Recently, an op-ed was published in rabble.ca's The Views Expressed blog, titled Calling out whiteness at the PSF. As Indigenous and PoC organizers of the forum we feel a need to speak for ourselves and respond to this "white ally" of ours.
First of all, we appreciate actionable and well-thought out criticism, and analysis, of the social forum process. It is only by assessing our shortcomings that we can move forward to a more inclusive and accountable organizing structure going into the future. However, Calling out whiteness at the PSF not only fails to give proposals and suggestions moving forward, it also fails to even mention the roles that PoC and Indigenous organizers played, or the ways we attempted to address the recurring issue of the under-representation of POC and Indigenous participants pre-emptively.
All four main coordinators were People of Colour or Indigenous; further, nearly half of steering committee members were PoC or Indigenous. Of the regional expansion commissions, many were started and guided by PoC and Indigenous community leaders and members. All but one of the speakers during the opening march were PoC or Indigenous. There are dozens of other examples of PoC and Indigenous centrality to the process. The misperception in the original piece could have been clarified if the author were to have communicated with the coordinators or the caucuses while doing her research. This article renders our experiences and contribution invisible, while claiming to speak on our behalf.
White people taking up space talking about white people taking up space is neither helpful nor empowering to our communities. While some of this article is based on real critiques that we, and other members of our caucuses (PoC and Indigenous) articulated during the forum, we are not given voice by this piece.
There wasn't a single quote from an Indigenous or PoC participant featured in the article, but rather the critiques seemed to come from superficial impressions and cursory online research. In contrast, the voices of PoC and Indigenous peoples were centred and prioritized throughout the organizing process of the Peoples' Social Forum in conversations that were sometimes very difficult and complex.
One misperception that is evident in the article is in a comment saying the name change of the forum from Canada-Quebec-First Nations to 'Peoples' was because of critiques that came from PoC and Indigenous activists who drew attention to the plurality of nations on this land and participating in this society. This is easily checked in PSF documentation, so we found it strange that this was brought up as an example the "invisibility of people of colour at the PSF."
This event had a substantially larger participation from our communities than what is typical in the activist scene on this continent. If you look at the list of workshops, and especially at the large conferences and keynote speakers scheduled under the main tent and in the auditorium, there was a wide diversity from all range of voices from the diversity of Indigenous and PoC opinions, backgrounds and priorities.
Of course, due to the social forum process, the vast majority of workshops were self-organized by forum participants. Thus, a critique of the dominance of white voices would be better directed at those organizers, who should be challenged to give a platform to a diversity of people from within their movements.
If white people truly want to deconstruct the white hegemony that benefits them and harms PoC and Indigenous communities, then the question must be asked: why do we consistently fail to build long-lasting relationships? The fact remains that many silenced and oppressed people -- PoC, Indigenous, Queer, differently abled etc. -- choose not to engage in events because we are tired of constantly having to defend ourselves and justify our experiences.
Here we are, again, having to justify our experiences and defend ourselves thanks to this article.
This type of opinion piece usurps our voices and claims to speak for us, which are not principles of solidarity or good allyship.
By writing a piece such as this one without respecting good journalistic standards the author does a disservice to the subject, journalism and rabble.ca.
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