public space, violence and white male privilege

An internet friend was responding to a discussion about black and white victims of violence, and noted the privilege of whiteness (in response to this piece). She wrote:

i tend to thumb my nose at a lot of the “safe practices” for being a woman.

And then continued, engaging with the issue of privilege and public space.
I wanted to respond to her post there, but I don’t want to get her in trouble on fb, so I’m writing it here instead.

This is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking more and more about the importance of private v public space for women and women’s bodies. The common (mis)perception of sexual assault, is that it happens in public places (eg dark parks) and is done by strangers to us. While we’re certainly at some risk of assault in these circumstances, we are far more likely to be assaulted in our own homes by people we know.

So to protect ourselves, we should be more critical of the men in our immediate, private spaces, and we should ask men to question their own behaviour and own perceptions of ‘who does violence to women’. It is not strangers; it is the men we know. Who is it who assaults white women? It is white men. White men who are our friends, family, colleagues, and employers.

I’m at the point in my work with dance spaces and violence, where it has become clear that the only way we can move forward, beyond ‘awareness’ is to a) dismantle the broader systems of power that privilege men and their desires, therefore objectifying women, and b) to say ‘yes all men’. That last statement is proving to be the most provocative. I have a sparkly sticker on my laptop that says ‘yes all men’. A friend made it, and it is meant to be a provocation. Each time I take my laptop out in public, I imagine how I’ll respond to people’s commenting on the sticker.
I think I’ll say “Yes, all men. All men are responsible for the violence of men against women. All men have a responsibility to police their own and other men’s behaviour. Because men have more power than women in these situations.”

Because the point we are at now – and this is the difficult part – is one where men must begin to give up privilege and power. They need to give up the idea that rapists are ‘strange violent (black) men in public spaces’ (ie people completely unlike themselves), and accept that rapists are their friends, families (ie people completely like themselves). They need to take responsibility for their own actions, and for those of other men.

Frankly, I can’t see too many men being ok with that.

So each time I scroll past this post of yours, and I read your line “i tend to thumb my nose at a lot of the “safe practices” for being a woman” it makes perfect sense. Because ‘safe practices’ aren’t about women’s safety. They’re about safeguarding myths about men’s responsibilities for their own actions. By staying away from dark parks, you’re not being safe. You’re accepting the bullshit about who rapes who. By choosing to walk through dark parks you are saying “Hello, rapists are responsible for raping; where and when I choose to walk does not make me responsible for the violence of others.”

Now, when we’re being asked to talk about safety and race and ethnicity, it’s made clear that the people who most need to ‘be safe’ are white men. They need to take responsibility for making the world safer for the rest of us, by policing their own behaviour. White men – men with the most power in our communities – have the greater responsibility.

It is not my job to tell you not to rape and attack women. It is your job. It is every man’s job to choose not to attack women. And the people who have the greatest power have the most opportunities to assault people. And they must choose not to. I can make a code of conduct, I can ban offenders and police those bans. I can skill up my volunteers. But at the end of the day, all men have to choose not to rape and assault and attack.
Yes, all men.

Heroes Of Jazz and other Visible Mythologies

angela_davis_otu_img
(photo by Andy Friedman from The Nation article linked below)

There was an interesting (and particularly stroppy) discussion about the ‘lindy hop career’ on the Jive Junction facebook page a little while ago that I keep thinking about.

I have real problems with stories about jazz music and jazz dance (both historical and contemporary) that present it as a series of stories about heroic figures. Particularly heroic men. Who aren’t burdened by caring for children or partners. Or otherwise engaged with their local communities.
I get really shitty about this approach because it ignores all the other labour that makes art possible: cooking meals, earning money, cleaning houses, paying for doctors, networking with venue managers, agents, producers, and recording record labels, etc etc etc. And it ignores all the ways in which artists are engaged with and participate in their local communities, and how all these relationships shape their creative work.

This was something that the Ken Burns Jazz documentary did, and which I’ve written about a bunch of times, in posts like:

I was reminded of this today by a quote-pic (don’t you hate those? Can’t search them!) getting about on twitter. This is the bit that interested me:

Frank Barat: You often talk about the importance of movements rather than individuals. How can we do that in a society that promotes individualism as a sacred concept?

Angela Davis: Even as Nelson Mandela always insisted that his accomplishments were collective—also achieved by the men and women who were his comrades—the media attempted to sanctify him as a heroic individual. A similar process has attempted to dissociate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the vast numbers of women and men who constituted the very heart of the mid-twentieth-century US freedom movement. It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.

