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PRIDE AND CHOICE, AN UNQUENCHABLE STORM: A PERSONAL ESSAY IN 2020


Thoughts on Protest, Photojournalism, Pandemics and Privilege. 

I’m sitting here, peaceful in my urban backyard. Safe and sound, nestled between privilege and a lavender plant. Thunder rumbles in the distance, pathetic fallacy for 2020. I scroll through the seemingly never-ending social media posts - musings, uprisings, and pleas for folks far and wide to join the crucial and timely fight for racial equality, gendered equality, anti-colonialism, LGBTQ+ rights, and the pandemic inspired pleas to just stay home (as if we all have the financial freedom to make this choice). The parade of bandwagon activism is like a speeding train without a set of breaks, steamrolling through each topic. Guilt, shame and a pointed finger: outwardly looking and leaving very small amounts of space for personal reflection amongst the noise.


I saw a post on a social platform, shaming photographers for being a fly on the wall of protests, and not being actively engaged. Inciting the question of the moral obligation of a photographer. How do we engage, portray, and not contribute flames to an already raging fire? Here in Toronto, our protests are largely non-violent, and I am granted the liberty to illuminate the voices of the protesters through their peaceful and passionate messages. However, should these circumstances looked like the heartbreaking scenes from the US or Montreal, my lens would be pointed toward cops, soldiers, and others who are antagonizing and exasperating the cause, thus utilizing my lens for accountability in a time of unrest. My camera is a vehicle to evaluate, reflect, and provoke thought.


Show don’t tell… and boy what an education it is. Peppered throughout this essay are photographs taken during recent protests, where I glided through the sidelines of the crowds of activists pleading for their voice to be heard. Subtle interactions of eye contact, nodding in a silent exchange of solidarity after I capture their photograph.

Evaluating personal perspective is an important leaping point. I’m Jewish, Queer, Female-Born. I’ve been called fag strolling through the mall, I’ve had to hide in stairwells as the rocket sirens ring living in a country that’s supposed to be the safest place to be a Jew after our genocide. I’ve been silenced by retail customers seeking information from only a man, I oblige with a smile, ignoring the inappropriate nature of our interaction because my voice here must be stifled. I have no choice. Paycheque to pocket, food on the table, rent to the landlord. But even with all this lack of choice and daily doses of micro-injustice - my skin is white and I enjoy the privilege of constant opportunity and general feelings of safety. As jews we know what it is like to experience such severe oppression - the action phrase "never again" extends to protecting others from similar injustices - where political and institutionalized power is making it impossible for them to live a safe and free life.

It is hard to comprehend this in modern times from the vantage of our privilege but we must remember, "In the beginning there was black" - we all started from the same blank slate. We must ask ourselves: where did things go wrong?

Having the freedom of choice because you happen to be living on the "right" side of a binary: let’s talk about it.


I just completed watching the Jeffrey Epstein documentary, which blatantly outlines the horrific corruption that falls in the hands of cis-gendered white men with an abundance of money and power... and no matter how much the victims, the strong and angry women, involved kick and scream and beg for justice, it feels like they are fighting like a child with their older siblings palm pressuring their forehead - their swings never quite create impact. They are exasperated.


It’s daunting to think about, isn’t it? How do you move a boulder that’s so deeply rooted in the ground? That without robust and unlimited resources will continue grounding itself and expanding to disguise that you were ever here. As we concluded Pride month, which is the most "religious" time of year for the LGBTQ+ community, where we celebrate our unwavering fight for equal rights and combat discrimination, I look at how our community has really taken a pause to reflect on our pre-Stonewall roots. We have our right to openly love in North America because black folks were at the forefront of the queer rights movements. My ability to enjoy my white privilege, as a member of a discriminated minority group, is 100% indebted to the fight for racial rights.  Black lives matter. The action phrase bursting at the digital seams of social feeds. In every way, black folks make our world a better place with their ability to uniquely explore, create, articulate. True innovators, talents, intellects. I acknowledge that often, great pain births genius, motions change and inspires a better tomorrow. A pain that by unfortunate necessity, prompts a plea for the status quo to systemically shift. Needing the thirst for true freedom & civic rights to truly be quenched.

"I am Tired"

Right now, we are all exhausted with brains in overdrive trying to understand things we cannot control. I've been cautious on how to proceed, not wanting to contribute to the oversaturated social spaces, which present a problematic surge of non-diverse voices, whose guilt rings loud and echoing. Of the many learning moments, I listen to requests for tenderness, to unconditionally be a strong shoulder to those in need. If we do anything, we must proclaim "I CARE" through our actions.

"Dear Black Men, I want you to know that it's okay to cry right now and I love you" - Another Brother.

There are hundreds of online resources and organizations in need of donations, support and voices. Not sure where to start and would like to gently dip your toes into the conversation? Go ahead and grab a book from one of Toronto's important LGBTQ+ establishments, Glad Day Book shop - choose one written by a QTBIPOC author!

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TORONTO, CANADA
647 278 8188 

shay@shaymarkowitz.com

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