“Your declarations don’t really mean anything to me.” Resmaa Menakem
Big Dance is engaged in a period of deep reflection in order to find ways to de-center our whiteness and actively involve ourselves as a company in anti-racist work. We recognize that from our inception, we have benefited by being a largely white-run institution in a structurally racist world. We recognize that we have benefitted by simply being white our whole lives.
Our internal working group is facing this full-on; we are asking a multitude of questions. We want this up-ending to be dynamic and inquiry-based, and to have the depth and sustained rigor of an artistic practice. And like an artistic inquiry, we don’t know the answers or outcome going into it; we know almost nothing. We do know we will make mistakes; error is part of the process that we understand best. But our perceptual attention is wide and open, limited by our own biases, but interrogating these biases as honestly as we can, with help and training from outside sources.
Our practice in dance-making works to continually challenge orthodoxies in dance and theater. We have studied, embraced, reimagined, and thrown over predominant narratives in the dance and theater culture. And from the administrative side, we have rejected the capitalist notion that bigger is better, holding onto a small model, intentionally limiting our growth, while working to equitably raise artist fees. But now we see that we had always operated within this given of a white model of success, only rejecting what we could perceive as morally unfair within a limited scope. We are belatedly learning how we have added to and benefited from this structural unfairness and suffering. We have operated in a culture of scarcity rather than generosity. We have competed in an uneven playing field where white opportunity hoarding is rife and blind. We will experiment with ways to create lasting change within our purview, using what we have learned in our artistic practice as we find our own way. It doesn’t exist yet.
Along with reading and engaging in training, there are clues from materials we have worked with in the past that may help to guide us. We look back at some of the decades-long experiments we have done that have related to class issues, privilege and fairness for inspiration. Such as Antigone: about the right to oppose the law when the law fails the basic rules of humanity—which mirrors the murderous police actions today deemed “lawful.” Or, we look to a text by Euripides that uncovers grief so deeply that the text itself drips with tears; which helps us to understand the profound lineage of grief of people of color in America. Or, Pasternak’s compelling and complex arguments on the subject of revolution. Or a text by Twain that looks at spiritual hopelessness in the face of the vast history of human suffering. And, the diaries of a self-professed 17c rapist in a time that it was tacitly acceptable to rape your servants. Presently, we are looking at a text from the 1980s that ironically shows the disfiguring privilege and enduring power of the white greed of Reaganism. All these texts provide small shards of insight into the crucible of this moment in our culture.
And still, every one of these authorial voices is white. This has been our framework.
Rip up the diversity statements! All the equal opportunity crap was useless. These need to be rewritten with serious intentionality. Like in our work with text, we see language as impactful and dimensional and we want to use it with purpose, imagination, and power.
As a feminist organization, we do not back down from our activism around the rights of women to receive the same wages and opportunities as men, as well as the long struggle for the right to abortion. But the intersectionality of racism and feminism will be a part of our anti-racism actions. The additional burdens on black and POC women from sexism are heavy and often deadly.
We are all called on right now to challenge racial inequities on multi-level platforms: on our stage, in rehearsal, in our relationships, as well as with the sharing of materials, funds, knowledge, and labor to change the culture of racism. We recognize that we have internalized and normalized racist ideas and institutions and as we face our implicit bias head-on, we are looking at how we can share our practices and resources with dance-artists of color in a way that is authentic and not just mea culpa-flag waving- virtue signaling- bullshit. And through our actions, study, listening, conversations, and mistakes, we hope to learn better ways to attack our own bias.
We strive to live nobly in the incarnation we have been brought here in. We are all called on to nudge the world in the right direction. We are learning it is not enough to believe something, or to believe you believe something, but instead it’s imperative to ACT to create change from whatever power that particular incarnation has freely given to you.
“*Tikkun Olan”: To repair the world.
* a Jewish concept from the Mishnaic period (ca. 10-220 CE)