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Even if they're old-time feminists proud of having fought the good fight for female access to male-only spaces during the 1970s; now they are equally determined to resist men in women's spaces (even if it's only a dance class run in a building with equal opportunity policies). And that when you point out that they are hypocrites, they can get abusive.

This is a really tough issue, and I was not aware of how much it was until last month, when I met my sister's Indian dance instructor, who only allows women in her dance group, and more specifically, women "of color".

Putting aside for now the issue of excluding men, she explained that there was an experience shared by women of color that white women simply could not relate to, and whose presence would consequently impede the dynamic and experience that she sought to foster in the community.  I hesitate to paraphrase what she said, because there was a lot of it, and it was very complex, and I have a faulty memory.  If I misrepresent it, then I sincerely apologize to her and her dance community.  But among other things, she gave me examples of racism, alienation and "exotification" that she has experienced as a person of color in the U.S., and persuaded me that she was correct: white people, generally speaking, simply would not be able to relate and participate with people of color in this community of dancers.  Nevertheless, I pointed out to her that while she was very likely correct that admitting white women would have not allowed her to have the sort of environment or atmosphere that she was looking for, it was nevertheless discrimination (i.e. against white people).  By which I did not mean I thought she was wrong to have this discrimination, but it was a fact that she should acknowledge as a prerequisite to communicating to would-be white participants why unfortunately they could not join (and there were many).

It was a very difficult conversation, but very important for me to hear.  Usually, I am very uncomfortable with groups that discriminate based on any criterion, especially gender, race, nationality, religion, etc.  However, my sister's dance teacher persuaded, tentatively, me that sometimes -- as frustrating and even infuriating and painful as it may be to those discriminated against -- sometimes people should be allowed to associate -- and exclude -- based on such criteria.

I still feel ambivalent about the issue, but that is where she left me.

I just looked her up and found her dance group's website (Ananya Dance Theatre), on which some of the goals of her group are listed as follows:

To share the labor of creating a safe space where issues that drive apart communities of color can be discussed and worked through using primarily artistic means;

To create a network of support that validates the artistic practices and creativity of a group of women of color who have traditionally had difficulty in finding that support;

To unearth and share the histories of women of color from different communities in order to participate in each others' cultures and histories with respect;

To work collectively through the metaphors of movement towards a shared future where we can realize cooperation and alliances among communities of color;

She also has a fairly extensive artist statement, of which here are two paragraphs:

The identity of the company as a group of women of color, diverse in race, age, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, but uniformly committed to artistic excellence and social justice, is vital to me and to the success of my choreographic work. Dancing together, creating art together, makes spaces for interactions among women who might not otherwise meet and decide to collectively shape a vision of the future together. It is also important to celebrate the diversity of women's bodies, and to shift the choreography to adjust to the realities of women's bodies, such as pregnancies.

Over the last few years my choreographic trajectory has shifted its course. Earlier, I had focused much of my work to creating dances of protest and resistance. I now seek to connect that struggle to a search for beauty, understood as a powerful philosophical force that can generate well-being and healing in the universe. This has taken me back deep into my own cultural context to understand the ideas surrounding beauty. I have come to realize that in Indian, and particularly Bengali cultural practice, which constitutes my roots, beauty is functional even as it is ritualized, manifested in the structure of the water pots and the vessels that are used everyday, in the designs village women draw every morning on the walls of their mud huts, for instance.

(My bold throughout the quotes.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:08:13 AM EST
persuaded me that she was correct: white people, generally speaking, simply would not be able to relate and participate with people of color in this community of dancers

Because cultural experience is determined by the colour of one's skin.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:13:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately, social experience is too often determined by the color of one's skin.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:37:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And these "women of color" are determined to make sure it stays that way.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 08:06:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In college, I told one of my dearest friends, a black woman, that I thought she was limiting the huge potential of who she could be as a human being by sticking so resolutely to her self-identification as a black person.  Not in so many words, and with an effort (failed) to express this "sensitively".  I will never forget the shock and hurt I saw her in her face.  So much of who she was, she told me, was tied fundamentally to her being a black woman.  What I was telling her, she said, was like asking her to abandon huge chunks of who she was.

