Thursday, January 12, 2017

Writing - Diversity is a White Word

Writing - Diversity is a White Word

This is a piece of writing by Tania Canas about Diversity and art. It made me sit up and think immediately.



The superficial scramble for cultural diversity is not addressing the deep causes of exclusion and the power imbalance in the arts.


Diversity is a white word

TANIA CANAS

Diversity is the in-vogue theme for the cultural industry, becoming an exercise in ill-thought-out, quick responses to stage diversity rather than as an opportunity to re-imagine the entire sector. It has become painfully obvious that the sector’s increasing self-awareness and subsequent panic, has caused a scramble towards superficial diversity, rather than an opportunity to dismantle the frameworks that created the systemic exclusion to begin with. Diversity is restricted to aesthetic presentation, rather than a meaningful, committed, resourced, long-term process of shifting existing power-dynamics.

Diversity is a white word, or as Ghassan Hage describes, a ‘white concept’. It seeks to make sense, through the white lens, of difference by creating, curating and demanding palatable definitions of ‘diversity’ but only in relation to what this means in terms of whiteness. Terms such as 'diversity', 'multiculturalism', and 'culturally and linguistically diverse' (CALD) only normalise whiteness as the example of what it means to be and exist in the world. Therefore the diversity discourse within the cultural sector, has only created frames by which diversity is given ‘permission’ to exist under conditional inclusion.This is inclusion that is conditional on predefined, palatable criteria; a means to frame, describe and ultimately prescribe diversity through constructed visibilities.

Just because we exist in a space, doesn’t mean we’ve had autonomy in the process by which the existence has occurred. It is not about ‘giving a voice’, we already have one. It has been systematically silenced. What we are talking about is power and self-determination. Diversity is not about assigning spaces for designated self-expression in which we speak within spaces designed for us- diversity in cultural leadership as challenging the very terms of engagement and enunciation.  

QUESTION THE TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT

The arts industry relies heavily on its reputation and expects engagement, upon and within the terms already set. These terms, protocols and thus curations of engagement remain within the terms of enunciation that reproduce enunciator- enunciated dynamics. In so doing it thus fails to shift power-dynamics and roles in the arts. The diversity discourse, when it sits within the same terms of enunciation, is ultimately superficial as it lacks collective, meaningful, decision-making as well as a vision for core industry change.

The industry needs to critically check its intention, positionality and ultimately, its ego. Asking what the aesthetic and epistemic assumptions are carries?  It needs to be willing to be vulnerable, take risks, radically listen and surrender the ‘”need for immediate affirmation of successful” (Hooks, 1994). For the sector to rely solely on its reputation is in this case, to rely on colonial definitions of institutionalised culture, the very same ones that have historically and not only defined but systematically excluded ‘othered’ voices.

PARTICIPATION VS PRESENTATION


It must also note that there are multiple manifestations as to ways in which participation occurs, understanding that participation can just as easily be token as progressive- as Arnstiens ladder of participation suggests.

It is also not enough to just pay participants in a project developed from top-down. Ask instead what are the pathways for core involvement? Key decision-making power and self-determination? How are the terms reproducing representation rather than shifting/challenging?

Participation in the form of presentation is not enough, we need to be part of the creation of our own representations, through diversity in cultural leadership.  It is not about the spaces being created for visibility but how they are created.

DON’T LOOK FOR AUTHENTICITY, SEEK MULTIPLICITY

The sector needs to abandon its quest for authenticity and instead seek multiplicity. Authenticity is determined, verified and labelled by the dominant narrative in relation to periphery narratives. When tied to ideas of staging ‘authentic voices’ the arts restricts, places demands on form and content as well as systematically silences the multiplicity of truths. It is an exercise of institutional and national power from the entitled to do so (Hage, 2000). Multiplicity, as opposed to authenticity, defies constructs that are palpable and easily consumable to the dominant narrative.

