Antiracism in the UK’s Contemporary Dance Sector in Times of Covid-19 (Part 1)

We have been silent on this blog for a couple of months. We were busy wrapping up our ‘Contemporary Dance and Whiteness’  project, the official close to which coincided with the end of 2019. But work on antiracism does not, and cannot, end just because the clock and the money ran out. If anything our real work starts now:

  • How do we keep open, sustain and fuel the conversations we started with artists and organisations in the sector?
  • How do we encourage other white majority dance organisations and education/training providers in the UK to do the work of first recognising, and then moving on to dismantle, their own whiteness?
  • How do we continue to advocate for the redistribution of resources to centre the visions and compensate the labour of Black artists and artists of colour? 
  • What work needs to be done, and by whom, for organisations and education providers to commit to shifting conversations in the sector from white supremacist ‘diversity initiatives’ to power-dismantling antiracism?
  • What work needs to be done, and by whom, for the sector to recognise, accept and own that antiracist work will require everything to burn, if power is to be dismantled?

While the research project wrapped up, we allowed these tough questions to come to the surface, to signal its future. And then a series of events took place that graphically illustrated the force of white supremacy as a grounding reality of our fields and our lives; events which called us to regroup and reconfigure our response to the phenomenon we’d been trying to explore together for the past year. 

We feel these events must be looked at together, because they are not separate, and so we have brought our reflections on them together into this, two-part blog post:

Part 1: ‘The Desires of Whiteness: Institutions Ensure their Own People Aren’t Hurting While Continuing to Hurt Others’ 

Part 2: ‘Antiracism in the Arts During and After a Pandemic’ 

Part 1, which you can read below, concerns two incidents disclosing the role of white supremacy in the UK’s creative arts sector: the announcement in February 2020 of the awardees of this year’s Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund (BBCF); and in March 2020, Equity’s issue of a public apology to actor Laurence Fox. 

Part 2, which will be published next week, is concerned of course with the British government’s response to Covid-19 and its subsequent approach to bailing out the UK creative arts sector in the face of a global pandemic.

On the surface, these two groups of events may not seem to be connected beyond their sharing of a time and place in post-Brexit Britain. Indeed, where the first affects the lives of artists, producers and audiences in the performing arts industries, the second affects all those whose lives are conditioned by the authority of the British state. However, both these groups of events are deeply caught up in – are shaped by and expose – the way that white supremacy organises and is naturalised in British public life.

Here we are inclined to understand ‘white supremacy’ in the way advised by critical race theorist Cheryl Harris in her brilliant essay ‘Whiteness as Property’ (1993). Harris refers us to a definition by legal scholar Frances L. Ansley, where white supremacy is to be understood not simply as “the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups”, but more comprehensively as “a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and un-conscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings” (1989, 1024). 

In the blog posts that follow, we reflect on how crises in the contemporary arts and crises in public health are fundamentally political crises embedded in the same devastating system: one where relations of ‘white dominance’ are ‘daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings’. We write these posts not only to reflect on those processes of systemic devastation, but also to acknowledge the vital political practice of those who act against white supremacy. We are inspired here by the work of activists and artists, and attempt to think hopefully with them about the possibilities and responsibilities of antiracism as the work of agitation and repair.

Part 1

The Desires of Whiteness: Institutions Ensure their Own People Aren’t Hurting While Continuing to Hurt Others

Whiteness. 

With this word we signal beyond skin colour, identities and actions of white people where ‘white people’ are understood as a uniform group of oppressors. Instead we want to emphasise the deeper, structural and more slippery ways racism functions as a guarantor of capitalism, ableism, queerphobias and patriarchy. Through this word whiteness, we then point to a set of power relationships in society that uphold the conditions of white supremacy as Ansley defines it above, and which ensure that those who are racialized as white are disproportionately enabled to survive, if not thrive, through these conditions. These power relationships play out at the interstices of personal prejudice, cultural norms and the vastly differential, globally lived conditions of precarity. Whiteness, as a set of power relationships structuring social life, is often not noticed by white people.

i. In February, the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund (BBCF) announced its 2020 award winners, revealing a list of white-only recipients, adjudicated by a white-only panel of judges. 

