Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, and Turquoise
With all that's going on right now in the U.S regarding the BLM movement, now more than ever I've been assessing my role as person of privilege and what I need to do to be a better ally.
Here is the truth about what I believe: Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. People of color's lives' matter. LGBTQIA lives matter. I believe this on a spiritual, religious, economic, environmental, and social level. I believe white privilege and systematic racism exists in North America. I believe it is the responsibility of everyone to learn and behave in ways that protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
I have been sussing out how I feel about being a white-skinned person who uses turquoise to inlay wood. I haven't just begun to think about this. Over the past year I have been researching, having conversations with other artists, my university professors, and anyone who has been gracious enough to give me the time of day about the intersections of appropriation and the region in which I live and have drawn inspiration. Even though this area of turquoise inlay still doesn't feel black and white, I would very much like it to be. I'm not done figuring out what to do.
While traditional Indigenous craft includes works of turquoise jewelry, weaving, and so much more, the issue I have centers around working with turquoise as a white-skinned person. Turquoise is found and used in many parts of the world, but it is very distinctly part of a southwestern aesthetic that comes from the North American southwest. This region has a history of horrific abuse towards Indigenous populations that include white European decedents profiting off Indigenous design while mistreating the people from whom they have stolen. While I grew up in New Mexico and have lived here all my life, I do not have any Native American in my heritage to claim. I have struggled to find the answer to my question: Is it wrong for me as a white person to make money from turquoise inlaid wood bowls and vases? I feel as though the answer to this hinges on whether I am using the southwestern aesthetic and therefore participating in whitewashing. To this I can only say that I am still trying to find where the lines are between appropriation and inspiration.
I will be learning for the rest of my days. I am prepared to say goodbye to people, businesses, customers, materials, and practices that do not align with or fundamentally oppose my beliefs. Turquoise is beautiful, special, and amazing to work with, but I'm prepared to walk away from using it in my work. I've moved toward turning my own pieces and using different materials largely because of the dissonance growing within myself regarding turquoise.
I'm listening to the voices of the marginalized. I'm learning for myself the ways that I have implicitly and explicitly perpetuated white colonialism, racism, and violence. I'm ready to admit my mistakes.
I welcome any and all dialogue from people who have opinions and perspectives on this issue of white people working with turquoise in all capacities.