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  • Annette Dunlop

canceling, the new crucifixion

If racism is a problem, which we purport it to be, then we are all racist. We are. We know this. The other race is the other.

There is a part of our nervous system that experiences the other as a threat. This is the older part that we share in common with fish. Fish can attack or swim away. They don’t even really fuck. The females just lay eggs and then some dude comes and ejaculates on them.

There is another part of our nervous system that is attuned to others. That can manage instinctual responses like, ugh, and think and connect and feel in different ways. We use this one to communicate with each other. This allows us to tolerate eachother enough in order to have sex.

But they both exist. But this repulsion and this capacity to connect.

We separated from fish about 370 million years ago. It is unlikely that repeating a mantra is going to change our deeper nervous system.

But okay, we’re all racist. Let’s start there. I agree.


We’re becoming aware of some age old racism. Towards indigenous people, for example. They have been treated like lesser people. It’s true. White people are, on some level, racist towards indigenous people. Indigenous people are, on some level, racist towards white people.

Whether or not specific individuals act on these feelings is how we decide whether or not to put them in jail.

But it seems we’re in a moment when we’re allowing indigenous or BIPOC people more room to be explicitly racist. To go beyond that understandable felt sense, and actually act upon those feelings.

Our laws are very much based around actions, what you can and can not do to people, both to preserve life, and to protect individual boundaries. Thought police are something entirely different. There are a few good books about this.

You can’t put someone in jail for being afraid around someone of another race. Even if that fear is essentially racist. That would be crossing a sacred boundary.


Racism has been in existence forever. Canada is trying to come to terms with this. We are trying to acknowledge our racist roots. But that’s a rather big picture idea. How to go about this is unclear. We’re not all being sent to jail, for example.

People who haven't actually committed any racially motivated crimes, who are here on this land because their families moved here at some point in time for various reasons are being asked to join a specific narrative:

We are settlers on stolen land.

The implication is that we have stolen this land.

We as a group? Of white people? Of colonialists? We as individuals?

It’s a very dicey, unclear issue. We’re trying to honour the wounds of a group of people with a mantra, a land acknowledgement. Nice idea, I suppose, but this has become a rule.

You must say a land acknowledgment, or you’re a racist. Kind of reminds me of when we forced the indigenous people to take on our religion.

Gotta say the land acknowledgement. You’re not allowed to question it, or you’re a racist.

We’re not sending people to jail for the last several hundred years of racism, because you can’t hold an individual responsible for a crime they did not commit.

But on some level, our large scale political dramas are trying to take the place of our justice system. Of law.

We’re trying to make a group feel responsible. We’re trying to make individuals feel responsible for belonging to that group. All, in theory, to honour a group of people. But it’s quite murky.

What does saying a land acknowledgement do?

Shh, hush now. That’s an inappropriate question. Get on team good. We have all of the answers.

So what to do if it feels inauthentic?

What if you feel in your belly, gosh, I don’t like this. If I were to do this I would just be appeasing the group.

I don’t pray. Despite being raised in a Catholic Church, where i was taken to mass every week. I didn’t sing at church because it didn’t feel right. Even though a song was ostensibly just a song. Even though the song was about love. It didn’t feel authentic to me to sing. I have always hated singing on cue. It’s such a vulnerable and courageous and personal act to project one’s voice into the space of a group. I refused to do it just because someone else told me to. I received no lack of flack for this.

I remember a girl in my physics class asking me: I see you at Church and you don’t sing, why?

I had no answer. I was not not singing on principle. I just couldn’t and i wouldn’t. My body doesn’t do that.

I had straight As in elementary school but I had a C in music because i refused to sing. Our librarian, Ms Caprara, who had a beautiful voice, loved to make us sing. We’re just a bunch of kids, so why not, kids sing well. We went to malls and sang “I believe i can fly” by R Kelly. Which is hilarious in retrospect. I didn’t do it.

I got a C. Annette, why aren’t you singing.


Annette, go to the office. Okay. I had a special seat for myself in the office of my elementary school. There was a sick bed and a chair with a desk and a small medicine cabinet and a metallic paper towel dispenser, where those shitty brown folded think paper towels would be kept. There was a virgin mary statue in the office that my autistic friend Aaron broke one year, probably in grade 8 when he was getting too strong for his educational assistants. And I empathised. I felt his rage. He couldn’t speak, really. He didn’t use words. But what a powerful symbol.

