“This idea of gatekeeping is indeed so important, particularly given how much attention, especially today, is being paid in the nonprofit realm to racial equity and intentions to create a different future for the way nonprofits do their work. I would say that as a predominantly white organization, we need to know that addressing white superiority needs to go beyond such acts as hiring people of color, which is why we need to talk more about the habits of white superiority. And, particularly, with respect to white women in leadership roles, we need to understand what impact we have when it comes to addressing racial oppression. I think women present themselves differently than men, but wonder from your perspective why it’s important for us to call out white women in leadership. What habits do we bring into the workplace that perpetuates the white dominant culture in organizations. Can you unpack that a bit with respect to these habits in organizations and nonprofit organizations.” Diana Dollar
White Women Fuckery In The Arts
In February of 2022, I introduced the idea of The Albuquerque Contemporary Dance Festival to Elyse Fahey and Madrone Matysiak. We had spent the previous seven months dancing together in different class contexts at Studio Sway and I thought I could trust them to collaborate on a project to promote contemporary dance in Albuquerque.
Elyse Fahey owns Studio Sway and she agreed to host ACDF for the first year. Immediately, red flags ensued and I approached Elyse about “Studio Sway” taking ownership of the festival. This was Elyse’s response on February 24th, 2022.
“Just want to clarify from our conversation last night; making the festival more Studio Sway-oriented, so to speak, has nothing to do with me wanting any sort of ownership or power around the idea of ACDF, and everything to do with keeping this whole offering as neutral, simple, and drama-free as possible. Sway is a nice little neutral entity in this community; we (I) don’t have any bad blood anywhere or with anyone.“
Very early on in our “collaboration” I noticed power dynamics that were deeply concerning to me and to the health of our project. Elyse and Madrone insisted on centering themselves in the “collaboration,” sidelining my voice and presence. When I asked if they would be willing to be aware of the dynamic in the room, in other words, to recognize how they organize, I was met with fragility rather than responsibility.
Our “collaboration” was fraught with their inability to acknowledge how they exclude and how this exclusion assumes power. On multiple occasions, I asked for us to come together to process our dynamic, but Elyse and Madrone would not make time for such a discussion. My unease in the “collaboration” was not a priority for them.
Miraculously, the festival was an enormous success and filled a void that had long been vacant in Albuquerque. Before the close of the festival I asked for a debriefing session. After the close of the festival I asked for a mediated debriefing session. Instead, this is the email I received from Elyse.
I replied. There is a typo, conversion should read as conversation.
I set up the Albuquerque Contemporary Dance Festival Facebook page after establishing the Facebook profile, Acdf Threshold. This is the message I received from Facebook when I tried to log into the account after Elyse sent the above email. Elyse and Madrone changed the password two days before sending the email above.
The ACDF Facebook page was connected to our Instagram account, which Elyse managed. There are 36 posts on the ACDF Instagram account. These accounts were not linked until some time after they were both created, so maybe 33 posts transferred from Instagram.
There are a total of 67 posts on the ACDF Facebook page. At least 34 were generated by me, along with the 17 event pages for ACDF’s workshops and events, which I created from my personal Facebook account. The Acdf Threshold profile page has 35 additional posts.
Elyse and Madrone blocked me from access and they have locked me out of all our shared accounts, email, google drive etc. They have literally, stolen my labor.
Elyse did not respond, so I sent another email. The following proposed accountability structure is inspired by the work of choreographer, Folawole Oyinlola. I do not intend to take ownership in replicating it here.
This is Madrone’s response to an email about collective accountability. She never acknowledges that I have asked for a mediated accountability process. In fact, she never mentions the word accountability. Instead, she launches a new series of accusations, meant to deflect from the need to engage in reconciliation, but all of her complaints would be better handled in a safe space to resolve structural and interpersonal conflicts, which is why people seek mediation.
Madrone put my name in the subject window, but she does not grant me subjectivity. I am the subject of the email, but Madrone does not address me by name, in an email where she writes about feeling disrespected.
The burden is the burden her and Elyse feel towards being held accountable to how they reproduce institutional power dynamics in community organizing. The last paragraph reveals the script they are crafting to justify stealing ACDF, including my labor.
Imagine being dismembered by your own “collaborators” socially and professionally and then having these same perpetrators turn around and say they feel unsafe around you? This is the problem with white women innocence, it is violent to its core.
As a cis-gendered, straight white woman, I don’t ever assume that I am beyond accountability. If I use ablest language, it is important for me to understand exactly what that language is, so that I can self correct and alleviate any harm my micro-aggression may have caused another person. I do not use intersectional language to justify my white women fuckery, because that of course is, fuckery.
Elyse and Madrone also run Albuquerque Dance Connect. This is a screenshot from the Albuquerque Dance Connect website.
Albuquerque Dance Connect is a predominately white women led, non-profit organization that “aims to unite dancers through inclusivity, visibility and collaboration.”