On the one hand, I still believe what I said was right, in some way.  I saw her as this amazing human being, and compartmentalizing that amazing person into a box labeled "Black Woman" seemed like such a reduction of who she really was and who she could be.  On the other hand, who am I to tell her that she should abandon -- or "transcend" -- her black identity?  How could I -- a non-black man -- possibly understand what her experience was like, much less judge how she decided to view herself?  Virtually abstract questions for me, but very concrete, urgent questions for her.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 08:22:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To some extent I can sympathise with cultural ideas of "clour". the major difference between men and women in terms of behaviour are, cultural. Yes, there is a skewing of how my mind works as a result of my having swapped testosterone for oestrogen a few years back, I can feel a "yearning" in me for other backgrounds.

But the overwhelming difference between me and "real" women is cultural. I simply don't share their cultural assumptions and aspirations. Nor can I undo the "training" I received in how to be a man enough to mimic those assumptions with becoming some ghastly parodic creation. Assuming the superficialities of female behaviour without having the deeper cultural understandings that make them whole and complete would show disrespect to the project of womanhood.

But being "black" was how your firend identified herself. We all lable ourselves to some extent. But it's important to use these as as roots for our questing and not as prisons to limit us.

That's what's so infernal about the dance teacher. She is imprisoning her culture, marking ghetto territories that are off-limits to others.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 09:07:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The identity of the company as a group of women of color, diverse in race, age, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, but uniformly committed to artistic excellence and social justice, is vital to me and to the success of my choreographic work.
In other words, non-white women. Defined in the same "touch of the tar brush" way that white segregationists used to define "coloured" not so long ago.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:15:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a reason I put "of color" in quotes.  It's her language, not mine.

As I said, I feel rather ambivalent about it.

But don't you agree that too often it is society at large that labels people based on their appearance, and not the individual who embraces a certain identity simply based on their contingent appearance?

A friend of mine's father was black and his mother is white.  He said he did not choose to "be black".  But that is how white America chose to view -- and treat -- him.  So he embraced this black identity which in a very big way was forced upon him by society at large.  In other words, if I understood him correctly, it was very hard for him to try to pretend not to be a person "of color".

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:33:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But don't you agree that too often it is society at large that labels people based on their appearance, and not the individual who embraces a certain identity simply based on their contingent appearance?
No, I don't agree. In my experience, not every woman of color identifies primarily as a "Womyn of Color". Whether the difference is the extent to which society at large has brought that identification home to them is a question I can't answer.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:36:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
not every woman of color identifies primarily as a "Womyn of Color".

That's fine for them.  For example, being half-Japanese, I could easily be considered/pass as a person of color.  But I do not identify as a "person of color", not even "primarily".  On the other hand, my sister, I believe, does identify as a "person of color".

The point of my sister's dance teacher was that there are women of color who do identify primarily as such.  And that is their own business, not yours or mine.

And one of her goals, as I quoted is

To create a network of support that validates the artistic practices and creativity of a group of women of color who have traditionally had difficulty in finding that support.

Her view was that white women, at least in Minnesota, cannot relate to the experiences of "women of color", and their experience would hamper in the fostering of that community/network of support for those women who do self-identify as women of color.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:54:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point of my sister's dance teacher was that there are women of color who do identify primarily as such.  And that is their own business, not yours or mine.

I agree. But when they then become political separatists or segregationists, it becomes an issue for the wider community.

On a related note, the other day I watched the beginning of the Channel 4 documentary on the Nazi twins and when the voiceover mentioned White Nationalism I found myself wondering why I found Black Nationalism less offensive.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 08:05:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, typically, (as in anti-trust law with near-monopolies) we ascribe different rules to hegemonic majorities compared to the minorities living with them.