Amongst the many Black dance artists and dance-artists of colour who publicly spoke out on social media platforms against the racism of this particular incident, Malik Nashad Sharpe, Zinzi Minott, Jamila Johnson-Small, Claricia Parinuasa and Alexandrina Hemsley led the call, powerfully contextualising and historicising this instance within larger, systemic and institutionalised racist injustices of the contemporary dance sector. Hemsley punctuated the precarity involved in such public calling-out by those who are already marginalised in the sector, and urged the powers-that-be to ‘acknowledge that the first person taking the risk to speak out will often be the one most marginalised and using a huge amount of energy in speaking up against a system that is invested in our silencing’.

On 16 February, two awardees of the BBCF 2020, Janine Harrington and Grace Nicol, published a public statement calling out the whiteness of this year’s awardees and its panel of judges. 

The joint statement from Harrington and Nicol was subsequently shared widely on social media, yet accompanied by a distinct lack of self-reflection by many who shared it regarding their own complicities in the structural racisms of the field. It was as though the act of sharing the statement in itself absolved those who shared it of their own participation in and being beneficiaries of the sector’s dominant, structural whiteness. This statement by two white artists, then, was elevated as the response to the all-white awards, an elevation that obscured the relentless labour of Black artists and artists of colour who have long been engaged in antiracist struggles in the field, all the while being mobilised as an alibi for a broader lack of collective reckoning.

Always a risk when political work takes place on social media, the gesture of re-sharing this political statement came to act as a stand-in both for an accelerated, genuine public conversation, and for forms of concrete and active responsibility on the part of the UK’s contemporary dance community. Commenting on a thread on Harrington’s Facebook post about their statement, Malik Nashad Sharpe wrote about these very forms of self-perpetuating dead-end in liberal online activism: ‘I like 100% regret speaking up against this because in this racist system, I should’ve known better that the rewards for speaking up are always given to White people when it was actually the labour of Black and Brown people to speak up first and risk so much in order to do that. […]  I just don’t think any of these statements would’ve been possible had it not been for the courage and to be honest (and I speak for myself here) resignation of the Black artists who spoke publicly about it on social media because speaking to the fund directly wouldn’t return any real, substantial change.’

In response to these public agitations, the Trustees of the BBCF issued their own statement on 21 February and in doing so, deepened the wounds the Fund had already inflicted upon a significant portion of the dance sector. Hiding behind industry buzzwords like ‘representative’, ‘inclusive’, ‘diverse’, the statement could not even name structural racism as the key problem in the award’s shortcomings. Moreover, it emphasised that the artists who were awarded grants deserved celebration, and that the Trustees did not want ‘to allow this matter to detract from celebrating their artistic achievements’.

By expressing concern over a lack of celebration of those artists who had already been awarded the material resources to make their work, the BBCF Trustees’ statement reinforced the habits of white entitlement. The subject of regret signalled here was that the awardees could now not fully enjoy the funds and forms of status that had come into their possession as beneficiaries of the BBCF. To put it another way, this statement articulated the desires of whiteness: to protect white people from the emotional loss they might well experience as a necessary outcome of antiracist critique, and from the economic loss white people would certainly experience as an outcome of a meaningful, antiracist redistribution of the field’s resources. 

ii. On 13 March 2020, Equity, UK’s actors and entertainment industry union, issued an apology via Twitter to actor Laurence Fox. Equity was apologising for a tweet, posted from its Minority Ethnic Members (MEM) Committee’s Twitter account, which criticised Fox’s behaviour on BBC’s Question Time on 16 January. ‘As far as we’re concerned’, the tweet read, Fox is ‘a disgrace to our industry’. During the show in question, Fox had flippantly shut down Rachel Boyle, a researcher on race and ethnicity in education at Edge Hill University and a woman of colour, when she claimed that the treatment of Meghan Markle in the British media had been racist. Fox retorted by rolling his eyes and declaring that it was in fact not racism, that England was in fact the ‘most tolerant country’, and that throwing the accusation of racism at everything was getting ‘boring.’ Boyle continued with remarkable patience to explain to Fox why his charge of reverse-racism held no weight, while Fox talked over her until applause for his position, and a swift change of subject from host Fiona Bruce, led to the close of the conversation and the silencing of Boyle. A further silencing subsequently took place, as Chair of Equity MEM Daniel York Loh explained in a tweet from his personal account on 18 January: ‘Equity have deleted all the tweets mentioned here and locked down our @EquityMEM account which only goes to show that for all the bleating about “no platforming” the only people who actually get shut down are activist people of colour’. 