What does it mean to add tag lines to your mission statement such as inclusion and diversity or a land acknowledgement? What does it mean to free float these terms outside of the acknowledgement of white supremacist settler colonialism? Is the effect to detach the stated mission from actual accountability?
I wrote the land acknowledgement for the ACDF website. The “Albuquerque Contemporary Dance Festival would like to acknowledge, with reverence and respect, the Indigenous inhabitants of New Mexico. We seek to promote authentic relationships and to be in solidarity with Native sovereignty.”
Below is a conversation between Elyse and I about commencing each evening event with a land acknowledgement.
Sri, “I will work on a land acknowledgement. Each night will feature a local Indigenous group that people can learn about and support.”
Elyse, “I think that we should echo the land acknowledgment that we have on our website.
We are not a native-centric festival and I’m not sure that it makes sense to mention indigenous groups before each event. To me it feels posturing, and doesn’t have anything to do with what this festival is about.“
Sri, “For me, the thing with land acknowledgments is that they become trite when they are not backed by anything. One way is to highlight actual native organizations doing the work of native recovery/sovereignty. We are not a native group, but we are on native land and my question is, if we seek to be in authentic relationship, what does that mean? What are we wiling to do for that? Are we willing to do anything more than a land acknowledgment?”
The above exchange reveals the empty lip service white women, especially those who lead organizations, are willing to perform in order to feign social relevance.
I think it is important for white women in the arts, who make these statements of supposed solidarity, to also have to state what their accountability process is for when they inevitably fail to meet their stated mission.
If arts organizations depoliticize “inclusion” and “diversity” do they normalize the abuse of colonial supremacy? What are the ways that white women artists and art administrators normalize this cultural violence?
Here is a partial list of the kinds of tactics white women use to normalize neo-colonial abuse. These behaviors are part of a deliberate attempt to obscure reality, by creating unreality, in an effort to appropriate and maintain power.
Many of you will recognize these gaslighting techniques from your own work environments and creative collaborations. This is taken from Wikipedia on Workplace bullying via Buddhist scholar, Dr. Frances Garrett.
- False accusations or mistakes of errors
- Hostile gaze
- Exclusion and Isolation
- Withholding resources
- Behind the back sabotage, defamation or spreading rumors
- Trivial fault finding
- Accusation of lack of effort
- Personal attacks
- Not giving credit
- Removal of position
- Treating you like you are incompetent
- Keeping you out of the loop of information
- Ignoring you
- Ghosting you
- Erasing you and your contribution from the project
Sara Ahmed’s latest book Complaint focuses on interrupting institutional power. Their work largely addresses the abuses of academic hegemony and how to deprive institutions of power, but problems confronting gatekeepers persist in all social systems, including collaborative projects. Sara Ahmed and her book Complaint is invaluable for anyone who has ever tried to disrupt corrosive power dynamics. In Sara’s words, you the complainer, will find the empathy you seek.
“I consider institutional power in terms of who “holds the door” to the institution, who can determine not only who gets into the institution, but who progresses through it.
Those who abuse power often represent themselves as generous, as willing and able to open the door for others. In a gift, is lodged a threat to shut the door on anyone, who will not do what they want them to do.
The creation of Complaint Collectives “formed to get complaints about harassment and bullying through the systems designed to stop them.” – Sara Ahmed
Elyse and Madrone will not just bury the complaint, they will bury the complainer, because like many institutions and organizations, their commitment to power, to white supremacist, settler colonial-patriarchy, while dangling the inclusivity carrot, is the sleight of hand they willingly perform to never have to do the real work of accountability.
It should be noted that Madrone Matysiak works for the city of Albuquerque in the Public Art department.
EPILOGUE: The Power of Collective Complaint
Cookie Harrist is a Bay Area dancer and choreographer, who has done an enormous amount of work to challenge the power dynamics that exist between dancer and choreographer and dancer and arts organization. One slogan she uses is, “No dancer is replaceable.”
What makes this statement so profound? In the field of dance, power has always maintained itself through the practice of replaceability. You are replaceable if you advocate for yourself. You are replaceable if you ask for a living wage. You are replaceable if you say no, if you draw any kind of personal, ethical or artistic boundary. You are replaceable if you challenge the power structure in any way.
There is no union. No bargaining power. No solidarity among collaborators. If you are deemed “difficult” because you are a necessary feminist kill joy, you are replaceable. This is why with respect to how power operates, the field of dance doesn’t change. The complaint and the complainer are simply terminated, replaced.
But some of us refuse to be expendable and this is the power of collective complaint, “to get complaints about harassment and bullying through the systems designed to stop them.”
In my refusal to be expendable, I am creating the ABQ Complaint Collective. I invite every complainer, who has ever been made to feel replaceable or expendable, to join the collective. The ABQ Complaint Collective is about reparative justice. It is a feminist practice committed to pursuing radical accountability.
We seek to be in solidarity with all other Complaint Collectives.
My deepest gratitude to Sara Ahmed.
For more information email email@example.com
Authored by Sri Louise on occupied Tiwa land, Albuquerque, New Mexico.