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Issue: November Newsletter
Race, Whiteness and Movement Medicine

By Lesley
Dear fellow dancers, I'm writing to share something that has been on my mind and heart for some time now. Iíve been afraid to act on it for fear of being offensive or wrong, but Movement Medicine has taught me importance of action when coupled with the heart. It is with that intention I'm writing to you to share some thoughts, observations and ideas related to Movement Medicine and its potential for healing issues related to race and marginalization.

By way of background, I'm a Canadian who has been living in Southern Africa for the past four years. I’m currently based in Cape Town, South Africa. My studies, interests and work are in the realm of sexual health, HIV and gender. Being born as a white woman in Canada, a British Colony and now living in post-apartheid South Africa, I'm constantly exploring and reflecting on issues of race.

I’ve recently been learning a lot through spending time in different spaces, some mostly black radical spaces and others mostly white 'spiritual' spaces. I recently held a circle and invited women from both groups, and it was a challenging space to hold, and despite a lot of good intention on all parts, there was also a lot of misunderstanding that left some ‘racialized’ [For an explanation of how Lesley is using this term please see the Endnote at the bottom of the article] people feeling unseen and unheard. Since then I've been reflecting on how to be both spiritual and political in such spaces. In essence, how to acknowledge source and spirit and the beautiful truths of oneness, love and equality, while also honouring the pain, rage and lived experiences from people who have been racialized and marginalized. What healing and change could come out of such a combined approach?

I have experienced first hand the powerful healing of Movement Medicine and know that the issue of race is close to many of your hearts, which is why I'm writing in hopes of starting a conversation. There are so many big questions I have about marginalization and spirit and I don't have answers. I am reaching out because I imagine that if I am feeling this way then others are as well, and potentially there is work we can do together.

During the most recent MM workshop in Cape Town, Susannah raised the fact that Movement Medicine here seems to be a mostly white space, despite the fact that only 10% of this country is white. I reflect on this often at dance, and especially when ‘racialized’ friends join me in the space (I often have the privilege to hear from them before and after how it feels for them to be in the space).

As you well know, the very issues that marginalize people are the same issues that make it difficult to come to dance, and vice versa. So for example, the location of dance in a previously designated 'white area', far away from areas that were designated as 'black’ and ‘coloured' might make it difficult to get to unless you have a car, and also might be intimidating to some with recent memories of trauma. To hold a dance in a 'black' or 'coloured' area may not be of interest to many ‘white’ dancers because of issues of distance and fear. On top of this, the cost of dance in a system of capitalism where teachers need to make money will inevitably affect racial demographics in a system where class and race are strongly correlated. These are important issues of access to consider in making dance more widely accessible. I also believe that such challenges are symptoms of a bigger system that we should address.

Through learning about the manifold Afrikan 'spiritual modalities', I've been doing a lot of work with my ancestors, some of whom were colonizers and slave traders. This has been both incredibly painful and healing. It has been hard to find a place to love and heal them, despite the ongoing and visible legacy of pain and division that racial separation has caused. I know that healing them is part of healing myself, the generations to come after me and part of a bigger racial healing that is needed in the world.

This is lifelong work and I am still a child in it – I don't have answers or any authority on the topic, but I'm feeling more and more that to heal and shift the racial demographics that privilege some and exclude others (including from dance spaces), that there is a call to work with ‘white’ people on this healing.

My sense is that sometimes it is so difficult and painful to look at the atrocities of the past, including how we, or our ancestors, were involved or benefited, that we shut down. I have sensed this happening in spiritual spaces with mostly privileged (including ‘white’ and middle-class) participants, where we focus on oneness and healing the world, without addressing the fragmented nature of the spaces themselves, which often times don’t include our ‘racialized’ and/or lower class brothers and sisters.

I don't know the solution, but in studying anti-oppression, reading Steve Biko's texts on white liberalism and through exploring being conditioned into both oppressed and oppressor roles through being both 'white', and a woman, I'm feeling the need to work with other ‘white’ people on issues of race and privilege. Biko posits that for white liberals, part of our work is within white society, which I think dance provides a huge opportunity for. He puts forth that the 'white liberal' should 'serve as a lubricating material so that as we change gears in trying to find a better direction for South Africa, there should be no grinding noises of metal against metal but a free and easy flowing movement which will be characteristic of a well-looked-after vehicle' (Steve Biko, excerpt from ‘I write what I like: Black souls in white skins').

During a ceremony in the ‘Alchemy of Stillness’ workshop in Cape Town, I did some race work with my ancestors, bridging the continents they came from and facilitating scary and important conversations.

I wonder if, alongside the diversity work to make Movement Medicine more accessible to people of all racial backgrounds, we could also work with 'white' conscious dancers around these issues? I imagine that this would go beyond healing us and help us move towards a space where we can break down old power and racial barriers and create a more open, inviting and creative community, and a more equal platform for people of all races to feel comfortable to come into the space. This came to me after countless conversations with ‘racialized’ and ‘white’ dance friends and many hours pondering and working through how to create a more inclusive space.

I've been wanting to start working with groups of ‘white’ people in spiritual spaces, but have been feeling hesitant to start. I have some of the skills necessary to facilitate conversations on race and whiteness – the kind of work that is done in intellectual and political spaces. The problem is that I'm feeling these spaces to be lacking an embodied approach.

I think that through combining this type of work with dance and other conscious modalities, we could accomplish incredible things with transformation and healing. I would love to create such a space but I don't have the tools to facilitate it in an embodied way. I think that Movement Medicine could create such a platform for this work.

I am writing in the knowledge that issues of race and privilege in dance spaces are close to many of our hearts. I am calling out to fellow dancers, truth seekers and healers for ideas, guidance and solidarity as to how we can collaborate together on this. My email address is lesley.gittings@gmail.com and I encourage you to get in touch.

If you made it to the bottom, thanks for reading this long letter. I hope that I have not been too forward in sending it. I would be amiss to say that I don’t fear the backlash that often comes from speaking out about issues of dismantling power. However, one thing I learned from dance is the importance of action and showing up for what is in our hearts and the work that we believe in. It is with that energy and loving intention I write to you my fellow dancers.

With best wishes, deep gratitude, solidarity, hope and love,

Lesley

 

Endnotes

The term ‘racialization is described as follows in the Association of Ontario Health Centres’ anti-oppression policy: ‘While biological notions of race have been discredited, the social construction of race remains a potent force in society. The process of social construction of race is termed “racialization.”… “Racialization” [has been defined] as the process by which societies construct races as real, different and unequal in ways that matter to economic, political and social life.” (Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System 1995)

‘When it is necessary to describe people collectively, the term “racialized person” or “racialized group” is preferred over "racial minority", “visible minority", "person of colour" or “non-White” as it expresses race as a social construct rather than as a description based on perceived biological traits.’ (Ontario Human Rights Commission, cited in Association of Ontario Health Centres 2015).

References

Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System (1995). Report of the Commission on System Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. Queen’s Printer for Ontario: Toronto, Canada. Available at: https://archive.org/details/reportracismont00comm (accessed on 9 November 2015).

Association of Ontario Health Centres (2015). ‘Anti-oppression’. Available at: http://www.aohc.org/anti-oppression (accessed on 9 November 2015).


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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www. schoolofmovementmedicine.com