Equity’s apology for (and erasure of) its own members’ critique of Fox’s behaviour cost it all the members of its Race Equality Committee (the renamed MEM), who on 13 March resigned. That public, collective resignation on this matter of principle stood as a strong rebuttal to the public image presented by Equity, who had also attempted to absolve itself and Fox of racist thinking and actions by claiming in their original apology that ‘Equity and Laurence Fox condemn prejudice unequivocally in all its forms.’ Equity’s efforts to swiftly contain the crisis rather than stand by the antiracist critique offered by some of its own members, are further suggested by reports that the union ‘reached an out-of-court settlement with [Fox] after he threatened to sue them for libel’.

Taken together, these two incidents prompt some reflections and raise a series of questions.

It is telling that both BBCF and Equity responded to these respective incidents by signalling their existing distance from racism, re-stating either a commitment to ‘diversity’ (BBCF) or a condemnation of ‘prejudice’ (Equity) — and then fell publicly silent on these matters, taking the conversation ‘in house’. There will no doubt be much work taking place behind the scenes in both cases to understand what went wrong, and to determine courses of action in response to these public scandals. But why was this work not immediately undertaken in the public eye, as the online outcry in each case has demanded? One reason, benign on the surface of things, is that both these bodies will be required to work within strict institutional and legal remits which prioritise their own survival. All things institutional have a due process. As an artists’ fund and workers’ union respectively, BBCF and Equity will recognise their primary obligation is to secure their future capacity to operate on behalf of artists and workers.

If the exposing work of antiracist reflection is happening within these bodies, then, it is happening behind closed doors in the first instance (if indeed this work is ever to be opened to public scrutiny) in part because of each entity’s duty to self-preservation, and so to shielding itself from the material damages of public disrepute. This form of bureaucratic duty to self-preservation is a commonplace feature of institutional culture more broadly. It also undoubtedly represents a legal enshrinement of the protective shields of whiteness. The preservation of a fund or union in the same configuration as that which has facilitated its graphic forms of institutional racism, cannot be made a priority if the people running that fund or union are invested in the destabilising, even world-shaking, work of antiracism. 

The above critical reflections are but small starting-places that necessarily raise important questions for ourselves and the sector, and that we hope can serve as a basis for formulating courses of collective responsibility and action:

  • What would it have taken, and what would it take now, for BBCF and Equity to recognise the racism in their own respective actions and statements?
  • If BBCF and Equity are interested in self-preservation so that they can continue on with the work they hope to do on behalf of artists and workers, then what is that work actually worth if it perpetuates and continues to mute the effects of structural injustice?
  • How can public bodies possibly begin to recognise their own racist actions and their specific forms of complicity in structural racisms, when their official response to critique consists of the exact opposite of self-recognition: attempts to distance themselves from, and to denounce, racist actions in general? 
  • What actions need to be taken for public bodies to shift their energies away from fostering diversity, avoiding prejudice and signalling their investment in equality, and instead towards the serious and difficult work of publicly acknowledging, seeking to understand and working to dismantle their own racism?
  • What responsibilities do those involved in artistic communities have during public incidents such as these? How do we – artists, producers, audiences, academics – reach a place where we each are committed to identifying our own complicity in racist structures rather than distancing ourselves and reaching towards gestures of self-absolution?
  • And finally: how can we as researchers invested in antiracism in the UK’s creative industries mobilise our positions of privilege and security in urging institutions (including our own) to own and dismantle their own systematically racist habits, practices and thinking?

by Royona Mitra & Arabella Stanger, April 2020



On Race and Racism in UK’s Contemporary Dance by Jane Chan

I am Jane Chan, a choreographer and dance artist of East Asian heritage who works within the intersections of choreography, storytelling, performance, teaching, producing, project management and change instigation. 

As a person of colour, first-generation immigrant in the UK and a dance artist with a diverse training portfolio, intersectionality is no stranger. I know I cannot possibly fight every single battle that is thrown my way so instead, I choose the battles that I cannot put aside. With the battles I do choose to fight, I always remind myself that they are meant to be long, time-consuming, labourious, uncomfortable and messy all at once. That said, I know that if I want to make things right, I have to start by making changes within myself today and be able to carry this on into the next few decades; and this includes creating a presence for myself at events. I hope I can contribute to the arts and culture sector by leaving a legacy for our next generations through my being, presence and practices aimed at dismantling, re-distributing and reconstructing the hierarchy of power alongside other people of colour and marginalised communities.

