Liza May

Race and Racism

Two months ago I checked my SwingDiego hotel reservation and discovered that I didn't have a SwingDiego hotel reservation. What?!? OH NO!

What. A. Dumb. Mistake. The hotel was sold out!

So here we are, for the first time in ten years, missing SwingDiego.

I'm telling myself I will survive.

I won't die, I won't die, I won't die. Probably.

Not being at SwingDiego I have an unexpected week at home. And absolutely blissful weather!  It actually feels like SwingDiego weather here  --  sunny, breezy, spring flowers!   We're going to an actual dinner party this weekend!   We haven't done that since we began travelling the circuit ten years ago.

By the way - there is a live feed for SwingDiego if you want to watch. I can't find the link posted anywhere, but I think it's a U-Stream feed. I would expect they will post the link later today, either on the website or the Facebook page

Hey you! Yes, you projects over there in a pile, making mean faces at me for years. I have a whole week free. So chill out, projects. Go have a glass of wine,  go smoke some pot if you're a story about Colorado.

So.   Now.  On an entirely different subject.    Completely unrelated to wonderful, beautiful, marvelous SwingDiego.


We live right next to Baltimore.

Last week was hard.

Profoundly sad.

Flames, rioting, violence, looting, protests, police and national guard, international media coverage.

Hard issues have been forced into the open, the veil has been lifted. The most difficult questions: 

Race, Class, and Justice.

There is not a person here -  in Baltimore, DC, Philadelphia - who, facing these questions -  is not struggling emotionally.  Asking questions of the world, asking them of ourselves.


So I'm asking:

Do we have racism in the West Coast Swing community?

Not De Jure, of course.

But De Facto. Behind a veil.

We like to think that we have a culture of inclusion, but is there unspoken bias in our community?

Do we even want to look at this?  To ask this sad question?

Because West Coast Swing is not about politics. It's exactly the opposite.  It's a haven from politics. From the hard stuff.

It's where we go to play.  Laugh.  Be with friends!  

Our happy place!

It's  my  happy place, at least.

But  ....  I hate to think this  ...  maybe it's not everybody's happy place.

Maybe it's difficult for some people.  And I, we, haven't asked.

For Blacks especially. In particular for Blacks.

For many reasons, among them the fact that West Coast Swing - like jazz, and rock and roll - was first Black.

From the Texas Tommy in 1910

To the Darktown Follies in 1913

And Shorty George ...

And Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, and 1930's Savoy Ballroom

These are our roots.  Black roots.

Our dance is, in its very soul,  is an African American dance form.

Do we acknowledge this? Enough?  Honor this?

But  -  talk is cheap, as they say.  So more important than acknowledging or honoring, making speeches or tributes, this question:  

Are we, as a community, a happy place, a home, for Blacks?

I remember an astounding conversation I had with a friend, some years back.

He's black.

He was teaching at the time, running dances, all black.

He said the music we dance to at west coast events and local dances - that's not the music his people dance to.

I was shocked, totally confused.

"What?"  I said.

"None of it? Usher? Beyonce? Rihanna? Blues? Hip Hop?  R&B?"

"Oh, we dance to R&B, he said. Just not your R&B.  And no hip-hop - it's not good dance music."

"What we listen to,"  he said,  "is the music we hear on our radio stations."     "We" meaning, as he called it, "my people."  

He said, "I wouldn't want to bring my people into that world, the west coast swing world."

"It's hard to say why." he said, "Hard to describe. Most people are nice enough.  Most, but not all. There's that."

"But - it's just something else."

"My people, they'd feel like strangers.  The jokes, the clothes, the "etiquette," the conversations -  they might  feel kind of unwelcome, somehow.  I wouldn't want to put them through that, make them feel uncomfortable. It wouldn't be fun for them."

It's been many years since this conversation, but I can't get it out of my head.  I've retold it many times.

It's sad.

It's scary.

Scary to think how I would feel to be a fish out of water, disoriented, strange.  If not outright unwelcome.

I wouldn't want to feel like that.

Not wanting to feel like that.  Maybe this, more than anything else, is the biggest resistance to embracing other cultures.

 Specifically, Black American culture, the very culture that gave birth to our dance.

But ...

Now what?

What do we do?

Where do we go from here?


Filed Under: Community

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