Safe White Spaces in Lindy Hop

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After extensive studying of Dr. Ladson-Billings’ work in Critical Race Theory as well as Leonardo & Porter’s landmark article “Pedagogy of Fear” addressing the violence in safe spaces, I must question the intent behind how we talk about race and intersectionality. For reference, I’ll take the best and biggest mother-event of North American – Lindy Focus. The Code of Conduct states (in part),

“Lindy Focus is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable event experience for everyone, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion (or lack thereof). We do not tolerate harassment of event participants in any form.”

The subtext behind statements like these about “safe spaces” implies those of us caught in the intersection of Othered identifiers are someone to be feared. How so? Stengel (2010) writes in “The Complex Case of Fear and Safe Space” that, “By designating fears, we construct safe space for some and unsafe space for others. That is, we construct the world as safe and unsafe and control the movement of fear but also the movement of bodies in that world” (531). Sometimes when I read about Safe Spaces in lindy hop, I get the feeling that my race makes people feel discomfort based on the wording of codes. I understand the policies are in place for my benefit, but at the same time, I wonder how will this anti-racism attitude be reinforced? When I go to events, I seldom see an APIA (Asian Pacific Islander American) in a place of power as a lindy hop professional (with a few exceptions, like Anthony Chen, Naomi Uyama, or Alain Wong). Full disclosure: It should be noted when prompted for an APIA swing dancer interview for an Asian American Cultural Center gallery, none some did not respond. IMPORTANT EDIT: Alain Wong was one of the individuals who graciously responded. Otherwise, I feel as if safe spaces, in terms of race, are there for the comfort of whiteness. Even after the implementation of Codes of Conduct, I still feel uncomfortable when I go to many events. As diverse as some venues are historically, I exist as an APIA and a minority lindyhopper in a mostly white space. It is never really safe nor is it ever really openly talked about.

I have had several moments where white people feel exempt from this conversation in regards to race because, “I see people as individuals” (basically, “I don’t see color” or colorblind race theory). This particular perspective reveals insidious racism based on how white privilege has seeped into consciousness, rendering Other experiences invisible. It is THE most upsetting for me because I feel like some may not see my lived experiences as legitimate or even there. Further, people openly culturally appropriate traditional Chinese garments like no other. In fact, lindy hoppers have won fashion awards for wearing cheongsams without understanding the implications of wearing  cheongsams. Chang shan (长衫)is a part of Chinese feminist history during the Republican period, as only men were allowed to wear such robes before. Taking the cheongsam from APIA culture is like taking part of my voice and agency away when people feel the need to play “dress up” in yellow face.

I once thought, “Oh, overseas locations will be different. There’s an international crowd.” How wrong I was. Nostalgia for bygone eras has crept into scenes in other countries as well, and I feel even more uncomfortable in my skin. While overseas, both in Europe and Asia, I felt this overwhelming pressure to do swing “the right way.” Event organizers idealized whiteness in fashion, in form, and in movement. What is the right way? Why are the stakes for competitive lindy hop so high? Yes, I understand the beauty in technical and musical form. However, there is also a beauty in social dance I feel is often pushed under the rug or overshadowed by the “glory” of our lindy stars. How frightening this is when the “glory” is mostly white.

This is not to say I don’t appreciate the current rigor of the lindy climate or the fantastic individuals already making waves in the scene. However, there needs to be more diversity and representation. I refuse to go to another event where I can count APIA people on one hand. I refuse to audition for another advanced track when I’m referred to as “one of the Chinese girls.” (How did you know I was Chinese? Did I tell you? Did you ask me?) I refuse to answer any more questions about where I’m originally from. Do I ask you where your parents are from? Do I question your upbringing because you don’t “look like” you’re from somewhere?

This is what I will do. I will interrupt you if I feel like you are being culturally insensitive or incompetent. I will be polite and kind about it, but I will be relentless. I will try to break through the bamboo ceiling of the lindy hop world. I will question everything and everyone, regardless of their “status” as a lindy star or a lindy novice (because everyone is a little bit prejudiced). I sometimes might need a break, because battle fatigue is real. I will pick my battles. I will do it with allies.

I want to emphasize that many will try to write me off as an angry minority stereotype. Beneath the hype, try to remember what I’m saying. There is little representation. Those who have the privilege to speak may decide not to. I want to voice my concerns because they are legitimate.

Here’s to happier, more culturally competent dancers.

#NotYourAsianSidekick,

Yue

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Safe White Spaces in Lindy Hop

  1. In your opinion, is there a context where it would be appropriate for a Caucasian woman to wear a cheongsam or qipao? There was a discussion about this some time ago on Facebook that I found informative and the consensus from the APIA dancers involved in the discussion was that the context of where and how the garment is worn is very important, but that it was not entirely off-limits to non-APIA persons.

    • Hi Laura! I would say if you are wearing a cheongsam honoring the people who created an ideology of feminism and empowerment, more power to you. However, I would err on the side of knowledge. When I see someone wear a cheongsam who is non-APIA, I either think they are incredibly travel savvy and went to East Asia or they found one in a vintage store. For the latter, this may be inappropriate in some contexts if you do not know the history of how/why the garment was worn. I say if the fashionista knows his/her/their APIA history and is intentional without being malicious, this is a perfectly fine outfit.

      • I went looking for the discussion, but Facebook seems to have swallowed it whole, it’s been several years since the discussion – the impetus for the discussion was a Katy Perry video that was full of a mishmash of Asian cultural appropriation and the cheongsam/qipao was very much a part of the discussion because it is a garment that is fairly accessible to people in the US. This discussion occurred around the time that I was considering having one made, since I have never found one to fit me off-the-rack (though I have tried at many a vintage store!), and I agree, knowing the history of the garments we wear is very important, particularly if cultural appropriation is an issue.

      • No worries! I have definitely had similar qualms about Katy Perry and that particular AMA representation. I’m so glad that you were looking to get one made! I am looking to get one made myself when I go to Taipei in the summer.

  2. I wish more frank discussions would happen in person, but if it were me, I’d get tired of explaining people’s bullshit to them every time I encounter it. I still try to understand where I might be an asshole and, you know, try to be that less.

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