I don't know that I'd defend that principle in general, but there is something to it in some cases I suspect.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 01:27:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
gee, could it be because one is a resistance movement and one is an established and hegemonic supremacy?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:13:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who is a Jew ? Heydrich defined them for the Nazis

Heydrich announced that mixed-race persons of the first degree would be treated as Jews. This would not apply if they were married to a non-Jew and had children by that marriage. It would also not apply if they had been granted written exemption by "the highest offices of the Party and State." Such persons would instead be sterilised.

"Mischlings of the second degree" would be treated as Germans unless they were married to Jews or mischlings of the first degree, or had a "racially especially undesirable appearance that marks him outwardly as a Jew", or had a "political record that shows that he feels and behaves like a Jew". Persons in these latter categories would be deported even if married to non-Jews.

In the case of mixed marriages, Heydrich advocated a policy of caution, "with regard to the effects on the German relatives". If such a marriage had produced children who were being raised as Germans, the Jewish partner would not be deported. If they were being raised as Jews, they might be deported, or sent to Theresienstadt, depending on the circumstances.

So who is coloured to this woman ? Full colour, half-colour, people of caucasian appearance who self-identify as black ? The madness of Heydrich, reproduced above, shows how nonsensical this becomes when written down.

Just as in wimminism, essentialism rears its head in racial theory. I reproduce its tenets here, it's not hard to see how it applies more generally

The idea that men and women are essentially fundamentally different and that the only way for women to find their own unique expression was to withdraw from male society as much as was possible.

Now it is easy to criticise essentialism, its basic premise of what makes certain groups of people the way they are (for example, women, blacks, Jews), are the political-philosophical constructs of conservatism. The history of essentialist argument is one of oppressors telling the oppressed to accept their lot in life because "that's just the way it is." By buying into the idea that women are the only non-aggressive, nurturing and life giving gender they were actually supporting patriarchal assumptions that kept women oppressed. Ironically, essentialism is becomes a specifically anti-progressive philosophy

I've heard the same argument in bellydance. It's ridiculous. If you're having a women's therapy group where women get together in communal self-healing, then okay, but don't pretend it's a dance class. And you'd better have a qualification in therapy else I might suspect there's a certain amount of bullshit going down.

Especially when it's a dance form with a tradition (however buried and denied) of male as well as female practitioners.

People who select on criteria of culture or race or gender should be challenged. Cultural separation is always a dead end and is invariably, as I found within bellydance, a veneer over much darker prejudices. And cultural relativity, the idea that equality is okay for white people, but we have to relax our expectations of other peoples because, well frankly they're not "advanced" enough, is an overtly racist concept. And if racists or sexists want to hide behind such things then they should be confronted.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 08:52:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So who is coloured to this woman ? Full colour, half-colour, people of caucasian appearance who self-identify as black ?

Really good question.  I don't know.  But I am pretty sure is she is not stupid enough to think that reality can be neatly categorized in legalistic fashion by mere words or formulas.  And if a white woman comes into her studio and tells her, "I'm black," I think she may be surprised, but open-minded and sophisticated enough to give that woman a sincere listen to see if her experience and outlook would fit the community's.  I am sure she considers each person on a case by case basis, and takes into consideration a range of factors.

Especially when it's a dance form with a tradition (however buried and denied) of male as well as female practitioners.

I'll have to ask her if the form of dance she has adapted did traditionally include male dancers.  If so, I would like to know what she would think of white choreographers/dance groups adapting those dance forms in such a manner as she did to exclude men.  If she did answer as I fear she might, then I would have to agree with your implication that her line of thinking is on the slippery slope to essentialism.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 10:35:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The difficulty of assessing if a dance form is gendered is very difficult. Many, many bellydancers, including almost all egyptians, will state categorically that men have never bellydanced.

The fact that it isn't true and the evidence is plainly and easily available shows how often a preferred mythology can trump reality.

