The Juno's, Indigenous Solidarity and Performative Activism by White Women
Updated: 3 days ago
Start the kettle.
Last night, an Edmonton "protester" jumped on stage at the Juno's to make a statement by taking off her shirt to reveal words such as "Land Back," "Stop Logging Old Growth NOW" and "Save the Green Belt" written on her body. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's get into it.
The Junos is an awards show presented by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) to recognize "outstanding achievements" in the music industry here in so-called Canada. Anyone is able to submit their work to be considered, nominees are ranked by a combination of sales and online data/presence, and votes are casted by CARAS to determine the winners of eight categories. Awards shows have never been about the talent of an individual but rather, the popularity of an individual based on what's "in" at this moment in time. It's individualism at its finest because your grant money, artist spaces and individual honors aren't liberating us, babes. Seeing the #RoadToTheJunos posts of people clawing their way up the ladder of celebrity culture while the majority of folks struggle to survive within the capitalist structures we currently live in is something else. There is a complete disconnect from reality.
"Celebrity culture is an essential construct of American culture and imperialism. And the movements of celebrity culture are a direct conversation with our political realities because it's the most effective propaganda tool the state has." - Ashtin Berry
TD Bank is one the biggest sponsors of the Juno's, while actively being one of the biggest funders of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline and other projects currently promoting the grab of Indigenous lands and state violence against Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. So while people sit in the crowd, either as an attendee or as a nominee, they're able to separate from the reality that these boards, corporations and institutions do absolutely nothing for us other than create a weird dystopian nightmare where individual achievements and the celebration of them somehow promotes a collective win. But a Black woman winning an award does nothing for me, or the Black woman next to me, or the Black woman next to her; it does nothing for the collective other than perpetuate the idea that "if you work hard then you, too, can be where I am!" It's equivalent to the myth of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps," which most of us have come to understand is complete bullshit. While the Juno's could be the perfect stage to share messages of solidarity, display a commitment to dismantling white supremacy, educating attendees on the various forms of violence still being used against Black and Indigenous Peoples, none of that happened. All this woman did instead was pay money to attend an overrated event so she could act like a damn fool - because no one in that room, not even punk-rocker Avril Lavigne, actually cares about climate change, police violence, poverty, houselessness, or the glue that holds it all together: white supremacy.
Women going topless as an act of protest or "rebellion" isn't new. We see white feminists front and center time and time again using this move: from anti-war statements, to animal rights, to.. opposing Trump? Most of the time it doesn't make sense for the occasion, but white women gonna white women. I have yet to see a white woman run out topless in the streets for the human rights of anyone that lays beyond the intersection of simply being a "woman" - which very often becomes transphobic as our Trans sisters are often removed from the conversation.
The surgance of topless protesters we see today can be attributed to the Paris-based feminist group Femen, whose members have been described as "feminist terrorists" and "the naked shock troops of feminism" by one of its founders. *Cringe* Femen’s methods are fairly straightforward: topless women in flower crowns, their bodies painted like protest signs, disrupt public events by chanting slogans and throwing their bodies at politicians and church leaders. We can see the correlation between Femen feminists and that of Edmonton's own topless protestor who wore all pink with a small flower headband on top of a pink bandana and had messages written on her body.
Is this topless movement based on the appeal of the "bra burning" movement of the 60s? A time where women - particularly white women - began protesting for women's rights, using the the Miss America Pageant as leverage to argue that the contest declared that the most important thing about a woman is how she looks. Women threw bras and other items into trashcans they called "Freedom Trashcans" and protested along the boardwalk in front of the Atlantic City convention hall. As most feminist movements, racialized women were also often forgotten about. In the 1960s, Black women were still trying to exist within Jim Crow laws and were seen as nothing more than bodies of labor for mass production within capitalism.
"Going up against liberal progressive white feminists who refuse to let down their guard of “ultimate liberation” to actually learn from women of color - who have been fighting this fight with grit and grace for generations - is the most straining part being a Black feminist activist." - Rachel Elizabeth Cargle
"Save the Greenbelt" could be seen written on last nights Juno's protestor. The Greenbelt is situated on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat Peoples. Of course, none of the Nations on these lands were properly engaged with before decisions were made by the Ford government to go ahead with the project of using thousands of land within the Greenbelt to build over 50,000 new homes - a move based on the idea that cities are running out of room for growth while at the same time vacant homes are on the rise in places like Toronto.