I am an avid instigator of change within organisations. As bodies of colour, we often find ourselves in situations where we feel it is our responsibility to raise awareness regarding racial issues and right the wrong. However, in my opinion, issues regarding race is only one facet of a much bigger issue, that is, white middle-class cis males and sometimes white cis females, continue to be regarded as the default whilst anyone who is not, is excluded from this whiteness. 

It is also important to acknowledge the intersectionality that many people embody. The many layers of hurdles that a person of colour, non cis-gendered body is required to go through in order to make a presence, hold space, raise concerns and make their voice heard entails great amount of emotional and mental labour which are often unaccounted for. It is taxing and causes fatigue.

Promises and words are all well and good but sadly, speaking from experience, I am often left feeling suspicious of the underlying intentions of various organisations. Actions, as we know speak much louder than words. Buzz words mean nothing and they will certainly not fool the laser-sharp senses of people of colour. We see through the fluff. Unless arts and cultural institutions and organisations are truly committed to being at the forefront of change for the better, nothing will really change, particularly those have unrivalled reputation for platforming and uplifting global arts for its selected artists, companies and audiences and therefore hold the power to change the conversation surrounding orientalism, fetishisation and othering in the arts. Let’s not forget that the arts are for everyone, regardless of age, gender, religion or socio-economic background. These institutions should be held accountable for their cultural responsibilities to respectfully represent all cultures.   

I appreciate a lot of work has been done by independent artists, but their time and resources are relatively scarce compared to that of an institution. I am by no means demeaning any of the work that individual artists do, in fact I applaud them, however, without the institutions owning up to their responsibilities, we as communities of the arts and culture sector will not be able to move forward as a whole. We will be left behind and soon become irrelevant. 

For allies who wish to support people of colour, may I urge you to do a tally of people of colour in every room or space you walk into. Keep a record of this and you will soon realise how white spaces are, especially spaces linked to power. This is of course the first step of raising awareness of the status quo. I would also suggest as a general rule that arts organisations have their artistic director and CEO as two separate roles. When these roles are combined, the ultimate power of an organisation would be held by one person which in my opinion upholds the status quo than disrupt it. These roles should be mutually exclusive with fixed terms where applications take the form of open call, not by appointment nor invitation. Moreover, conversations regarding equality, diversity and inclusion needs to be conducted and maintained at all levels of an organisation on an on-going basis, with people of colour forming an integral part of the dialogue. There are of course many other things that allies, organisations and institutes can do, but this would be very specific consultation work that this article will not be able to cover.

We all need to join forces in doing and being better regardless of whether you are an independent artist or an employee of an organisation. Let us all celebrate small steps.  However small a step, it is still a step forward. 

To conclude, I want to take this time to share a thought from Zhou’s article: 

we hear diversity and inclusion a lot but being inclusive, the power still lies within the person or organisation who is being inclusive, for example, I invite you to dance, I decide the music, venue, genres, context, rules. 

In another words, those with privilege and power needs to actively give up some of the power and make space for those who hold less. And if this statement makes you uncomfortable, ‘then it’s clear your interest in this idea of diversity and inclusion is only when it serves you, not for the benefit of others’. (Zhou, 2019)

https://www.pantograph-punch.com/post/julie-zhu-power-of-inclusion-speech?fbclid=IwAR3omDLf6DW4Q_F-z35zWYDP7nlmkMnPT6t1T5gqpv-N8joPy3sv4-IZWNs (accessed 15 Jan, 2020) 

Jane Chan is a choreographer and dance artist trained in Chinese classical, Chinese folk, contemporary, ballet, wing chun and kathak who works in the intersections of choreography, dance, performance, teaching and change instigation. Also, a member of Amina Khayyam Dance Company since 2014, one of the artists of colour steering group at Chisenhale Dance Space, the London Correspondent for dancejournal/hk, one of the Overture 2019/20 cohort for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, a mentor for Arts Emergency and the founder of Passion Project, a teaching initiative that aims to share the joy and benefits of movement and dance to non-dance professionals, immigrant women group, older adults with and without dementia.

www.chanjane.com

Problems, Obstacles, Saboteurs

In my previous post I ended on this note ‘But, more importantly, making space on the part of us people of colour, has to also simultaneously be about sabotaging processes by which (white) spaces are and have been historically produced, such that we can start ‘taking up space’ (Kwakye and Ogunbiyi; 2019) and upending power.’ In this post I want to specifically develop the idea of sabotage as a mode of dismantling whiteness (and other hegemonies) in contemporary dance. 