Plus, when do you freeze truth and say that is how it should be. Ballet has its origins in a spanish folk dance of the 15th century that was exclusively male. I'm not sure that has any relevance now.

Equally in a world where artistic, cultural and gender boundaries are being challenged it seems perverse in the extreme to declare that some things just are and that we can't tinker at the boundaries.

All in all, I generally find exclusionary principles to be flawed and less rooted in unchallengable reality than those who state them would like to admit. But they do it anyway because it's not a reason, it's an excuse. An excuse for darker inadmissable reasons.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 11:33:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The difficulty of assessing if a dance form is gendered is very difficult. <...>

Plus, when do you freeze truth and say that is how it should be.

Again, good points.  Kabuki is currently and for most of its history has been an all-male form of theatre.  However, its founder was a woman and originally women played both male and female parts.  So which is the "real" kabuki?

Equally in a world where artistic, cultural and gender boundaries are being challenged it seems perverse in the extreme to declare that some things just are and that we can't tinker at the boundaries.

As I wrote in my previous comment, I don't think (though I don't know for sure) that she believes racial and cultural boundaries "just are" and goes by some kind of yes-no black-white check-list.  I am sure she considers each case on its own grounds within its own context, and looking at the unique pluses and minuses that each case may bring to the community, aware that no pre-formulated definition or check-list can exhaust the unanticipated possibilities that reality may bring up.  At least, I hope and expect she does.

An excuse for darker inadmissable reasons.

I am unclear as to what you imagine these reasons may be in this particular case.  What is real -- based on what I have seen personally -- is that her dance group provides a very meaningful and fruitful experience, artistically and "personally", for its participants and audience, and the bathwater must be really really dirty in order to justify throwing out the baby (the "women of color" membership requirement) along with it.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 05:02:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would call the sex and gender discrimination the dirty "bathwater" and the fruitful experience for participants and audience the "baby". But that's just me.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 05:17:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately, the situation does not lend itself to the metaphor so neatly.

I think Ananya's position is precisely that you could not have the particular artistic/personal experience she envisions without this community reserved for women of color.  So, if one suspects "darker inadmissable reasons" for such gender and racial discrimination beyond or behind Ananya's professed goals of artistic exploration and commmunal healing, someone please spell out what those suspected reasons are.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 05:56:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Simple: she hates men, and she hates whites.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 05:44:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sadly I agree, although I might not have written it so bluntly.

If her dance form is a cultural product of India, then she either restricts it to pure ethnic Indo-Asians or she opens it up completely. To claim she has anything in common with africans, hispanics, southern & nothern far-easterners is effectively saying that their similarity is predicated in being in contrast to white people. And that is a essentialist, racist statement.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 06:19:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
she either restricts it to pure ethnic Indo-Asians

i think that move would be "essentialist" (if i understand the term correctly) and racist.

as for your second point:  i think her own narrative is that colonialization, imperialism and globalization, primarily and overwhelmingly carried out by white people in recent history, are responsible for theft and abuse against non-white cultures across the world, and that is what she -- as an indian -- has in common with africans, asians, etc.  while historically it may be inaccurate, i am skeptical that it is essentialist or racist.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:11:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
while historically it may be inaccurate, i am skeptical that it is essentialist or racist.

It's more than inaccurate, it's delusional. The presence of indian, and far-eastern people in the USA has no background in imperialist or colonialist behaviour whilst the presence of African-Americans has an awful lot to do with it.

If she is claiming that, as a coloured person, she can share in the cultural degradation that african-americans have suffered then there is no point in further debate. Somebody so lost in self-serving patronising bullshit cannot be addressed by appeals to evidence or reason.

But to create such a fantasy, well I think that is rooted in issues she has with white people, however socially constructed, both male and female.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:27:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is far too extreme and binary.  Wanting a space for women of color does not entail hating all white people and all men.

