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
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
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.
This blog has been quiet for a few weeks. One of the reasons for our radio silence is the somehow-always-a-surprise lack of time ushered in by the intensity of the university teaching term.
There’s an upside to this intensity: the great pleasure of being in sustained, weekly dialogue about challenging ideas with undergraduate students, groups of people who are mostly in their late teens and early twenties, and who (in our case as dance and performance university lecturers) are making art, reading about art, talking about art and its place in the world. Being part of these dialogues is where the job of being an academic is its most challenging, invigorating, and world-shaking. It’s in these classroom discussions that I usually learn the most.
Over the past few months, one group of students and I have been having a kind of on again / off again conversation about all the ‘NOes’ in Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto (1965).
(Read the manifesto, in its 2008 revisited form, in an interview with Rainer here.)
In the context of a tangled conversation about the politics of saying ‘yes’ or saying ‘no’ to things as an artist, one of the students proposed the following neat idea: “you have to have already been awarded many ‘YESses’ in your life, for your ‘NOes’ to get listened to“. (Let me know if you’d like to cite this particular comment and I’ll ask the author/speaker in question for her permission and if she would like to share her name.) This student was inspired to formulate that thought especially by having read passages of Miguel Gutierrez’s brilliant article ‘Does Abstraction Belong to White People’ (2018). I’ll share a brief part of that article here, in partnership with the YEses/NOes insight, as a kind of a dispatch from the classroom:
Who has the right not to explain themselves? The people who don’t have to. The ones whose subjectivities have been naturalized. It enrages me. No, it confuses me. I’m all for being confused, for searching, for having to do a bit of work. But the absence of explanation is somehow … somehow … somehow what?— Gutierrez, Miguel. ‘Does Abstraction Belong to White People?’, Bomb Magazine. 2018. https://bombmagazine.org/articles/miguel-gutierrez-1