Last month my colleague Broderick Chow and I co-presented our The UCLA Letters: On Dismantling Whiteness in the Academy at a seminar for graduate students in University of California, LA’s Department of World Arts and Culture / Dance. Taking the form of six letters (three each) that we wrote to each other over a period of two months (September to November 2019), our dialogue navigated personal experiences, critical theories, and embodied realities as scholars of colour living and working in the UK to create a matrix of protest in and through which to approach dismantling the whiteness of our fields. During our presentation, we incorporated an additional performative gesture by reading out the letters we had received, as opposed to the letters we had written. There was something in that complex layering of my voice reading out Broderick’s letters, and Broderick reading out mine that punctuated the dialectical verve of our dialogue further, while allowing us to vocalise and process the other’s thoughts, experiences and interventions. We are planning to publish the piece for anyone interested in encountering the full exchange. But in this post I want to journey through the sections of our letters that got me to the point to advocate for antiracism in our fields as acts of sabotage to systems and performances of whiteness. 

Through our letters we dwelled on whether being a problem is indeed a problem, that is, ‘a bad thing’. Broderick began with problematising the pejorative associations with ‘being a problem’ and through the course of our letters, we journeyed to the conclusion with me advocating for sabotage to systems of whiteness.  I trace our thinking below through citing key points in our line of thinking:

Letter 2 from Royona to Broderick signalling how PoC are framed as problems within institutions:

‘[Sara] Ahmed has further noted that taking on institutions through complaints work and pointing out problems on the grounds of social justice invariably positions us undertaking this work as the problems.’.

Letter 3 from Broderick to Royona claiming back the word problem:

‘But is being a problem such a bad thing? Maybe it is, in terms of how decolonization has been smoothed over and gentrified in the academy. When universities use the term “decolonize” today, it is in service of a fantasy that we could ever really remove coloniality. Decolonizing sounds too much like de-scaling to me—you descale your shower every two weeks, but it keeps coming back. I wonder if decolonizing evacuates the political from coloniality, the political project of assertion of your self-hood and interests against those who want to deny you these, a political project that is fundamentally antagonistic. Perhaps this is why I prefer “anti-colonialism” as a term, because it still holds that the process is one of contestation. Is this anti-colonial work then? Not to point out problems, or what’s “problematic”, but to be a problem?’

‘At the start of this letter I used the term problem interchangeably with obstacle. But they are very different. An obstacle resists the volition of another. But a problem reshapes the world around it to accommodate its own desires, if only to make that transformation for herself.’

Letter 4 from Royona to Broderick on problems as blockages that stall systems:

‘So I hope that in our call for overcoming the stuckness that grips us scholars of colour through more movement, we can consider the resistive power in stillness. Could we also imagine stillnesses as proactive blockages that stop whiteness from functioning as a system? In this perhaps I want to invert Sara Ahmed’s evocation of social justice workers as plumbers who locate and ease blockages in systems. What if we are not plumbers but indeed the blockages themselves?’

‘To be still in this mode then might mean to stay put, to claim, to own, to create blocks, to become obstacles, to cause spanners, to take up space, to become the problem as you say.’

Letter 5 from Broderick to Royona on problematising / complicating ‘making space’ on white terms :

‘Making space, turned around: how is space made? Not just space, but what Henri Lefebvre called the production of space, the consideration of space in all its dialectical relations: ideological, architectural, lived and embodied. What forces, for example, lead the British university to decide there is only room for six things a year, and only three years? (I can hazard a guess). What forces produce our endless movement as academics—our international travel to places like UCLA, to Hawaii, our productivity, our disseminations of ideas across the world—while still limiting our potentiality?’

Letter 6 from Royona to Broderick on antiracism as sabotage to white systems:

‘Might […] sabotage include the mere presence of black people and people of colour, within the relational context of the white academy? Might we be able to extend recent Cambridge University graduates Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi’s provocation, that for black bodies to exist within white institutions is in itself an act of resistance, in order to reimagine black people and people of colour in the academy as saboteurs? To resist is to object to the operation of a system. But to sabotage is to disable it.’

‘In her article ‘Dramaturgy and Sabotage’ Arabella Stanger reminds us that dramaturgy is a set of relational acts and that ‘sabotage resides […] in acts that disrupt production or slow it down’.  She argues for dramaturgy as a potential act of sabotage that upends artistic power asymmetries by ‘transforming the relational capacity of those involved’. Following this line of thinking, I am pondering whether, within the relational nexus of the white academy, might you and I and scholars of colour carrying out antiracist and anticolonial work, function as saboteurs practising disruptive dramaturgies to dismantle the performance of whiteness?’

