“The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”
In this moment, Black people are seeing the descendants of colonization wake up to the terror their ancestors created. We are witnessing the dehumanization of Black people and hearing the rallying cry “All Black Lives Matter.” Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have forced publications and institutions to craft Black solidarity statements and hire and support Black artists for the first time. But do Black stories, Black creators and Black curators actually matter to these institutions?
I believe the institution of dance has divorced itself from speaking truth to power, an act that contributes to the violent erasure of Black artists. This silently violent attempt to absolve themselves from anti–Black, racist practices, while purporting inclusiveness and diversity, is in fact part of the same system of whiteness (culture of white supremacy) that the BLM protests seek to dismantle. If you don’t ask yourself about your own indoctrination into these systems and how white supremacy manifests in you, then you are part of the problem.
Black creators are fighting to be seen for all that we are and all that we bring to the culture of art and humanity. To add to this conversation, I asked several dance artists: What does the statement “I don’t see colour; we are all the same” make you feel like?
Kamika Peters (kmk ptrs)
It’s the two–step of the hundreds–of–years–old project we are experiencing, which is the vanishing of all that obscures the imagined state of things that are as good as they can be for terror.
Danielle Smith (she/her)
RMT, movement artist
BLM protests that are happening around the world are a demand to end state–sanctioned violence against Black people. The state is reflected in institutions, inclusive of dance, whose formations in Canada were based in anti–Black and anti–Indigenous racism. ‘I don’t see colour; we are all the same,’ is a sentiment that upholds the normalized erasure of the experiences of Black and Indigenous dancers and the systemic violence perpetrated against us. BLM demands the recognition of our humanity in order to be well, and to thrive in our lives and our creative expression as cultural producers.
The issue with this phrase is the fact that it erases the lived experiences of People of Colour (and marginalized folx in general) who aretrying to survive in a predominantly white world. While we should all be viewed the same, this is not the case and has not been for hundreds of years. The entertainment industry, like many other art institutions, has always been rigged in favour of thin, white (cis)bodies. Telling a Queer, plus–sized, mixed woman that ‘We’re all the same,’ when I’ve had countless doors slammed in my face for being an ‘Other’ (despite being well qualified for the position I was auditioning for) erases my entire experience moving through the arts and entertainment world, and the world at large.
Nickeshia Garrick (she/they)
BFA, RMF, dancer, singer, actor, personal trainer, movement teacher
My colour is to be seen, to be heard and to be respected. This phrase negates my Blackness, my Queerness and my Womxness. It takes away from the struggles and triumphs of my ancestors, the current BLM generation and future Black generations. I will no longer compromise.
Dainty Smith (she/her)
Storyteller, cultural curator of burlesque Founder of Les Femmes Fatale WOC Burlesque Troupe
That way of thinking invisibilizes the brilliance and very hard work of Black artists. For me that statement does the opposite of what it intends to do. It means my art, which is very much infused with my Black womanness, is not worth valuing or recognizing.
Chenise Mitchell (she/her)
This invalidates my struggle and beauty as a Black woman. Pretending I have no colour, when I do, erases me. My lack of funds, lack of space and under–representation don’t mirror my accomplishments. With the current urgency for mental, emotional and physical health, our pre–colonized styles of dance and artistry are extremely valuable, so why are we not seen?
Joy Irah (they/them)
The phrase aggravates me as it seeks to gloss over my uniquely lived experience as a Black, queer and genderqueer person. This mentality is rooted in delusion and blissfully willful ignorance of the discrimination Black people face, as though pretending not to notice our skin tone or hair texture will magic a peaceful post–racial utopia into existence. The necessary work is in naming our differences and the huge racial inequalities that exist so that —as BLM is centred around —we can focus on rectifying this severe global imbalance.
Renald Jean Pierre (he/him)
Co–founder of ILL NANA/DiverseCity Dance Company
Hearing this statement makes me feel like the rehearsal spaces, choreographies and stages were not meant for me. Continually experiencing microaggressions in the community was a major factor in my decision to opt out of dance so early in my career. It is something white people/choreographers tell themselves to sleep better at night. We know it’s untrue and they’ll end up giving the lead role to the person they’re most attracted to.
Jaz Fairy J (she, her)
Multidisciplinary artist, healer
The term is in direct contradiction with the reality of my life as a Black Womxn, in direct contradiction with what my ancestors have experienced and the pain I continue to carry for them around this. Racism is a literal sickness that has perverted our societies for a long time. We must see all the colour and accept it instead of pretending as though it is not there. I find it very offensive and dismissive of heavy and distinct trauma.
Transdisciplinary artivist, community activator
Dance institutions exist in this mythical land in which race, race relations, racism and anti–Black racism are these esoteric words from another world. They’re fascinated with pushing the myth of a ‘merit–based’ and ‘talent–first’ sector as a way of validating their archaic practices and gross unsustainability in this racially conscious world. This fallacy is rooted in the colonial and racist underpinnings that continue to fuel mainstream dance. This outdated framework will be the marker for extinction for many of these archaic institutions. As this new multiracial and hyper–aware generation continues to mature, we will continue to choose for ourselves which pieces of culture we will choose to uplift and amplify, and which are relics of the past. We will take down the proverbial racist ‘statues’ and other markers that stand proudly in our sector. We will clean house of the abusers, problematic decision–makers, racists and racist adjacent. We will decentre ballet and other western forms and relegate them to the book of archives, where they belong. ‘High art’ will be abolished as a concept, and we will have democratized arts and cultural spaces. We will build resilient community centres, disapproval and culturally relevant dance communities. It’s all possible.