Adeline Bird: Removing the White Lens in Media
By Erin Blondeau
Adeline Bird is the type of woman that every girl dreaming of working in media aspires to be. Her social media lists some of her incredible accomplishments: host, filmmaker, producer, author, CBC associate producer, radio host, entrepreneur. She met with Matriarch Movement podcast host Shayla Oulette Stonechild to discuss some of this work and her lived experience as an Afro-Anishinaabe woman in so-called Canada.
Though she grew up in Winnipeg, Bird is a proud member of the Treaty #4 Rolling River First Nations. The area in Winnipeg where she lived as a youth is rife with racism, but it is also filled with incredible stories of diversity, resilience, and activism. She reminisced with Stonechild about the multi-ethnic communities that surrounded her and provided her with multiple worldviews.
Bird grew up without common privileges like owning a car or taking vacations. While kids were going to the beach, she was watching movies, listening to the radio, and experiencing the diversity of her neighbourhood. As she reflected on these times, Bird realized that so-called ‘Canadian society’ consumes media predominantly through a white lens.
The white lens of media
“There is absolute censorship,” Bird told Shayla. There was even a time during an interview when Bird was told not to talk about controversial issues like policing, even though it’s no secret that police brutality disproportionately targets Indigenous and Black people.
Though Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous voices are fighting their way into media (like television, journalism, radio, and podcasts), the majority of content still favours a eurocentric vision for Canada. As Bird says, we must think about what is happening behind the camera and behind the TV––Indigenous people deserve to have our worldviews and culture recognized in a way that is fair, uplifting, and culturally appropriate.
“If you’re going to show our trauma … also show our joy,” Bird explained, “because our joy is a truth too. Show us who we are.” Oftentimes, Indigenous allies can romanticize Indigenous people or only amplify the things that matter from a white perspective. Instead, allies must remember that we are diverse within our own communities, and have issues that aren’t talked about in non-Indigenous spaces.
Just as Stonechild explained during the episode: there are many intersections of Indigeneity. We can’t be kept inside a box, and we certainly won’t be whitewashed through a eurocentric lens.
Taking lessons from a time of social change
With introspection, Bird recalled the series of events that we’ve endured through the last few years.
“What I’ve been observing is, last year with the murder of George Floyd, how quick the performative stuff started happening. People were ready to create programs for BIPOC people,” she told Shayla, “and [were ready to] start listening to the voices ... and then it all ended up being performative. There was no real change happening.”
Through the outpouring of support from allies and the collective world, Adeline had an inspired energy in 2020. But sadly, as she explained, those times don’t typically last. During periods of great social awakening, people seem to react, rather than act. We need to begin working on the action part, but it’s difficult to catalyze.
Bird says that an essential action to take is to recognize and accept one’s own racism. In fact, everyone needs to recognize anti-Indigeneity. We have all been existing in this world under the parameters that capitalism and colonialism have set up for us, so it can be difficult to recognize our internalized biases. But we must challenge that in order to truly decolonize.
“Where the change starts is through dialogue,” Bird explained. It’s important for our communities to think about forgotten perspectives, like the perspective of parents who raise Afro-Indigenous children while enduring a unique type of racism and discrimination; we can learn a lot from our matriarchs if we are willing to listen. Will media companies be willing to listen? Bird says they’ll need to, or they’ll be left behind.
“We can’t run away from the truth.”