or Is my White Colored Skin a cultural appropriation ?
Nowadays we’re having these debates on Cultural appropriation, talking about borrowing from a culture other then ours without asking permission. Questionning also about creating or wearing wigs looking like Caucasian or African hair styles. Fighting about wearing clothes or confectioning them using values and customs from people that usually wears it on their day to day life. In fact, it’s about a ruling culture stealing from minority cultures their stories, their songs, their dance, their knowledge, their souls to transform them as the prevaling one, for the dominant one, into some other show or wealth that will be seen differently by the public because of their super power. Then if my culture, my wisdom is stolen, what is left?
What is apropriate, what is not? What is culture, what is not? What is freedom?
These are the questions.
What i am about to talk all happened before 1990, some 30 years ago.
I am born white colored skin in a small village in Quebec, Canada. Almost Everyone there are that same white skin beside some First Nation families from second of more generations. After all, this village, created in 1881, is part of the Malecites land and Nation that spread its paths from The Saint-Lawrence River up to New-Brunswick, Fundy Bay, Atlantic.
I am a white skin but most of all, I had belong until the end of my high school degree to a culture that was uniformely white, French and undereducated. I say undereducated as most parents at that time were from a different generation, not to say paradigm. One where high school did not really exist or was not a necessity. One generation which had known the road schooling or « l’école de rang« , symbolically the establishment of elementary school in Quebec and, most of all, the start of democracy of learning reaching all layers of society, where education and being informed would not only be a matter of the elite people or the clergy.
Discovering the world
As I am traveling with KATIMAVIK at age 17 and working six month in Toronto at my late eighteens, I discovered what diversity meant. Or should I say, I rather discovered what diversity looked like and what language it spoke. I was white, French and being hated by the English folks because of the politic turmoil of the Separatists in the 80’s. If my color was ok, my language wasn’t. During the six months in the Big Canadian City, I worked in a cafeteria at the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Building, for a Greek Family in charge of the management of the food preparation. Working as a boss girl (dishwashing or do everything but cook or paycash), I hated filling up the fridge with sodas and having to use a chair to reach the top shelves because Sam, the midget Greek cook, would always passed behind and hit my bottom, making comments that are censured here, and the owners would looked at me as a potential wife for their nephew who was working there with me. I almost got caught into the BiG FaT GreeK Wedding male version! Politely, i refuse as i did not intend to get married and never thought of getting involved with that boy who could not speak English, and even known less French.
Working with Greeks is when I met my first Asian Friend who was the cashier at the Cafeteria. Her name was Bitch, she was from Vietnam. I know, the name sounds awfully bad and so we all prononced it there are Biche. One day, Bitch invited me to her house along with Helen, an older English Lady we had made friend with at the cafeteria. Over Ritz crackers, olives and cheese hors d’œuvre, Bitch told us her story, how she crossed the ocean on a boat with her family. How her dad had attempted the trip two times before without success, being robed, cheated by the «passeurs», and it was at the third time that they made it to another land before coming to Canada. She was from the boat people refugees Canada rescued in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t know if she is still working as a casher 30 years later in some other facilities or if she went to school to get a degree. Was she happy with her life then? Did i feel then she had the same opportunities as me? I don’t remember. I’m not sure we talked about her future beside the fact that she had kids of her own and was very proud of them. How old was she? Her thirties or late twenties? We were the three of us a special bunch of women from different generation and different culture and we all got along well, laughing and learning from one another.
Other friends I had made were those I met while living the night life in some resto-bar called The Shanty. Accompanied by some girls friends from near by my home town in Quebec, Marie, Lina and Helene, we went there to mix with the « locals ». Meeting these young women there was a bonus or a synchronicity of some sort as we were from the same region in Quebec and we spoke the same language. Let say they became my favorite network in Toronto as together we discovered the night life at The Shanty, specially, but also in some Jazz bar or other clubs where, as i was the youngest one, i could not attend if i had no luck with the controling staff if carting the crowd in the lineup. At The Shanty, we met some new firends who were from South America or Lebanon, maybe Iran, others from India and Italy. One especially was a very nice young man named VJ. He danced like a god and I loved his spicy golden colored skin, his black hair and eyes. We would met at the Shanty every Saturday to have fun, eat, dance and tell stories. I learned a lot on Indian culture then, its food, its laws. VJ was a second year engineer student at York University. I cried very much the day he told me he was to married to an Indian woman chosen by his parents. The wedding was to last a week or so. Afterward, still at the Shanty, he showed me all the dresses his newly wed wife had worn for the occasion, the food that had been served, the guest who had been invited, the decorations. I thought that was very impressive. « A week? Really? Why? »
This resto Bar is also where I once met the most beautiful woman I had ever met. Perfect Blond hair with perfect make up. All men’s eye were on her that day. She had a body of a Goddess and dress like our modern Lady Gaga! Beside her, i was more the Cyndi Lauper style of girls who want to have fun! This is also one of my youth day where I felt most empowered when she told me the secret of her beauty. She took my hand and invited me outside for a walk with her to the convenient store to get some matches. Then, she took my hand again and made me touch her crouch and she winked at me. She had a mind of a woman trapped in the body of a man. This was the most instructive walk to a convenient store ever. Such was some of the faces of diversity i met when exile in this English Canadian City.
While doing my B.A. at Universities in various Canadian cities (Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Ottawa) i came into contact with students from Morroco, South America, France, Belgium. Those contacts were nothing too personnal neither intimate. Just as friendly as it is possible for those fortunate ones deciding to explore life outside of their culture and coming to Canada to enrich their knowledge. Personally, I had always wished to participate to one of those oversea studying programs. However, lack of grant and family supports, or understanding how i could received a grant to explore that road, did not allowed me to experiment that oversee option when studying. I caught up later on when i was able to work, make some money and travel to France, Spain and Morroco, more of the World to understand.
With all these discoveries of other cultures and values, i became a little less white and started to change color inside out. I was getting better with English, dreaming of learning Spanish and traveling the WORLD. Was I starting to appropriate myself the culture of others? Was I culturally correct to be less involved in discovering my own culture but willing to curiously know how it felt like to be of a different color, of a different race or gender? In fact, the more I was digging into other cultures, the more i was questionning my own one and looking at it from a different angle. All these questions lead the rest of my life into Intercultural, Globalization, becoming a Citizen of the World, caring for the Planet Climate Change, living a little more alone but never feeling the loneliness because I was filed with dreams of building a new way of looking at my self and looking at the world around me.
Again, What is apropriate, what is not? What is culture, what is not? What is freedom?
These are the questions. How would you answer them?