The Greenbelt is just one area of Turtle Island that is under threat of further development and extraction by colonial governments. Here in so-called Canada, Indigenous resistance remains ongoing to protect the land and the water from money-hungry corporations from coast to coast to coast. On more than one occasion, the camps of Wet'suwet'en land defenders have been raided by RCMP at gunpoint. In November of 2021, Indigenous women had their cabin door broken down with an axe and chainsaw, snipers pointed at them while police dogs and RCMP waited for them outside. At the Tiny House Warriors site, where a group fights the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline on unceded Secwepemc territory, sisters Kanahus and Mayuk Manuel face various legal battles due to ongoing violence and surveillance by RCMP. 1492 Land Back Lane. Ipperwash. Oka. There has never been a moment in time since the inception of "Canada" that Indigenous Peoples have not been fighting for their basic human rights along with the rights of the land and water in which we all enjoy and benefit from.
Last year, Indigenous youth interrupted a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the opening ceremony of the COP15, the United Nations biodiversity conference, by drumming and standing in power in the middle of the room. Shortly after, these same youth were surrounded by police outside who then waited almost two hours in front of their airbnb as an intimidation tactic. While our Indigenous kin remain villainized and criminalized for protecting their inherent rights, white women can jump in and out of the game when they please, seeing nothing but a slap on the wrist while getting to go back to their lives of privilege and comfort; kind of like taking their shoes off after a long day at the office and resting peacefully in their homes.
White women, and white people in general, are often more concerned about how something may benefit them after participating, rather than just doing what's right, and often don't get involved in social justice matters until something effects them directly. We can see this happen in the "Save Old Growth" movement where, despite this being a problem of colonialism and white supremacy (a necessary acknowledgment in order to understand why there remains an ongoing genocide against Indigenous Peoples), white people only feel motivated to get involved because they finally see something impacting them personally and end up co-opting movements for their own personal gains. For example, efforts made at the Fairy Creek blockade were quickly taken over by white hippies, backpackers and settlers who use the forest for their own development needs and weekend play. I remember reading comments made in the Facebook group by people on the ground at Fairy Creek having a hard time understanding how it was even a Land Back issue, Indigenous folks extending a massive amount of unnecessary labor to a group of people who weren't actually interested in seeing any substantial change happen, only wanted to be a part of something. Yes, having more people on the ground can be important - especially so when swarms of RCMP officers are sent in to dismantle efforts. But if you don't have a basic understanding of how we got here in the first place and the ways in which you both create AND uphold the harm we're facing, all you're doing is taking up space and having us walk in circles.
White women are willing to go topless on national television but aren't willing to do any of the work required to see the ways in which they're complicit to the harm themselves, and dedicating their efforts to dismantling that. They'll still call the police on Black and Indigenous Peoples when they feel uncomfortable, still vote other white women into positions of power because they see themselves in them, still use their tears as a weapon when asked to do better, still raise their children in homes of ignorance. They'll do all this then stand together and call it "feminism."
"We’ll never get the boot of patriarchy off our necks because y’all won’t divest from white supremacy. The patriarchy you claim to hate so much is the rock y’all run to when your status at the top of the social strata is challenged. Whenever a member of the global majority challenges your authority, “isn’t nice,” or hurts your fee-fees, you call the cops, report posts, run to HR, go and tell your daddies and uncles, and unleash your brothers and sons." - Nikki Blak
White women: we need more from you. Trade in your pink pussy hats and topless Kodak moments for a molotov. Or, at the very least, commit to dismantling the white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and patriarchy you participate in and continue to benefit from everyday. We don't need you to save us, which these actions come off as more often than not. We need you to save yourselves, and be an accomplice to those most oppressed along the way. Let Black and Indigenous women and femmes lead the movements for change because when you get tired of the performance or end up getting what you want, we'll still be out here fighting for our liberation - and yours.
"Taylor McNallie dedicates her time to seeking racial justice and collective liberation through education and hands-on work with both marginalized communities and allies alike. As the co-creator of Inclusive Canada, she provides education on anti-racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. She is also a member of the Walls Down Collective which provides access to no-barrier resources and care such as Harm Reduction, free food programs and an alternative to local policing. Most recently, Taylor has become the new Organizer for Black Lives Matter Canada."
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