Accountability of Self and Other- In the Acts of Recognizing Our Living Ancestry
I write this in reflection of an unfolding of an exchange that I know will resonate very deeply for creators in this present day existence. My question posed to us is how can be allow our send of empowerment and agency to be directly in relation to our ability to be accountable to ourselves and each other. This is a sign that I have recently posted in my classroom:
AGENCY + ACCOUNTABILITY = LIBERATION
And I placed it there to directly address a lot of what is surfacing in the world, that begs us to be responsible for what we express, act upon and create in the world and also to hold our communities responsible to each other for what they express, act upon and create in the world. There are many people who have a very strong sense of agency in this existence, but to have agency and lack the accountability to be aware and responsible for how it affects others is the problem that we are coming up against, especially with the intense visibility that this age of Social Media brings. It is the difference between Kanye, and Chance where one in his greater visibility and entrenched in his ego has lost site of how his words and actions are directly related to the survival and the living of his own community- and another who mis-stepped in the want to support his brother and in being held accountable by his community readily addressed with humility an expression of apology and the intention to right it by his actions. Read the apology here: CHANCE THE RAPPER ISSUES APOLOGY AFTER DEFENDING KANYE WEST’S SUPPORT OF DONALD TRUMP
I have been teaching my students the importance of awareness, and the responsibility we have to ourselves, our words and our actions.
Yesterday the presence of a quotation from one of my artistic works was brought into visibility after it was photographed from a workshop that I conducted at the Women of Color in Solidarity Conference that stated:
“The Act of Decolonizing
Is an Act of Re-membering
How to Love Yourself”
This is an uncovering that has taken my entire lived path of returning to my ancestors, to find grounding in. It is a recognition of the real work that it has, and continues to take, in order to look myself in the mirror and walk in this world knowing my ancestors are within me and made up in my physical being. Decolonization work is sacred because it peels away the layers of oppressive, constructed and conditioned knowings of self and replaces it with a liberation that sees us as holistically Divine. I share this process as an artist, activist and a healer who has been greatly understanding the importance of expressing outwardly in the world, as a representation of my Ancestors and as a living guide for my Descendants.
This quotation was directly cut from the photograph posted on the Women of Color in Solidarity posting and repurposed for a meme on a very visible page run by sisters who are doing decolonizing work in tandem. One of the participants of the workshop and a sister in this walk messaged me with the recognition that this was done without the act of acknowledging source. I visited the page (which I do not name, because the point is to see this moment as a teaching moment, and not as a means to be in conflict with the sisters who run the page itself, though I know that it may cause them discomfort and challenge for growth and self inquiry) with an invitation in the comment section to please cite my name with the photo saying something I the line of:
“Peace Sisters, these words are my echoes of my Ancestors. My name is –Jana Lynne Umipig, please cite my name in honoring.”
Directly placing my name in relation to the words that were channeled through my expression of uncovered understanding of the world. What came after was the erasure of my comment and a citing of my handle on the post caption. What was lacking here was the full understand of what it means for women, like myself who are creators and may not be as visible in Social Media platforms, to be honored for their words and creations. It is so easy to cut, copy and paste what is shared and not give credit, acknowledgement and honoring to where it was rooted. And when we do not do the work to honor, it becomes a part of our subconscious adoption of colonial practices of erasure. I DM’ed the sisters with an invitation into a conversation around accountability the following is that exchange:
JL: Peace family. I am inviting you in exchange in this moment. Please take a moment to reflect on the erasure that has just taken place on your page. I directly commented with the ask that you cite my words, my ancestral channeled expression. In honoring, please take down your post with the editing to include my name. And please acknowledge what has been done here. This is an invitation to examine how we honor each other in sacred work of re-membering.
NO RESPONSE FROM SISTERS WHO POSTED THE MEME
JL: This is quite heart breaking as I have shared and uplifted your page many times. Please be in prayer around the act of erasure that has taken place here. Not only of my name on connection to my words, but then of my ask to you in the comments- directly erasing my name- my handle is not my name dear sisters- please honor this.
SISTERS WHO POSTED THE MEME: I don’t understand. I did exactly as you asked and even tagged you, in the image. I didn’t mean to disrespect. I found this image on Pintrest with no credit to anyone. Thank you for your words and check.
JL: Word, sister. Thank you for getting back, I know this may be a moment of spirits really needing to be in listening. I understand your feeling moved by the quotation. And though not meaning to disrespect, I invite you to have a real moment to reflect on protocol. How do we as a community look to uplift the names of Womxn whose words are of ancestral channeling? What do we do to seek the honoring of each other. To even ask where the words may have surfaced from before posting?
I mean to ask you to edit your photo to include my name-otherwise the image may just end up on Pintrest again or any other platform without acknowledgement.
I have been praying deeply about the ways we honor ourselves in the demanding of our names to be connected to all we release, express and create in this world. As a means for our descendants to find us.
Please also send me the Pintrest link so I can follow up with that community.
What commenced after this was no more response. And as other sisters were raising voice of solidarity and acknowledgment both in my inbox and the comment thread of that post, the sisters removed the commenting ability and proceeded to erase the entire post.
What this became was a direct response to an invitation of accountability, which was very visible to, at the least, my sisterhood and communal family circles. The response was one of erasure, without accountability and a humbling that allows us to move with healing and uplifting intention. More than ever I am recognizing the importance of engraving, etching, binding our names to our work. And to ask of that honoring from our community is crucial, because there are so many, as reflective of historical colonial tactics, that will see that the naming of ourselves is powerful and choose to discount us, to not name us, to readily claim works and creations as their own, or often call it anonymous because they’d rather not do the work to understand and be in knowing of their origin.
Ijeoma Umebinyuo @ijeomaumebinyuo tweeted this truth in connection to this stating “Generations of women whose works were stolen, displayed in your museums with no name and you think I’m creating to be anonymous?”
I have grown through moments when my community has held me accountable, to any moments of misrepresentation of quoting or depiction through an image or video post. I have allowed myself to be humble to the reality of being so moved by something and it being so easy to just post and re-post without intentional regard. I understand this, and when we are called out it is important for us to check the shame and guilt, the defensiveness that arises from being asked to reflect and often retract and edit our words, actions and creations when it represents others.
The invitation for all of us in our interactions and postings on the internet and social media is to name yourself in your work, be very clear about what protocols you have around how people share your words, expressions and creations. Keeping in mind the value of how Agency + Accountability = Liberation. I hold myself to and I hold our communities to this as well. If we are to work in tandem- in solidarity- on this journey of connecting the ancestral to the future we have to be willing to understand how we are setting our descendants up to know us, to re-member who we are. And so much of what is archived of our lives has become very public through Social Media, which begs us to be very conscious and intentional about the way we hold ourselves and ask others to hold us in our expressions. Let your names be boldly written in all your reflections family. Teach others how to honor your name, your image, and your creations as they show up in sharing and relational exchange with others. Teach them to care for your self-preservation, for you, for your ancestors and your descendants. And practice the same in return.