BUILD COMMUNITY, NOT AUDIENCES

The recent discourse on diversity comes at a very deliberate moment and in a rush to look progressive the industry is looking for a superficial-fix. It does so by identifying artists who have ‘made it’ (without acknowledging their ongoing social struggles to do so) and throwing them onto the stage in a self-appeasing manner. This often comes in the form of Ambassador Programs, the industry can say it is doing something but in reality it has no clue about how to develop, nurture, support nor fiercely defend artists. The industry wants to ‘highlight voices’ without the responsibility of meaningly supporting them.

Sarah Ahmed, in ‘on being included: racism and diversity in institutional life’ argues that to recognise diversity requires a time, energy and labour to be given to diversity. Recognising thus the material as well as symbolic: how time, energy and labour are directed within institutions (p. 29) rather than it be left to ‘chance’.  As with ambassadorships however, appointments of a sole diversity officer or diversity ambassador can actually be an indication of the absence of a wider support for diversity throughout the entire institution.

The sector thus needs to trust and be prepared to take risks. To do so, the arts must apply community-engagement methodologies, not with the aim of building audiences but building and strengthening community.  It is not working for community, and sometimes not even with but as community, exemplifying a praxis of "nothing about us, without us."

PROCESS AND PRODUCTION, NOT JUST PROGRAMING

Self-determination in the arts can only occur through “a real control of all the means of communal self-definition in time and space.” (Ngugi, 1986). In order for this to occur the arts must democratise the means of theatrical production. This means looking at the entire industry, as a microcosm of power dynamics.  Democratising the means of theatrical production provides an avenue for reframing the very terms of engagement that, regardless of intention, often reproduces the same enunciator-enunciated dynamics.

The very idea that diversity is about those who look different shows us how it can keep whiteness in place. 

In Space invaders: race, gender and bodies out of place (2004) Nirmal Puwar argues that diversity has come to overwhelming mean the inclusion of people who look different. The very idea that diversity is about those who look different shows us how it can keep whiteness in place.  Thus it becomes about generating the ‘right image’ or in other words changing the perceptions of whiteness rather than changing the whiteness of organisation.

QUOTAS ARE NOT ENOUGH

The considerations regarding quotas must come with the understanding these are not enough.  If we are talking about systemic exclusion then we must look at the entire institution, organisation, and the sector. Our consideration needs to go beyond the perceived ‘entry point’ as the sole problem. The’ entry point’ is only a minute aspect of the bigger problem. The sector must support this further with a more critical and holistic, socio-spatial and political understanding of its very existence. Quotas do nothing if you are just introducing and expecting us to exist within the same colonial structural terms of enunciation. You might let a few of us in through quotas but no further support throughout an entirely white institution.

First Nations, not just white definitions of ‘diversity’

In colonial settler contexts terms often remain defined and aligned with colonial history and processes and contemporary manifestations within institutes.

The diversity discourse has often been used at the expense of First Nation representation and sovereignty. White definition of ‘diversity’ applied to reproduce white Australia ideology, bureaucracy and thus institutional whiteness in the arts. In so doing, diversity discourse becomes another extension of ongoing colonial violence.

You can’t talk about ‘diversity’ and undoing institutional whiteness without real, meaningful solidarity with First Nation Sovereignty and self-determined processes in arts, culture, community engaged practices and beyond.

CONCLUSION

Without rethinking terms we run the risk of already ‘othered’ voices becoming further tokenised through the diversity discourse, rather than the lack there of. We create disposable voices, restricted to exist within the same power structure that excluded them in the first place. It is not good enough to seek being included in the same discursive, epistemic and systemic architectures, as mere additions, but it has become urgent and vital to (re)think, (re)conceptualise in order to critically (re)imagine the entire sector.

Cultural diversity in leadership is a step towards changing the terms of the conversation, and who gets to enunciate whom? It shifts from responding to questions to asking questions and allows for us to do the inviting rather than just getting invited. This is a conceptual shift from working for community, and not even with, but as community.

A version of this article was first given as part of the International Society for Performing Arts Congress, ‘Reimagining’ May 30-June 4, 2016 at the Arts Centre Melbourne as part of a talk and panel on Diversity in Cultural Leadership.

References

Hage, G. (2000). White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, NSW, Australia: Routledge.

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the practice of freedom, New York, USA: Routledge.

