Royona, Simon and I talk often about ally-ship. That issue’s been on my mind a lot lately and especially since Royona’s blog post – ‘Anti-Racist Research’ – on 25 August. In this post, she wrote:
Anti-Racism research teams should take care to ensure they are comprised of more than one person of colour (PoC) when working with white collaborators. The burden I have felt as the only PoC on this project, and how this burden has at times debilitated me from actually moving forward with the work, is difficult to put into words.
As Royona’s collaborator and also her friend, I felt a tight feeling in my chest when I read these words. Her burden was something we had spoken slowly and haltingly about through our work together, in team meetings and in private conversations. And I think my chest’s tight feeling came from my knowing that I couldn’t fathom this burden my friend was carrying until she told me about it – and even then only barely. (Not to mention that the act of telling, and having to tell all the time, is a heavy burden itself.)
In this kind of work done by people of colour and white people together, I’m learning that being an ally, someone who offers solidarity and support and who has their friend’s back, is not enough.
Accomplices, not allies, is the message delivered in a call to arms published in 2014 by Indigenous Action Media. I cite from this text below and then follow up with some questions for those who wonder about white allies in contemporary dance.
1. a person who helps another commit a crime
The risks of an ally who provides support or solidarity (usually on a temporary basis) in a fight are much different from that of an accomplice. When we fight back or forward, together, becoming complicit in a struggle towards liberation, we are accomplices. […]
Understand that it is not our responsibility to hold your hand through a process to be an accomplice. […]
Accomplices are realized through mutual consent and build trust. They don’t just have our backs, they are at our side, or in their own spaces confronting and unsettling colonialism. […]
Don’t wait around for anyone to proclaim you to be an accomplice, you certainly cannot proclaim it yourself. You just are or you are not. The lines of oppression are already drawn.
Direct action is really the best and may be the only way to learn what it is to be an accomplice. We’re in a fight, so be ready for confrontation and consequence.
— Indigenous Action Media, ‘Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing The Ally Industrial Complex’, Version 2 – (2014), http://www.indigenousaction.org/accomplices-not-allies-abolishing-the-ally-industrial-complex/
Some questions for contemporary dance:
If an accomplice in anti-racist struggle is a white person who helps people of colour commit crimes so they can survive and transform the racist spaces they’re forced to live in, then what do we do about contemporary dance as one of those racist spaces? Some more pointed questions below.
- what kinds of actions and attitudes have been ‘criminalised’ by the white liberal cultures of contemporary dance?
- which of these actions and attitudes are ‘criminalised’ implicitly so as to fortify white dominance in the field?
- what work have people of colour been doing that transgresses contemporary dance’s laws of operation, that agitates the field’s whiteness?
- how can white people be accomplice to those transgressions and agitations, even and especially if they are vilified or punished as a result? (the latter because people of colour are subject to punishment for such transgressions but cannot exist in the context of whiteness without transgressing, and so white people cannot hesitate at those same risks without operating on a double standard. “We’re in a fight, so be ready for confrontation and consequence.”)
- how can, and how should the transgression of contemporary dance’s racist (soft) laws work in alliance with the transgression of the racist (hard) laws that legitimise state violence in the UK? The crimes to which Indigenous Action Media refer when they write about decolonial struggle are defined as such by white settler/white supremacist legislation and policed by the very real consequences of the criminal justice system.
- how can we white people who work in the field of contemporary dance act as accomplices to those who confront and face the consequences of racist criminalisation? Here are some places to start when looking for answers in the British context…