‘In refusing to move on the terms of coloniality, in rejecting smoothening over dialectics in favour of civility, in dwelling in tense stillnesses, and in ‘taking up space’,  I end then on the potentialities of antiracist and anticolonial thinking and doing as a dramaturgical sabotage to systems of whiteness.’

What then can sabotaging the whiteness of contemporary dance and dance studies look like? How might us artists and scholars of colour reimagine ourselves as saboteurs in these fields?

anti-racist contemporary dance: a conversation (Tuesday 3 December 2019)

With Alexandrina Hemsley, Rob Jones, Seeta Patel and Rajni Shah, facilitated by Royona Mitra. The panel will discuss the structural racisms and racist silencing that operate in the contemporary dance sector. By centring anti-racist and decolonial works by dance artists and programmers of colour, the discussion will reflect on coalitional strategies for moving against and beyond the forms of racial violence and erasure that shape our field.

Independent Dance, Tuesday 3 December 2019; 7pm to 8:30pm.

Siobhan Davies Studios
85 St. George’s Road
Elephant & Castle
London SE1 6ER

the tools of a racist patriarchy

‘What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable’… ‘For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own games, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.’

— Audrey Lorde 2007: 110–112: Comments at Second Sex Conference, New York, September 29, 1979. Cited in Mirza, H.S., 2018. Racism in Higher Education: ‘What Then, Can Be Done?’, in: Arday, J., Mirza, H.S. (Eds.), Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy. Palgrave MacMillan, London, pp. 3–23 (this quotation p.3)

white privilege and black deprivation

White privileges are the relative advantages racism affords to people identified as white, whether white people recognize them or deny them. To be white is to be afforded one’s individuality. Afforded the presumption of innocence. Afforded the assumption of intelligence. Afforded empathy when crying or raging. Afforded disproportionate amounts of policy-making power. Afforded opportunity from a white network.

The inverse of white privilege is black deprivation.

– Ibram X. Kendi

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/10/too-short-lives-black-men/600628/

skin in the game

This Thursday 28 November 2019 at Z-Arts in Manchester:

SKIN in the Game is a bringing together of a representative cohort of artists, journalists and researchers of colour from across the UK. It offers a platform to thinking and discussion around ghettoisation, radical constitutions, anti-racist work, representation and leadership both within Live Art and in culture. It is an open space for discursive honesty. 

http://www.liveartuk.org/blog/skin-in-the-game

Giving Up Space / Taking Up Space

Over the last few years I have spoken widely with colleagues and students about ‘making space’ for perspectives, peoples, epistemologies and practices that both academia and contemporary dance world have historically ignored. I have advocated for people in dominant positions to ‘make space’ for marginalised narratives and practices to actively decentre our disciplines. ‘Making space’, I have said, is about recognising that space is finite, that occupation of space is power and that the production of space is a political act. Working on this anti-racist contemporary dance project over the last six months, and through conversations with my colleague Broderick Chow at Brunel University London while writing our joint presentation for UCLA earlier this month (The UCLA Letters: On Dismantling Whiteness in the Academy), however has led me to think in more nuanced ways.

Making space relies, naively, on our white institutions, colleagues and peers to take on the task of producing space while we wait. In reality though they are likely to ignore, even blame, the finiteness of space itself by foregoing nothing (or very little) of their own, while squeezing in some cursory references to other knowledge-systems in trite and tick-box ways. Within university curricula, space-making manifests in optional modules for hitherto marginalised practices, while dominant narratives retain core slots. Within the dance industry the diversity agenda abounds as ways of making space, fraught with Orientalisms and power asymmetries. Nothing changes. We continue to wait.

Making space has no purpose and certainly no bite if nothing gives on the part of the status quo. Things have to go. Content has to be displaced. People have to be replaced. Perspectives have to be erased. Making space has to be fundamentally and necessarily about ‘giving up space’ on part of our white colleagues. But, more importantly, making space on the part of us people of colour, has to also simultaneously be about sabotaging processes by which (white) spaces are and have been historically produced, such that we can start ‘taking up space’ (Kwakye and Ogunbiyi; 2019) and upending power.

Anti-Racist work in dance studies and the contemporary dance field has to be about redistribution of this power from those who are in current possession of it. On our own terms.