Inspiring Social Justice Through Word and Colour

Liam Lachance’s Word and Colour site features short stories inspired by visual art. The site is dedicated to the promotion of anti-oppressive ideals as an effort to decrease systemic violence. Through the combination of striking art and literature, Word and Colour targets issues of social injustice to raise awareness of oppression and to increase individual accountability, ultimately encouraging action towards social reform. Her Campus McGill got the chance to sit down with Liam to discuss his personal connection to the site, his experience with this project and his goals for the future.

“Basically I wasn’t really seeing enough critical content,” said Lachance, “and as a writer I was trying to get stories published that were too political, I was being told.” Taking initiative, he combined his love for art with his passion for provocative literature. “It was sort of when I was studying and figuring out that a lot of our violence is just us getting exploited,” he explained. So with the help of some artists he was working with at the time, he created the website. Thanks to the collaboration, he felt that he was able to find a balance of “being an artist but also [having] accessible [work] with a political message.” It is especially relevant in the media today where, as Liam described, “a lot of work is white people writing about white people who are quirky, and that’s supposed to be a really good novel but that’s sort of avoiding what’s going on.”

 

But it doesn’t take a lot to notice that this is coming from a cis-gendered, white, self-identifying male. So how does this privilege play a role in his fight for social justice? Acknowledging this, Liam answered, “I think that if I was writing work that was trying to represent people’s struggle it would be sketchy because I don’t struggle; I’m lucky to be a member of all those privileged groups,” he recognized. Lachance holds that this privilege has helped him influence other people in his circles. “I go to the circles of my friends, and I know this is not the real belief but that they’re being exploited to continue this system they don’t actually believe in.” He tries to spread the message to others who are privileged, asking them to recognize, firstly “let’s stop being violent to people, and if that’s not sexy enough, [I’ll tell them] ‘you actually don’t believe this and you’re embarrassing yourself.’”

Liam defines a case of systemic racism as “people of colour being disproportionately put in jail or when they’re sentenced given the worst thing, if they’re even guilty whatsoever.” For system to be propagated, he asserts, “you need people to consent to that.” He believes “the way it’s done in my experience in Canada is by dehumanizing people in the media and by the stories you read and the movies we watch.” He works to “provide an alternative” to recognize the injustice and encourage readers to take accountability for their roles in the system.

One particularly daunting hurdle to overcome is the combination of guilt and anger that readers express once they ascertain that they’re part of a system of violence. Often, people don’t accept that they are involved in the problem; instead, they remain defensive, and avoid guilt rather than accept change. We discussed the struggle that privileged people might face with accepting accountability. In regards to the question of how to combat systemic violence in individuals in a compassionate yet effective way, Liam elaborated, “I think that not being malicious” is an important facet in talking to people who aren’t educated about social injustice. “You didn’t invent it; it’s too complex in hundreds of years [worth of problems] for you to have invented it, but also once you become aware, you’re accountable.” Liam personally believes that “a really deep part of my privilege allows me to be so patient with these people, because I’m never the victim. If I had associated these people with someone who attacked me before…I completely understand how they’re not patient with these [privileged] people.”

As someone who has the “free space to be in education circles … I never think that it should be up to victims to explain more politely, ‘stop attacking me,’ it should just be clear.” But a lot of time it’s hard not to take criticism personally. “It’s so much about guilty aggression…I get called out all the time for sure—the first thing [you think is] – ah there’s something wring with me, and instead of accepting that, which is an uncomfortable feeling, it’s easy to be angry,” because it “cancels out that idea in your head that you’re perfect.”

Many pieces on the website feature trigger warnings, and the About page includes a Frequently Asked Question which reads, “I don’t know why, but I feel like I really hate you right now!” Liam claims that this strong content is “necessary because I’m aiming to bring accountability to people who are in privileged positions.” In this way, readers are subject to content that questions the way in which our society markets “buying products that are sketchy or consenting to things that people are paying the costs for.” Word and Colour tries to show “the costs,” because “once you see what the cost is you sort of have to change and to be more accountable.”
Liam highlights a discrepancy between privileged people in conversation versus victims. “I’m allowed to sell my message differently,” he believes. The issue then becomes “selling it” in an effective way. “I really like literature, and that’s nice, but if I just write, produce, or edit short stories that only people with an English degree will get, it will never work. So we have to balance that sense of having unique new art, Canadian Lit, which is produced every week, with accessible work.” Lachance attributes much of his success to the “super awesome marketing people” he works with in Montreal, many of whom are McGill students. “We also have people in California and Michigan,” he told HC McGill. “They’re instrumental in helping me sell it, because I get a lot into my own head or a lot into the work I read that’s good and if it’s not accessible, it won’t work.”The team consists of eleven writers from all over Canada. They each write short stories of about 500 words. “They are all young, ambitious, critical people, so it’s really great to work with them.” As for the artists, “there is a different one every week, so we take a portfolio that already exists from a painter and we send those pieces of art to writers who write what the colour inspires them to think about.” This process truly creates a distinctive character for the site, since “it’s not old submissions or work they already write. Our project itself guarantees that Canadian lit is produced, which I think is pretty unique.”

 

Liam is currently celebrating the publication of his first novel, Blu Swag, which after four years of work was released last year. He attributes his marketing success to the amazing team at Word and Colour and leaves us with a final thought:

“I think if we could emphasize anything, it’s just to be open to people who are questioning your actions and behavior, because a lot of the time it’s people who are being attacked…I think we have too much work focusing on how it makes [attackers] feel uncomfortable whereas we need to be more open to [accepting] the start of the conversation and [figuring out] how can we vie for that benefit, because it’s for that person’s benefit too. That’s our call to action.”

Word and Colour is looking for more people to get involved to help expand its voice globally. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Liam Lachance at [email protected], or check out the website here.

 

Images obtained from:

https://www.facebook.com/wordandcolour/photos/a.1426385084246915.1073741825.1426337337585023/1604698343082254/?type=1&theater

https://www.facebook.com/wordandcolour/photos/a.1426385084246915.1073741825.1426337337585023/1527530907465665/?type=1&theater

https://www.facebook.com/wordandcolour/photos/a.1426385084246915.1073741825.1426337337585023/1426385087580248/?type=1&theater

https://www.facebook.com/wordandcolour/photos/a.1426385084246915.1073741825.1426337337585023/1426385087580248/?type=1&theater

https://www.facebook.com/wordandcolour/photos/a.1426495300902560.1073741...

https://www.facebook.com/wordandcolour/photos/a.1426495300902560.1073741...

http://wordandcolour.com/2015/04/01/on-masculinity-her-lipstick/