I went to the Underscore event on Thursday night at Velocity Dance Center, in which contact improvisation is the common physical language. I danced with some fabulous old pals and met some new fabulous people. I had a great time. We danced in silence. We laid around. At the end, we ate ripe cherries the organizer had brought for us to share. Everyone was white.
In the studio next door, there was a rehearsal going on that had loud bass-y music that seeped out into our silent studio. I craved to taste that music. I wanted to fling the door open, to let it spill into our quiet space. I peeked in, to see if it was a class or if it was okay if I watched. I asked if I could watch. They were preparing for a hip hop performance. They said it was fine that I watched, but they were wrapping up. Everyone in that space was black.
One room full of white people doing contact improvisation and another room full of black people doing hip hop. I wanted to be able to speak smartly about how this happened. I wanted to know whether I should feel sad or disappointed or angry or happy or nothing about the facticity of this. I don't want to ask simple questions like the ones on the tip of my tongue, like, why are we still self-segregating? what are the larger forces at hand that keep us from integrating? I mostly know the answers. And in the end, what's so bad about sharing a cultural language and engaging in that language with other speakers (the language of contact and hip hop)? Hip hop=awesome. Contact improvisation=awesome. What's the big deal? But I didn't want to iron out the wrinkles of history that were a part of getting us here. (That's called colorblind rhetoric). Friends helped me come to the conclusion that to notice without placing a definitive narrative or having a distinct feeling about it was a good thing to try. I'm trying that.
I wanted to run in that room and say, hey, wouldn't it be cool if you danced with us and we danced with you, for, like 5 minutes? I was distracted by this the whole evening. I felt like because I didn't make that invitation, I lacked courage somehow. I knew it would be naive, disturbing, and self-centered to do so. They were there to rehearse for a show, not make themselves infinitely available for engagement across difference because white girl wants to go all kum-bay-yah.
This all reminds me of how much history I know and how much I don't know, and how the not knowing shapes my experience of now. I get mad and humiliated every time I learn a new piece of knowledge that --as someone who wants to be a civically engaged person--I should have known from childhood. I'm so mad I don't know this shit! Damn, I should have been born with that knowledge!
Like you, I'm trying to learn it now and not get mad or humiliated.
So for the purposes of this solo I'm making, which looks at engaging with people across difference, try your hand at taking this quiz.
Try not to get mad or humiliated.
If you want to email me for the answers I'd be happy to tell you (firstname.lastname@example.org). I find I remember stuff better if I have to find it myself. I'm not punishing you. I just want you to know this if you don't already.
Maybe you can try to do what my friends tried to tell me to do: notice without placing a definitive narrative or having a distinct feeling about it. Just learn it now.
Consider how and where you think we should learn this stuff ('this stuff' being histories of power and difference in our country).
I think I'm including this quiz in the piece. You can come to the showing on Wednesday evening at 6pm at Ten Degrees studio and try it again.
What is the date that schools became racially integrated in America?
What was the name of the legislation that ended race-based school segregation?
What’s the name of the young girl (aged 6) who walked through angry mobs to receive the first racially integrated education (though no one but her and her white teacher showed up for the first while)?
What’s one name of one of the four girls who were killed in the Birmingham bombing?
When was that?
What’s the name of the legislation that ended the criminalization of interracial marriage? And the date?
What’s the date in which slavery was theoretically and officially ended in this country?
Rodney King beating—when?
John Carlos was the black gold medalist who made the Black Power salute when receiving his medal in what Olympics?
Which of these dates or actions mean the most to you?
Were you alive when any of these occurred?
Name ten countries in Africa
Name five countries in Africa that were previously colonized and name who the colonizers were.
Did you learn any of this in school?
Name one privilege you have and how you came about having it
Was this quiz difficult? How so?