what should we do when a white teacher rewrites history to make them look virtuous?
I’m not sure if this question from a fb discussion refers to deleting comments, or about teaching practice.
If it’s the former, then it’s a matter of poor social media management. It’s quite common for inexperienced SM managers to delete difficult posts. With more experience, SM managers learn to engage with this sort of comment in a more constructive way. So I’ll set that aside as a separate issue.
If it’s the latter (and I paraphrase), ‘What should we do if a white teacher presents a false or misleading view of history to make themselves look like a really good person,’ then that’s a different issue. Again, I’m not really sure how to address this, because Black people have been telling us the answer for years. We just haven’t been listening.
So I’ll present another question:
How should we respond to white teachers who whitewash the black history of Black dance?
How should we respond to white people in positions of power who tell a story of black history where white crimes and Black suffering are marginalised?
White teachers who don’t talk about the Black history of a dance are deliberately devaluing the impact of colonialism, of slavery, of segregation, of racism, (all white actions) on Black experience. If we, white people, don’t acknowledge the white actions of the past, we can avoid being held accountable for our ancestors’ behaviour. If we establish our white ancestors as ‘good people’, we defend and develop our own right to talk with authority about the topic (dance).
In fact, ‘dance’ is stripped of its racial markers and becomes just ‘dance’ rather than ‘black dance’, or ‘Black dance’. That’s a good example of cultural appropriation – taking the culture of another people. And in this case, then commodifying it – making it into a product from which we benefit financially. It’s also a good example of colonialism: white people invading black country, taking the bits they want with violence, then retelling the history of that country to hide their own brutality.
So how should we respond to this?
Our own power and ethnicity make a difference. Our role in reparation and repair is commensurate with our own privilege. In other words, the more power we have, the more we can and should do. So, middle class white people who have and still do benefit from Black oppression, you have a lot of work to do.
If Black dance is cultural country, and white dance teachers today are cultural imperialists, then what should we do?
As Aboriginal Australians say, we must “pay the rent”. I’m going to use this example from Black activist thinking to answer:
Since the, 1970’s there have been repeated calls by Indigenous activists for non-Aboriginal Australians to ‘Pay the Rent’ to the rightful Indigenous land owners for the occupation of land in Australia and/or in recognition of Indigenous sovereignty.
Since then, the ‘Pay the Rent’ scheme, has been actively operating to provide, opportunities for non-Indigenous Australians to support initiatives controlled by the traditional land owners in their struggle for self-determination and economic independence.
Today ‘Pay the Rent’ is a reasonable, rational and responsible way of ensuring the survival of the oldest living culture in the world.
It is a significant contribution to the process of Reconciliation, and embracing its philosophy is a sign of growing maturity among today’s ‘Australians’.
So here’s a good model for ‘what we should do’ when faced with white colonialism in dance:
– White people should support Black projects and activism.
With money, with signal boosting, with personal support, by contributing labour. _Support_ is the key word. Not co-opt or invent alternative responses.
In this specific case, then, white people, it’s time to pay the rent. I know I personally can’t change the way Egle and other teachers like her (and there are plenty of them) think and act. But there are other things I can do:
– Instead of watching their videos or attending their classes or events, I can watch videos of Black dancers, and attend Black run events.
– Instead of giving these teachers my money, I can donate to funds like the Frankie Manning Foundation, or the Maputo Swing fundraisers.
– I can stop sharing and promoting events, routines, music, and other cultural product by white people, and _start_ sharing and promoting Black dance and music.
– When I hear a white teacher give an historic dance step a new name, I can butt in with the original Black name. I can interrupt white mapping of Black country. Yes, even in class. Speak truth to power.
– If I hear a white teacher teach an historic step without name-checking the Black choreographer or Black history of that step, I can interrupt and say their name. Speak truth to power.
If all these sound familiar, it’s because Black people have been asking you to do these thing for YEARS. You just haven’t been listening.
If all these sound boring or uninspiring, it’s because it’s not about YOU and your creativity. It’s about you getting out of the way so that Black artists can reclaim Black country.
If these sound intimidating or scary, it’s because white imperialism is an act of terror and cultural theft. Be brave. Stand up. Pay the rent.