I think it's fair to say that she has serious issues with men and white people.  But that is not the same thing as saying that she hates men and white people.  And it is certainly not the same thing as saying she is racist.  By that logic, every person who spews vitriol against "Anglo-American" this or that is a racist, and that doesn't seem correct.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:03:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's fair to say that she has serious issues with men and white people.  But that is not the same thing as saying that she hates men and white people.  And it is certainly not the same thing as saying she is racist.  By that logic, every person who spews vitriol against "Anglo-American" this or that is a racist, and that doesn't seem correct.

A combination of hair-splitting and Aunt Sally defence.

My experience with male-preventing dance teachers is that once you've addressed every supposedly real excuse for not allowing men into classes you're left with the great unsayable. As Sherlock Holmes said, "If you exclude all other possibilities, then whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth"

And I am as vitriolic about "Anglo-american" economic and political behaviour as anyone, yet to suggest I am prejudiced against Americans, or British for that matter, is just silly.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:40:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's one thing to spew vitriol about Anglo-American this or that, and another to say our blogging experience requires excluding Anglo-Americans from participating in the dialogue.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:41:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And just in case you suspect that such situations don't arise with gender I can assure you that they do.

Michigan women's camp refuses to accept even post-op trans women. A lot of the more essentialist wimmin's organisation have similar reservations.

I actually once hd a bizarre conversation with the organisation of a dance festival as to exactly where the bounds of acceptability for trans men might lie. Transvestite..no
Accepted for transgender treatment but pre-hormonal..no
Pre-op but passing...yes
pre-op but likely to cause comments...no

We were deep in Heydrich territory at that point and I had to quieten my utter outrage because these bigoted fools actually thought they were trying to be fair.

All of which were slightly undermined by my question at the end of asking them how could they know if a woman was really a convincing transvestite. Unless they're willing to have intimate examinations of all delegates they were really hoist by their silly prejudice

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 03:09:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the contrary, reading your diary made it clear from the outset that the very same issues come up with gender.  In fact, you put your finger in one of your earlier comments about racial exclusion on a conundrum which I (perhaps oversimplifying) I thought might have a parallel in gender exclusion:

The white woman who self-identifies as black trying to enter a "colored only" group seems to me to pose the same difficult case as the man who self-identifies as female trying to enter a "women only" group.  Here I tread in very unfamiliar territory, and as such may completely be mistaken, but my understanding is that there are people who while physiologically of one sex/gender, feel themselves "deep inside" to actually be of the other gender, to have been "born the wrong sex" so to speak.  (I have to admit, this is based on nothing more than what I have read/seen in popular media, books, movies, documentaries, etc. and as such may be sorely mistaken.)

If there are such men who feel themselves to be women and women who feel themselves to be men, then who are others to exclude saying that they are not who they say they are?  Similarly, if a white person says they are black, or a black person says they are white, who are others to exclude them saying that they are not who they say they are?

This problem is too difficult for me, and though it may be a cop-out in the face of this complexity, I tend to think that these categories -- "male", "female", "black", "white", "latino", "european", "french", "anglo", etc. -- are merely words that have some contextually determined pragmatic value, but do not have any objective or absolute meaning or denotation.  And so, while they are no doubt often very useful, in fact, almost necessary, their meanings must be kept in perspective and context, and understood and "negotiated" on a case by case basis.  I believe Ananya shares this notion of racial and ethnic groups, but I am not sure: unfortunately, we did not discuss this very difficult and important point.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 05:31:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but rather than have to sift intentions from misleading and self-serving explanations, wouldn't it be a lot easier if she just did the right thing, and not exclude people on basis of perceived race or gender ?

I think that, given her stated position, the burden of proof that she is NOT racist or sexist must lie with her. Not for us to prove otherwise.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:44:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So in this case, presume her guilty and put the burden of proof on her to prove she is innocent?

The very fact that we have different views on whether she is racist/sexist (I would not say she is, nor is the conception of her all "women of color" dance group) shows that the burden of proof is on those who would charge her with being racist/sexist.  Not on her to prove that she is not.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Jul 25th, 2007 at 09:22:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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