the laughter from the rum shop next door, or the crack of a cricket bat and the roar of the park below.

I want with great passion to write, to be immersed in community and write but I also want, and more importantly need, to be aware, mindful, conscious of who I am in the middle of my writing, to never forget this privileged position, to engage critically, persistently in critical self- examination.    I also want to be respectful, assume nothing, be humble and be open to criticism. I want to be in conversation around cultural appropriation, identity privilege (of which I freely swim). I want to continuously be aware of the importance of building relations, building community, opening mind and heart to criticism, listening, always listening. I want to continuously and critically reflect on my freedom and right to create, know that with the right and freedom to create is also responsibility; knowing, remembering always that where my artistic freedom begins another’s may end.

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