First Step for Dancers: Moving from Non-Racist to Anti-Racist
January 15, 2018
Hey, dancer! This post is for you, at whatever level of community involvement you're at. You don't need to have special social capital to make these changes to your scene, you just need to be willing to engage with your fellow dancers and introspect. Although certain dancers have more social capital, being part of the community by participating is the first way to make change happen.
So what's the difference between being non-racist and being anti-racist in the dance scene (and in life)? Acting in a non-racist way is the passive state of not engaging in racist actions or speech. Showing up to dances, dancing with your friends, appreciating the music can all be non-racist actions. Doing anti-racist work is the active state of dismantling systems of oppression based on race.
You might have read that last sentence and panicked. You're probably thinking: "There's a really big jump between going to dances and dismantling systemic oppression. I don't even know what that looks like." You're not wrong and I won't lie to you: this has been the life-work of so many people and the work isn't even close to over yet. But! We're going to start with the very, very, very, first step you can take here.
According to Jenn Jackson, a doctoral candidate in American Politics with a focus on race, gender, and class who operates Water Cooler Convos, disrupting racist exchanges is one of the most critical things we can do. Failing to speak up allows racist exchanges to stand uncritically in our spaces. People of color in our dance scenes sure as fuck notice when statements are left unchallenged.
You might be racking your brain, trying to think of a time where you heard or saw something racist in your scene. This is the part that is your new job - pay closer attention to conversations that you engage in. Racial microaggressions may seem innocuous to the White mind at first. Was it really that insulting for Johnny to ask biracial Kathy where she's from...sure is, when you consider that he didn't press when Karen answered Boston, but did keep asking Kathy when she answered Illinois. Guess the ethnicity games are a pretty good way to make someone feel othered and like they will be treated more like curiosities than individuals.
Another example: consider how folks have talked about current events in your scene: have they casually described protest events as riots? Enacted in tone-policing behaviors about how protest should happen peacefully and quietly so as to avoid disrupting the good, non-racist people of the city? Use your White privilege to chime in and wonder why they chose those words to describe the protest you had heard about? If you feel safe in your scene, push harder, and suggest that often protests lead by Black folk get characterized as riots due to racial prejudice, regardless of how respectfully they are conducted.
A little homework if you're not a marginalized person: read accounts of microaggressions to prepare yourself for listening towards them. Practice what you would say if you overheard someone saying a similar thing to a person in your scene.
This is just the first step: tuning your ears to the problem, listening, and speaking out when you can. There's a path ahead of us, where we will move from discussing these small, personal, anti-racist acts to acts that filter up and out through scene behaviors.