The first thing you should know about our friendship is that when we are together, we get off-topic immediately. We are excellent at tangents. So, when Bhumi emailed us, we immediately were engaged by the idea to further develop and expand upon our already ongoing conversations that respond to the proposed questions: “if not us, who; if not now, when?”
But between Veronica performing on her first national Broadway tour and Rebecca navigating her first semester of graduate school, our schedules rarely align and conversations often only occur via text. We tried twice to connect on Zoom to discuss our thoughts for this article, witnessed each other’s bleary eyes and brain fog, and decided to reschedule. Despite this, our text conversations sustained. Our blue and white bubbles found each other in our respective breaks and allowed for flexible response times.
We thought about sharing our texts with In Dance, but this opportunity felt like a moment for growth. Veronica is interested in developing a podcast that addresses navigating other-ness in predominantly white theater and dance spaces, and Rebecca is grateful for the opportunity to write outside of grad school.
What we conjured up for this issue of In Dance is a nonlinear conversation–part transcribed Zoom conversation (our third Zoom meeting was successful) and part pre-and-post- asynchronous text interventions into that dialogue. It is a nonsequential offering, it does not have a clear beginning nor a clear end. It goes off-topic. We experiment with how our contributions can reflect our current contexts and multi-cultural identities. We purposefully ask you to dance through our pause-filled messiness as a direct resistance to the linear clarity that whiteness demands. This conversation is a peek into our ten years of friendship and familial shorthand that traverses emotional support, meme creation, and critical conversations. We gently share this offering that touches briefly on the topics of hair, whiteness, systemic injustice, and gossip and that grows from our ability as friends to check each other’s bullshit and celebrate each other’s joys.
RF: My computer is sitting on my washing machine.
VJ: That’s amazing.
RF: My roommate’s asleep so I didn’t want to bother her…
VJ: Yeah…. I’m wearing my hat.
RF: Your hair is getting long!
VJ: It’s getting super long. Very difficult to put in pin curls for wig prep…
Rebecca: Veronica and I frequently talk about our hair. To me, my style represents my queer identity and the texture is where my mixed-race identity shines. Most of my hair is thick, brown-black, straight and wiry, but recently one perfect ringlet has sprung forth from underneath my bangs. My English ancestors are showing up!
Veronica: Oh, I didn’t know we had started the “thing” yet and this was on record. Wig prep includes many hair pins, and after my last dance contract that included hair length stipulations, I’ve kept my hair at shoulder length to resist what that contract entailed. Before that contract I kept it butt-length, and it was a huge part of my identity. But now it’s at a weird length that’s becoming too difficult for wig prep because both sides of my family have very thick silky hair, what’s considered stereotypical “Asian hair.” The current contract I’m on does note that, contractually, we have to get approval to change our appearance, but they provide haircuts and our lead hair/makeup person seems very willing to give us fun styles if it doesn’t affect our wigs or look for the show.
Contractual control over appearance should be a glaringly obvious sign of white supremacy in the workplace, but for those newly recognizing whiteness in the workplace: hair texture/length/style is part of every indigenous culture in some way, sacred in most. Stipulations on hair style & length seems to be one of the most common anti-Black/anti-indigenous workplace practices in the States, especially in dance & theater workplaces. For me, I’m so used to having my hair length and color dictated by contracts outside of dance theater spaces, that as long as the company provides the maintenance, I’m complicit in the practice; however, I say this as someone whose relationship to my hair is currently in flux, and as a newcomer who landed a big contract for my first musical theater credit.
VJ: … disheartening is not the right word because like that also has like a connotation of disappointed, but like at this point, it’s just expected that that shit’s gonna happen
RF: Yeah, yeah. I mean, how do you get an impartial jury? If they’re going to take people out of the jury who protested and like, what is it, starts with a c, wow my brain is so tired, complicit behavior–silence or lack of action is complicit behavior like if you didn’t protest you are complicit.
VJ: right that yeah, that was wild. Like seeing the clips of the judge like it’s so…why…like I can’t form words, I literally just want to say it’s so KKK. Like. Yeah, that man. Yeah, white supremacy to white supremacy to white supremacy.
Veronica: I couldn’t form words on this day. I still had to go to work, and it wasn’t acknowledged in our workspace, where Black representation is a major celebration/exploitation of this musical. There was nothing left to say– for me, it was a matter of reading the verdict, being disgusted, and then knowing all of my closest Black friends would feel it, have nothing more to say about it, and go on with their lives being Black in America. There are memes circulating right now re-posted by @embracingblackculture that are like, “You don’t want to talk about black liberation? – lmao this is a Wendy’s.” In my closest circle, I know my friends on an emotional level; knowing they are tired, we didn’t even talk about it that day, everyone was just half-energetically posting one-liners about the verdict.
Rebecca: One of the reasons Veronica and I are so close is because of our shared experience of anti-Asian racism during our undergraduate experience at Florida State University, a “land grant” university situated on the ancestral and traditional territory of the Apalachee Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida (Tallahassee, FL). The experience weighs heavy. We also acknowledge that as Asian Americans, we can only know so much and continue our self-education in solidarity and celebration with Black lives.
VJ: We’re supposed to have a “Breaking Bias” workshop soon and I’m already on high alert. Because the classism that exists within this cast is ridiculous. Ri-diculous. and like it–It’s like, when we went to South Carolina, I had to put a chat like–I was like, “Don’t come for my state.” But I did it nicely. I was like, “Chadwick Boseman, Patina Miller, and Danielle Brooks are all from less than an hour outside of the city we’re going to; the arts are active here but underfunded as is most of the city. So check your privilege before you decide to complain about something about the city.” Because truly, every city we’ve gone to, someone has a problem with it. It’s just, it’s unnecessary. Like, we’re visitors. We are visitors to everybody’s city.
