I Said, Do You Hear Me Now

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Dear White American Dance CommunityDear White American Dance Community:

The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) stands with the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers. We support their call and affirm The Ground We Stand On .

We, who are Black, Brown and People of the Global Majority, come together to say to the White American Dance Community: The time of your systems of race preference is over. We are listening, we are watching and are no longer waiting for your stamp of approval.

Fact: America was founded on White supremacy. From 1619, when captured Black people were first brought to these shores, we were enslaved, considered to be property and counted as three-fifths of a person. Ten of the first 12 presidents of this country owned slaves and were part of writing and upholding the law of the land that slaves could not grow or possess their own food, gather in groups, or learn to read.

White American Dance Community, you have designed the system of White supremacy, privilege, institutional racism, micro-aggressions, oppression and stood guard over them. It is time that you face it, own it, unlearn it and dismantle it.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Your system: predominately White dance companies, predominately White administrative and production staff, predominately White suburban dance studios, predominately White dance higher education programs, predominately White agents, critics, curators, educators, funders, historians, managers, presenters, producers and scholars. You all fit together to keep Black, Brown and People of the Global Majority down. Yes, you make your “checked the box” hires to pay lip-service to diversity. Yet, unless we follow the stereotypes you created and are coarse and outrageous, extreme with race rage, risky with sexual/gender statements, or incorporate hip-hop, social dance and other dance forms, we remain invisible to you.

ATTENTION White American Dance Community: Many of you have released statements about BLACK LIVES MATTER. Understand that this moment is about the survival of Black, Brown and People of the Global majority. We—our lives, livelihood and institutions—are at risk. If BLACK LIVES MATTER, then Black Voices matter. Our voices are our dances and they articulate our culture. You have specifically had your “knee on the neck” of Black individuals, and our cultural establishments since their inception. Our organizations were formed as a means of protest, survival and social change in response to fact that we were not included. Spare us the statement that BLACK LIVES MATTER if you can’t support Black culture.

Can You Hear Me Now?

White American Dance Community

A statement is not enough. The ongoing conversations regarding inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, leadership training, EDI statements and plans, education programs, diversity hiring, racial equity workshops for staff and boards in front of donors and foundations as a way to reform these systems are not enough. There has been no movement. Neither the gatekeepers nor the center of power have shifted. Lasting change is not possible without system change.

White American Ballet Companies

So many of you rushed to statements yet in the effort to be anti-racist you neglected to put forward the very questions you should have been struggling with. What do your Black artists and staff members need right now? What type of organizational culture has leadership and staff maintained that oftentimes left Black artists and staff feeling unsupported? Have you institutionalized practices like dependence on Nutcracker to be the financial safety net to balance the poorly attended but well-funded new ballet by a White choreographer? Have you engaged your artists, board, audiences with meaningful conversations on color-conscious casting, body image, equal access to resources and support? Lasting change is not possible without system change.

White American Dance Critics

White Dance Critics are gatekeepers. They must not only have cultural literacy and competency, they must value our cultural expression to be able to review our dances. Reviews are a critical element of artistic sustainability and they also are used to decide whether or not to support a production. The responsibility of the dance critic is to provide the reader with an in-depth analysis and sense of the work. It has been the history of White Dance Critics to be dismissive or treat our work as primitive. Where are the Black Dance Critics?  Lasting change is not possible without system change.

White American Dance Agents, Curators, Managers, Presenters, Producers

We can no longer accept that you “can’t find us” or “you don’t know where to look.” Having only one Black dance company a year during Black history month in a season or the inequitable fee and pay structures for booking and touring engagements, is upholding the system of power. Let’s get rid of that list. We have watched you pit Black dance companies against one another and treat them differently from their White counterparts. And by the way, people’s homes are not equal to hotel rooms, no matter how nice they might be. Lasting change is not possible without system change.

White American Dance Education Programs


White supremacy in higher education practices upholds the system. Ballet and modern are requirements to receive a degree, but our dance forms are all electives. The dance curricula and teachings continue to be centered in White European structures and the history and many contributions of Blacks in dance and dance forms of the African diaspora are not included. Also, who is the dance faculty, scholars, the administration? They must be representative of all. So, too, Black dances and voices must be included in the audition process. Lasting change is not possible without system change.

 

White American Dance Hiring Practices

 

Hiring remains a closed system that upholds white supremacy culture. There are plenty of Black choreographers, designers, production staff and dance-related personnel for this industry. The excuse that an individual is not ready for “the big time” is a code for racism. The failure to seek out, hire, promote and fairly compensate your Black artists, administrators, choreographers, designers, and faculty silences their voices and underestimates their power to lift up your organization out of darkness. Having the fortitude to create space for the Black voice to thrive within your institution would disrupt old practices and demonstrate a commitment to not only Black people but to actually do better. Lasting change is not possible without system change.

 

White American Dance Marketing

 

Marketing and Sales materials of White American Dance companies long reflected a White supremacist aesthetic. Now that lip service is being paid to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Black, Brown and People of the Global Majority’s bodies are showing up everywhere. More specifically, these bodies are placed on the cover of marketing materials but not as actual leads or principals in a performance. Authentically connecting to a community with the desire to build a relationship, has to be more than skin deep. Stop trying to bait us. Lasting change is not possible without system change.

 

So, Can You Hear Me Now?

 

We need you to own this. Deal with your Whiteness. There is a cycle in this country that needs to be broken. You have to do the work. Breaking the cycle takes longer than overnight. Read those books, listen to those podcasts. Process the true history. Only then will lasting change come to the system.

For those of you who immediately pushed back from the table and claimed that their organization was ready to dismantle the white supremacy culture and systems in our field, we invite you to join us as we proactively work to eradicate them. We’ve been speaking about these systems for far too long. Now is the time to dismantle them. We must take action.

White American Ballet and Dance Companies, Agents, Critics, Curators, Educators, Faculty in K-12 and Higher Education, Managers, Presenters, Producers, Scholars, and White Dance Education Programs, you have to see us. Now is the time for you to ask yourselves why you continue to uphold White supremacist practices in dance and why Black people remain invisible in history and every aspect of this field.

We have had enough. Your silence is no longer acceptable. If you want to earn our trust and attention, it must be more than just a statement. You either see all of us as part of this community or you don’t. Change is a form of action. What does it mean for you to really stand in solidarity with us… You are either for Black Lives Matter or you are not.

I Said, Can You Hear Me Now?

Because we don’t hear you at all.

Signed,

The International Association of Blacks in Dance
   Black, Brown and People of the Global Majority in the Dance Community

 

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#KeepTheWhiteAmericanDanceCommunityAccountable

 

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Kelly Lester, Professor of Dance, University of Southern Mississippi

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