“A Q&A With Angela Davis on Black Power, Feminism and the Prison-Industrial Complex” – The Nation 27 Aug 2014

I’m a bit of a fan of Angela Davis, and have written about her before in A long story about blues, women, feminism, and dance.

Everyday racism and lindy hop

I think Suzanne Nguyen and Daniel Reeders’ piece Defining and Responding to Everyday Racism is useful to the discussion about race, ethnicity, and anti-semitism in lindy hop happening at the moment. It gives me some tools for figuring out just why these recent events get right up my bum.

I am heartily tired of people insisting that such and such is a ‘really nice guy’ (oh, i’ve known him for a million years, he’s my bff, he’s so nice!) or ‘just made a mistake (yet again)’ (she’s russian! we don’t know about black face!), or ‘he’s harmless’ (he’s just being a dick. Again. He’s harmless), and so they can’t have been engaging in racist/anti-semitic behaviour.

There seem to be an awful lot of privileged white guys who are ‘just joking’ when they wear black face or black face or a fat suit or make an anti-semitic gesture in high profile dance competitions. Just once, and I’d think aberration. But so many times, and I’m thinking pattern.

I don’t even think these are as simple as the ‘micro-aggressions’ described in Suzanne and Daniel’s piece: this is a straight up pattern of bullshit which reminds the lindy hop community that straight white folk have power in our community. And if we question the dodgy things people do, we are just ‘not getting the joke’. Apparently ‘the joke’ is that it’s ok for white guys to pull offensive bullshit that effectively normalises racism, anti-semitism… and all that other nasty stuff.

and the quenelle discussion continues…

I have a minute (when I really should be working):

SwingNation SE03: Controversy at ILHC 2014

(via yehoodi on faceplant)

Deary me, this one is a mess.

My first comment is: if someone has to be dared to do something, surely they’ve figured out that it’s not a great idea? Or that there’s some sort of risk?
And I don’t buy the ‘living outside France, didn’t really know what was up with the quenelle argument.’ I live outside France, I’m not French, and even I’ve learnt about the quenelle.

My second comment is: you made a neo-nazi, anti-semitic gesture at an international dance competition. Not once, but several times. Your friends (high profile, international level lindy hop teachers) dared you to do it.

So you and your friends made a gesture which is associated with groups who advocate (and perpetrate) violence against jews in a public forum, in front of an audience of hundreds (thousands if you include the internet). You meant to make the gesture – it wasn’t an accident.

At the very least, all of them have (or _should_ have) jeopardised future teaching contracts around the world, and at the worst, you’ve presented the ILCH and lindy hop as a community that is not only ok with anti-semitism, but advocates violence. More to the point, even if you all were blissfully unaware of the real meaning of the gesture (and I call bullshit on that point), you have all made it clear that you have very poor judgement, and are likely to do very stupid things just on a dare. Not exactly great qualities in a teacher who’ll be flown around the world at great expense to teach dance and work as a role model and mentor to lindy hoppers in many different scenes.

The part that bothers me most about all of this, is that event organisers will probably still hire you to mentor and work with dancers in their scenes, even though you’ve made it clear that you are capable of fairly serious failures of common sense.

To my mind, even the very best apology you can possibly make will not in any way wipe this slate clean.

Wowsers. Nice one, lindy hoppers.

“Oh, it’s ok, he’s a nice guy who just wants to have fun. So his anti-semitism was just a joke.”

“It’s awful we can’t watch their routine any more, because my pleasure in their dancing is more important than their anti-semitism.”

Yehoodi

ILHC on fb

Yehoodi discussion on facebook

Lindy hoppers, get a fucking reality check. We’re talking about two French dancers knowingly including an anti-semitic gesture in a dance routine at an international lindy hop competition. There is no way they would not known what quenelle is – the gesture is freaking illegal in France. And to argue that this gesture is ‘just anti-authoritarian’ rather than anti-semitic is one fucked up argument. Your government has made anti-semitic gestures illegal, so your making that gesture is ok because you’re just ‘fighting the man’, and can’t possibly be contributing to, or normalising, anti-semitic sentiment? PUHLEESE.

I hadn’t heard anything about this issue until it had mostly passed, because I was running an event that weekend, and have been very busy since, but when a friend commented about it on facebook, I commented with:

————————
Wowsers. That’s really full on. I didn’t know anything about quenelle before this, so I didn’t recognise it in the routine. I did go and look it up, though, and it’s clearly a fairly offensive gesture. On the one hand it’s a hitlerian salute – an inverted ‘heil hitler’ gesture’ with clear anti-semitic overtones. On other hand, the meaning of the gesture has changed a bit in France to more ‘anti-establishment’. HOWEVER, the gesture is banned in France, and is so well-known, and so hotly debated, that you’d have to be living under a rock in France if you didn’t know that it is considered anti-semitic, and is used by scary arse neo-nazis in France.

