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Consent & Liberation: A Public Apology

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Hollyhock means many things to many different people. As Hollyhock’s Communications Manager, I have the unique privilege and challenge of communicating this to the world. There exists complex dynamics between who we once were, who we hope to be in the future, the many people who make us who we are today, and the social context we reside in.
Our little two-person Communications team does our best to select images that represent the wide range of experiences at Hollyhock, our Cortes Island campus, and our community – guests, presenters, staff, supporters. Documenting images of the experiences that happen at Hollyhock is quite difficult because so many of these experiences are internal, private, and confidential (which are also ingredients that create the magic of many Hollyhock experiences). While we do our best to get photographic consent, it has become clear that we have much more work to do.
This week I received a letter from an individual who expressed that their consent had been violated in our use of their image in one of our marketing materials.
Consent is in itself a issue we take very seriously. One’s right to their own bodily autonomy, including the use of one’s image, is a right to both personal dignity and safety. However, the context in which consent happens (or doesn’t), is also important to recognize.
Our Communications Coordinator and I had chosen a photo involving a person of colour. As two mixed-race individuals ourselves, we are quite passionate about uplifting the images of marginalized identities. I remember visiting one of my ancestral origin countries and bursting into tears on the subway because I had never seen so many images of people who look like me on the advertising walls. Before that moment, I had not fully recognized how deeply my self-image and self-worth had been affected by marketing campaigns that were dominated by white-skinned people. I knew something needed to change.
Yet, the solution can not be to simply prioritize photos of people of colour, as this constitutes as tokenism. We live in a society that centers whiteness, and Hollyhock has historically had a white-majority in all our parts (board, staff, guests, presenters). Without dismantling this underlying power dynamic, the overuse of images of people of colour presents a false reality, and objectifies the people in the images. Even though Hollyhock has been actively working to embody more diversity in all our parts, we are not yet where we would like to be. Our desire to communicate the work we are doing can lead us to get ahead of ourselves. There is also the historical context in which people in white bodies have chosen to use black, brown, indigenous, and other coloured bodies without permission for financial and personal gain. This context intensifies harm. So what may start out as a mistaken consent misunderstanding between two fallible humans, is so much more severe because of the context we live in. Conscious thought and action become ever more important.
On behalf of Hollyhock and our entire team, and from one heart to another, I extend my apologies to this individual, and to any others, who have felt at any point in their experience with us, that we have misstepped or caused harm in our representation of ourselves through their image. Your body and its expressions belong to you.
The path forward requires humility and vulnerability, as well as courage and strength. In fact, I see these as two sides of the same coin. It takes humility to recognize where we are at today, and vulnerability to admit that reality to ourselves and the world. It takes strength to continue to hold a strong vision for the world we would like to live in, and courage to continue to do the work to get there. When we can acknowledge the full complexity of where we have come from and who we are today, it makes our vision of who we are becoming and where we would like to go that much more meaningful.
Photocredit: Amanda Mary Creative

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