Ngugi, T. (1986). Decolonising the Mind: the politics of language in African literature, Nairobi, Kenya: East African Educational Publishers.

Puwar, N. (2004). Space Invaders: race, gender and bodies out of place, London, UK: Berg Publishers.



FIRST PUBLISHED ON MONDAY 9 JANUARY, 2017
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tania CaƱas is the Arts Director at RISE Refugee as well as a lecturer, tutor and PhD candidate at the Centre for Cultural Partnerships at The University of Melbourne. She has had her creative work published through Currency Press Australia as well as academic journals. She has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally, as well as facilitated community theatre workshops at universities, within prisons and youth groups-in in Australian, Northern Ireland, The Solomon Islands, The United States and most recently South Africa.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Street - One

Street - One

She is in the market, two spread out blankets in front of her, books, and carvings. Corner spot, ideal. Room for people to stand or kneel down, look at things, pick up books. One fold out chair, come and sit. Emily. Her name, is Emily. Clear day, afternoon in December. Teenager runs up. She doesn't know him. Drops to his knees right in front of her.

"Your son went down. On the corner. Howe. Paramedics with him now. They don't think he's doing so well."

She gets up, hustles the two blocks to the corner where flashing lights and paramedics are feeding her boy oxygen through a mask.

Six days in a hospital she holds his hands.

Cold hands.

As his organs fail.

On the sixth day. They take him off the machines. He never wakes. They shake their heads. He never woke up. She never got to look him in the eye again.

Carfentanil. A new street opioid, fifteen times more potent than fentanyl which is the buzz word on every media person's lips.

You want to talk about how do we make lives better?

Here.

There are six overdoses a day.

Fifty deaths a week.

They're dying there on the streets.

Dying invisibly while you fight your war. While you talk about money. While you talk about power. While you talk about equality.

Her son's name was Sean. He sold cigarettes on a street corner and he slipped through the cracks invisible.

He was aboriginal. He left behind a wife and a child.

He wasn't anyone. And he isn't anyone anymore.

It's not safe.

Fuck you.

Help, Me.

Quotes - Gus Speth

Quotes - Gus Speth

I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change.  I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and Apathy...and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation - and we scientists don't know how to do that.
-Gus Speth

Monday, December 12, 2016

Humans of New York - Obama

Humans of New York - Obama




“I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ – then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Life - Wytai

Life - Wytai

n. a feature of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them remember what they got up to do.

#DictionaryOfObscureSorrows

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Musings - Art and Love

Musings - Art and Love

The nature of the artwork you do changes a lot when you're in love. I also find myself working more often in both darker and lighter headspaces at the same time.

It's very confusing.

Sometimes I still want to tear myself apart, working on subjects that make me look critically at the very worst of the world.

Then I don't.

I suppose I don't really understand.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Charity - Desert Bus 10

Charity - Desert Bus 10

Desert Bus 10 just ended. This year, we raised some 690 thousand dollars for children's hospitals, domestic violence shelters, and charity. The donations continue to trickle in, but for a week, it is important to think about making a concerted effort at bringing more light into the world. It's a dark time everywhere right now. We are plagued by an uncertain future, and concerns that what we understand to be ethically, morally forward thinking are perhaps not shared with our fellow denizens of the planet. But instead of hiding, instead of running away, it is important to stand up and do action to push further and higher.

Voting is one step to an engaged populace. Volunteering, which you can do any day, volunteering and donating money are conscious decisions you can make every day to ensure the world for tomorrow is a better place.

Alex gave a speech about doing more, about making choices and about being better human beings.

I'm linking it in below here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq1qB5QkOmk&feature=youtu.be


I'm also linking in the Desert Bus Documentary. I hope it resonates with you the way it does me. Desert bus represents 8 years now of commitment I've had. For 8 years, about proving that humans can, should, and will do good things. I've never been really rich, this is the first year I've been able to donate three figures worth of money, but whatever the amount, giving anything is a demonstration. In a modern world that belabours the ideas of nihilism, a demonstration of charity is a striking action of ethical protest.

DB10 - Desert Bus Documentary Trailer