I don’t think many australians (or perhaps americans?) realise just how scary the new right (neo-nazi) movement is in Europe at the moment, and it seems ridiculous that people would make a ‘hitlerian’ gesture at all. But Irene and William made a very poor judgement using that gesture. While they may have been riffing on the ‘momma, you treat your daughter mean’ theme in the dance, it was a bad thing to do. And it was correct for ILHC to immediately distance themselves from that – they do _not_ want that sort of gesture associated with their event. No matter what the intent.

I’d double check the facts on this, though, as Rick’s made some factual errors on the yehoodi site lately.

—————–

William’s response to this issue:

William Mauvais: Hey guys, im sorry if i have hurt anybody with the routine it was not our intention and i think this is really crazy!!!!!

My mom and i worked so hard from far away, i leave in France she lives in Canada and she worked pretty hard by herself to make this routine fun. Anyway all of those things are going so far… We are dancers and not politicians!!!!!!

Anyway i think that this is really sad. Take off a video from youtube especially when its a swing routine with no political thoughts behind except the joy of sharing our passion.

For those who see something im very sorry but thats not the meaning we wanted to have….

Its just sad that my mom cannot share this video with our family cause that’s why we did it, because we are leaving far from each other and all our family wants to see what a son and a mom can do and the complicity that we can have together!!!!

Anyway after 7600 views on our video in 2 days and only good comments on the video, our family is devastated about the situation!!!!

Just to finish with, if people are offended about the video please don’t hesitate to contact me and talk about it.

I’m not gonna talk about this again cause i think its a waste of time!!!

Thank you and keep on swingin’ (source

Frankly, this response is even worse than the ignorance of including the original gesture. “I’m not gonna talk about this again cause i think its a waste of time!!!” Are you fucking KIDDING ME?
You think a discussion about anti-semitism is a waste of time?! You didn’t notice that anti-semitism in Europe is on the rise, and also PEOPLE ARE DYING?!

As I said on the facey, “I reckon William just didn’t think it through, and perhaps just doesn’t think that anti-semitism gestures are that bad. Which implies he’s ok with anti-semitism. Which scares me.” It’s also terrifying that Eruopeans might be so ‘used’ to anti-semitism, and have so internalised anti-semitism that they just don’t see it as worth their time. This is some scary arse shit. And it’s really serious and important.

James William McGraw commented on the Yehoodi FB page:

I’m not satisfied with William’s response. Did he know A) That this gesture was in the piece before it was performed and B) Did he and Irene know what it meant before they performed it. If it is the case they both knew and did it anyways, they should have their placement stripped and be banned from the event for at least a year.
28 August at 17:09

And I agree. I’m just not satisfied by this ridiculous answer.

Honestly, so many people were ‘ok’ with blackface routines, and others are ‘ok’ with sexual harassment and misogyny at a national competition night, and now we think questioning anti-semitism is a waste of time?

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, LINDY HOP.

EDIT: William posted this 20 hours ago:

William Mauvais

To the lindy hop community,

In regards to my pro am with my mom this year at ilhc:

In the dancing there was a gesture that has become a huge misunderstanding. This was intended to be harmless, but regardless of that, it offended people in my life and community that I care about very much.

For that, I would like to express my apologies to the ILHC team and anybody that was offended by the gesture.

For the video removal: we completely understand the decision and are very grateful that we were not disqualified. Thank you for your understanding.
We love the lindy hop and our community, we didn’t mean to hurt anyone. This is a dance and community that is based on fun and having a good time. We wish only to do that, and once again apologize to anyone that was offended.

Keep on Swingin’ and hope to see you all soon!!!

William.
20 hrs · Like · 8

Don’t read the whole of that thread. The stupid: it burns.[/edit]

EDIT 2: I was going to keep updating this post, because it’s an interesting (and ongoing) issue. But I just don’t have the time at to do it justice at the moment. So I’ll have to leave this here, I’m afraid. And I’m sorry I had to leave it on such a fierce note. Perhaps the best thing about this issue, is that there’s been ongoing public discussion about it, and that the ILHC has been publicly engaged with the discussion, and William and his mother Irene have also returned to the discussion. I’m not entirely happy with the way this is being resolved, but I am happy that we are having an open, public discussion.
I recommend keeping an eye on the ILHC facebook page, rather than the yehoodi page, because I’m finding the yehoodi page is a beat behind and tends to not quite have the facts straight.