The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Picture(s)
not everything is black or white. good or bad. this or that.
I had a few things in mind for this week's newsletter. Thoughts on procrastination. Thoughts on a very long email I got in response to my last newsletter (I'm working on it, Jane). Something about being an artist and the idea of going pro, at least in your head. Other things about, well, other things. And then I got a message on PCC* about this week's creative challenge that, after thinking about it for a few minutes, started to bother me more than expected, so I figured I will write about that. I need to respond somehow after all, and anything that triggers a strong response says as much if not more about
yourmyself than it does about whatever happened or was said or done and is therefore worth examining.
*I'm assuming you know what PCC is and does, apologies if you don't.
Some background first. This week's creative challenge is called Woman in Black Hijab but is actually a black Madonna with a crown, crucifix and veil. It's available via Unsplash and is featured under both Editorial as well as Experimental which tells you a little about the style and reception of the image. The direct message I got was "I hope this is not out of line to point out the 2 dog faces of your posts. As a white woman I noticed it. I wonder as a black woman how I would feel..."
I was about to google dog face because I thought it was some urban slang term I wasn’t familiar with when I realized that I had simply re-shared two collages that had mixed this week's image with that of a... dog!
It's not the first time I got a well-meaning, I simply decided it’s well-meaning, message like this on PCC. I had a few of them in the past, not many in over four years, and only one of them was actually the opposite of well-meaning. Ill-intentioned?
It outright accused me of encouraging pedophiles by having chosen the image of a child as a challenge prompt. This recent message suspected someone, the artists creating the dog face collages and/or me for re-sharing them, still trying to figure that out, of I suppose racism or at least insensitivity, not sure about that one either. Which makes coming up with a response difficult.
Because what is being said here and what is implied and what else is going on?
Would this be less offensive, assuming that’s what it is, if it was a white woman? Or a cat instead of a dog? How about a fish? Or a giraffe? Or a man? How about a man-woman composite? Worse, I imagine, a white man - black woman composite? And you only noticed as a white woman but wonder what black women would feel? Isn't that a little like mansplaining among women? Or just your garden variety virtue signaling? And what black women are you referring to? African American? African? You noticed so you’re not offended yourself? Are you sure? Are you offended on their behalf? Do they need you to be? Do you think different women should be offended by different things? And what exactly do you want me to do? Censor anything that may offend?
What if someone takes offence at the religious undertones of the image? The ones I hadn't even noticed when I picked the image. What about the people who created the collages? Both have been participating in the weekly challenge for a long time and have never created anything remotely offensive. What if they're black themselves? Would that make it ok? What about PCC? Its motto is to be inclusive rather than exclusive and it tries to be as diverse as possible. Don't context and intent matter at all? And what about all the other collages created and shared all the time? No more animal human composites? Because some wouldn’t want to be paired with a snake. Others might take offence with monkeys. Fish are dumb. Do we need to cater to the lowest common denominator at all times? Not that there shouldn’t be some limits, but are dogs really the hill we want to die on? How is that for a tortured metaphor?
Operating in any kind of public forum in 2022 comes with a million pitfalls and dangers. One often accidental, wrong, misunderstood or misinterpreted word or action, one moment of inattention - no one can watch everything they're saying all the time - can ruin years of hard work (whereas lying in office doesn't seem to matter at all anymore). No stopping and thinking for a moment. No benefit of the doubt. No credit for past behavior. One wrong step and you’re out.
If this rant sounds like I'm overreacting a little, it's because I am. IG can shut you down for no reason. People decide to cancel you. Did I miss something? Did I mess something up?
I'm also voicing a lot of pent-up frustration (but I'm trying to turn this into something positive in the end, so please keep reading). I'm fed-up with a society that has turned being politically correct and woke into a competition and hunting down people they consider offenders into the new national (global) sport (disclaimer: I'm not saying the person who messaged me did that, I'm ranting on a more general level now!)
It's knee-jerk outrage wherever you look. Judge and comment before you think (or without thinking at all) because someone else might otherwise judge and comment quicker than you. And then what? We are what we pay attention to and increasingly we are who pays attention to us. The same way things you didn't photograph didn't really happen, things that no one notices don't really matter.
I don't have a solution to something a lot of people don't consider a problem, or answers to most of the questions I asked. What I have are some general ideas and thoughts.
I'm ok to stop and think before making up my mind, and if it takes me a couple of weeks and afterwards no one cares about what I have to say anymore, so be it. In my experience, there is always someone else who likes taking their time too. If that's you, let's have a coffee and talk.
Intent matters. Context matters. Past actions matter. Innocent until proven guilty. In case of doubt… you see where this is going.
I don't want to worry endlessly about everything I do or say or put out into the world because if I do, I fear I won't do or say or put anything out into the world anymore. I don't have the same sensibilities as the next person, and while I always try to be kind and not to offend, there will be times when we won't see eye to eye and that's ok.
Not everything is black or white. Good or bad. This or that. Most of everything is somewhere in between.
I don't do politically correct. Everyone is the same at their core and deserves to be treated as such. It's called basic human decency. Black, white or orange with green dots. Differently abled or cyborg. In love with the opposite gender, themselves or French baguettes. What’s the point of being polite to someone’s face, and using the right adjectives (only because you’re told to), if you still screw them the first chance you get to benefit yourself?
I judge - yes I do - people on their actions and not their attributes, but I also know that one lie doesn't make you a liar, losing doesn't make you a loser, and making a mistake doesn't make you a failure. We're all much more than the sum of our parts and actions.
I'm far from perfect - a very good friend of mine still snaps at me every time I say policeman instead of police officer - have a lot to learn and improve upon, and am grateful to anyone pointing out shortcomings. But please don’t start out assuming the worst. Don’t insinuate. Don’t imply.
I don't believe in censoring art. Because PCC is a community with all the behind-the-scenes drama this can entail, I sometimes have to make judgment calls based on common sense, and because of that very, very rarely certain collages remain in the background or are simply ignored, but that’s it. I don’t keep a list of things that may offend, I don’t police, and I don’t treat images of black women differently than those of Chinese men or orange children with green dots. Well, I actually try to stay away from organges.
I see dogs as men's best friend, you don't like being called a bitch, plenty of people have absolutely no opinion on dogs at all. So let dogs be dogs. Better, use bunnies!
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910
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