Sometimes we can’t explain, we just do.

So I don’t sing on cue. I sing in the shower or in the car. Or in front of one friend when we’re listening to Weird Al and I am revealing that I do, in fact, know all of the words.

I stopped playing piano in grade 9 because i hated royal conservatory. It took me another 15 years to buy a keyboard and begin to take back expression on a musical instrument. I used to cry as I was forced to play the piano as a child. I don’t want to express something that I don’t feel. I don’t want to practice someone else’s ideas. I would play the music allegretto, vivace as my form of rebellion.

I imagined that one day, I would be in a situation where someone had to play the entertainer as fast as humanly possible and I would step in and save the day. Beyond that, a lot of music felt like torture.

I don’t have sex if I don’t want to. I don’t, when I am connected to myself, do things to appease. I need freedom and I need space.

I treat people kindly. But i am not big on authority.

I don’t treat people kindly because I am told to.

This doesn’t work for me. It’s interesting to me that we think that is how this works.

I didn't pray in school. I didn't sing in church.

I also didn’t lie. I have this stupid thing with honesty, it doesn’t help me much, to be frank. I would love to have a more creative relationship with it. And I am working towards that.

What is truth if the person you’re being honest to cannot receive it? Can logos extend into the emotional realm where it is absorbed by someone else’s complex? Does their offendedness absorb my truth, like a black hole absorbs light? We live in a time where the appeal to hysteria is very popular. Someone made you have a feeling you didn’t like? They must be a narcissist.

I often prefer to write my ideas down and share them this way, because I am aware of how impossible it is, within typical social situations, to express ideas. We are too busy playing emotional games with each other. Taking care and calming down and seducing and shutting up and making distance and merging. Ideas cannot be honoured there. There is no space for air within such murky waters. I need a great deal of time alone to feel into what I feel. To articulate what I think. To spend time communing with my soul and then bringing her into consciousness.

What and how I express myself is very sacred to me. I paint when I have an experience that would be better held by its physicality, movement, resistance to “understanding”. I write when I have something I would like to process with words.

These are strange translations of inner to outer that we have so come to take for granted. These are magical to me. I help others move their experiences from inner to outer. That’s what I am good at. I need better boundaries, sometimes, because it happens so naturally.

I think this is common for people like me. Who, when around others, tune into what they are experiencing and start channelling it. We need a lot of time alone. We need really good boundary work.

This is not a time of honouring individual boundaries, it turns out. Which is sad, because that’s the only thing that will help us move out of these tribal bonds.

I was so excited for a school that working with expressive arts as a form of psychotherapy. Could there be a better fit? What could go wrong?

A lot. It turns out.

Because even in this school where we learn to help someone experience their inner world as a resource, through the arts, by painting and writing and singing, and moving. Here, where you would think we honor the boundaries of individuals, and recognize the sacred nature of expression.

But no. Here we also begin with forced prayer, forced mantra. Forced feeling.

You have to say, not just a land acknowledgement, but you have to express, on cue, your appreciation for someone else’s idea of sacred. Today it might be sing your praise for the trees, tomorrow it might be share a word of appreciation for land acknowledgement.

No. I find it saccharine. I find it “mergey”. I find it virtue signalling. Go ahead and do it if it feels good for you but I won’t.

I don’t pray in school. I don’t sing in Church. I don’t have sex when I don’t want to.

Oh. You find that racist.

Can you explain that to me?

No you can’t explain it.

Oh my ideas confuse you. Well then I must be a racist.

You had better suspend me. And conduct a formal investigation. Because a letter I have written, explaining why I don’t want to pray to your god at every class. Your god of harmony and being a good little girl. That which I find entirely incongruous with both expressive arts and psychotherapy. No thank you.

What is the formal investigation looking into?

Oh, someone has had a feeling. Someone is offended. I’m only paying $7000 a year. I’m only working towards my diploma in psychotherapy. This is only my livelihood you’re fucking with.

Oh, someone feels unsafe? Because I don’t want to pray on cue. Because I disagree and I used words and ideas to explain why instead of just “I feel” statements.

“I feel your letter is rooted in racism”. Is not a feeling. Nor is it an idea. It is an abomination.

We aren’t sending people to jail for several hundred years of racism. Torontonians are not, en masse, flocking to Toronto Detention centres.

But you are willing to crucify me for just disagreeing with you.

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