On (not) being silenced

Posted on May 12, 2017 in Blog

There a lot of things I can say about this week. It was a week started off so well—in a happy post-FOLD haze, the Monday off, a chance to sleep in and take in some poetry during the day (thanks, Gary Barwin!) before trundling back home for a nap. I averaged about 4.5 hours of sleep each night last week, and by the end of the weekend I was feeling it so hard.

But I was also happy—proud of how the FOLD weekend had gone, proud of our authors, proud and grateful to have met so many wonderful authors in the flesh, these wonderful people I’ve been speaking with on and off for the past few months. I moderated a panel with writer Jen Powley on Saturday afternoon and it was spectacular. I peeked into a few sessions that were also spectacular. Everyone seemed happy, excited, inspired. The authors felt well taken care of. Some of them told me they felt so special, which is exactly what I wanted. They are special; they deserve to be treated as such.

And then, later in the week, the whole TWUC controversy erupted.

I am wary of saying too much about it, mostly because there are other voices out there that deserve to be heard. I got angry and potty-mouthed this morning on Twitter, and I tried to soften it by stating my support for all of the writers out there who are fighting so hard to hold on to their stories. I don’t understand—I really don’t—how people can’t see the nuances in this. Someone resigning over an editorial that was offensive and in bad taste is not suppression—it hints at an awareness of wrongdoing and a desire to rectify the situation. Likewise, the call out from the TWUC Equity Committee is also not suppression—it’s an acknowledgment that the field we’re playing on still skews in favour of white privilege, and an attempt to put measures in place that seek to balance things out. The “unfairness” in this situation, if you will, is not the fact that these measures are being put in place—the unfairness is the fact that we have existed for so long without them. Meritocracy operates on the assumption that everyone starts at the same spot. But life doesn’t work like that, and our actions have to take into account the uneven nature of our real-world situations.

I don’t know what it feels like to be silenced. Not really. And to those who are clamouring out in the CanLit sphere right now about freedom of speech and all of those things: there’s a very high chance that you don’t know what it feels like to be silenced either. Maybe you’re uncomfortable, sure. Maybe you’re feeling anxiety at the prospect of getting a smaller slice of the pie. But your slice of the pie was never meant to be that big to begin with, and you need to understand that before anything else.

Freedom of speech means that you can say whatever you want. This is true. But it doesn’t also follow, from that, that there are no consequences to what you say.

Nor, I think, does it mean that you always have to say whatever you want. There is power in being loud and standing up for what you believe, but there is equal power in listening, and in recognizing that sometimes other people are better placed to speak than you.

I love this country, and I love its literature. I particularly love the way that this literature is changing—the way that it’s slowly being broken open. I like to see the light that’s shining out from underneath. And I choose to believe that this time is exciting, as much as it’s also, at times, a dumpster fire. Things are burning to the ground but there’s a rebuilding team, and they’re advancing farther every day, remaking the world into something exciting and new. Things are changing, and that is good. They aren’t changing fast enough, and we have much more work to do, but my hope is that more people will continue to listen and be allies where they can.

So do that. Listen hard, and take a step back, and try to understand that there’s a place and time for speaking. Sometimes it’s your place, and sometimes it belongs to someone else.

And maybe, perhaps, we can build something new together.

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