Veronica: It took a lot of consideration of whether or not to include this, as there could be repercussions presenting the tour in this way. I am fully enjoying my time on tour, with the cast, traveling the country AND I recognize these issues within my cast and production company, issues which I plan to bring up at the aforementioned workshop. The public acknowledgment of this itself– the debate of “Should I redact this?”–speaks to, “if not us, who? If not now, when?” It is the silencing fear of white supremacist structures at work, “work” here the environment that allows me to live my dream of performing song and dance.
RF: Yeah. I think you’re like, also naming things that I’m feeling as well, which is one: the exhaustion of like, feeling like, we’re catching up or other people are still catching up. But also I’m still catching up and– and the world is moving.
We’re not post-pandemic in any way. But, like the pacing of just like that constant navigation of like, running and then slowing down, is exhausting. Yeah. And then also, both of us are in new communities right now—you’re on tour, and I’m in a new state in grad school. And that has been really difficult for me. And I’m sure like a transition for you as well that you’re talking about a little bit but—
Veronica: It’s been a while since I’ve been in a predominantly white workspace surrounded by predominantly cis-white people. I don’t *want* to be the voice that is always holding folks accountable both in management and within the cast, I don’t feel that is my place, and oftentimes, I don’t bring things up in order to protect my peace, unless it affects or will affect in the future a person’s safety physically/mentally/ emotionally. It has been exhausting navigating the nuances of being a non-black POC on a tour celebrating the first black actress in the lead role, in a white-run workplace. Here I must acknowledge that not all BIPOC are involved in restorative justice or want to be for various valid reasons, especially in theater spaces. Everyone plays the system differently. If I raise an issue that is inequitable in our workplace, I am conscious of how much space I’m taking up as a non-black POC as well as considering and conspiring with my Black colleagues: will this prevent them from dismantling white supremacist structures the way they feel is safest for them? Where is the line between “playing the system” and complicity as a pawn?
Rebecca: In reflection, I realized I never finished my sentence. I never explained to whom/what/where I’m “catching up.” I’ll echo Veronica’s reflection that it has been a while since I’ve been in a predominately white space. In my previous home of New York City, I was surrounded by folks who shared various aspects of my own identities: queer, Asian, English, BIPOC, immigrant, mixed-race, neurodivergent, artist, advocate. To be more explicit, I hold my whiteness and Asianness as two complete identities, I am responsible and joyful for both. In this new environment, I feel isolated in my body, in that joy. The university feels like steel pressed against the soft curves of my nonconforming body. It’s a kind of casual violence executed through operational procedure. I feel the need to explain my body into what institutionalism demands and resist the urge. I’m “catching up” with the university’s complicit behavior of “falling behind.” The constant negotiation is exhausting.
I’m also tired of folks saying “well, Austin is different” when inquiring about what it is like to live in Texas right now. To me, it signals a certain kind of white passivity that allows white folks to forget that “liberal” cities still exist within the embrace of state and federal laws. Yes, Austin holds a popular connotation as “weird,” which recently has been interpreted as a form of inclusivity. But, that has not been my experience thus far as a newcomer, and I will not and cannot forget the systemic injustices that still exist in and around this “weird” town.
RF: You know, one of my favorite things about you is just like the whole-hearted, fully loving like, presence of gossip in your life. Yeah. That I just like so highly shy away from because I’m socialized differently
VJ: I love gossip, and that is highly Filipino of me.
RF: I know it is.
I also think like the presence of gossip, it’s like what we— like setting up this conversation has been very hard for us because we mostly text, right. But we have this whole thing about like, how are we archiving our own stories and oral history as archive and gossip as archive, or like archive building practice? And that’s maybe less related to systemic….Well, I guess it is related to systemic inequity, but like, even having some of those like conversations on record, like, how will that change? And I don’t know where I’m going with that question.
Rebecca: Whew that was messy. The brain fog makes it hard to string coherent sentences together. What I am trying to wrap my mind around is how gossip and text, two informal conversation practices, can create an archive that is self-directed. For so long, the choice of whose experiences enter an archive and the practice of archiving stories have been dominated by whiteness. Systemic inequity is perpetuated by a lack of diverse representation, but I am not looking for my representation to mirror what is currently the status quo. I want to contribute to the documentation of my experience. I think this article is a form of that resistance practice.
VJ: Gossip as a form of oral history, hell yeah.
RF: Yeah. Or it’s like archive building and working against the ways in which white people tell us we should document our history.
VJ: Yes, that part. Yeah, also, because gossip is like, not all– again, not linear. And not–It doesn’t have to be chronological. Which is another forced way, or a way that is forced on us of documenting.
RF: I had this conversation with someone yesterday about being a mixed-race person. In what ways do I choose to like, be clear about my history and document? And in what ways do I like purposely obscure because being mixed race is really messy. And so the archive should be really messy. Yeah. And like messy in a delightful way and joyful way. And also sometimes painful, but like to not be messy is not to be like, it doesn’t have the negative connotation in my head.
VJ: Yes, I said, I said in the prep document something about the fact that we’ve had many conversations adjacent to the inquiry of, if not us, then who? yeah, so many, that it’s hard to pinpoint or streamline at all. Yeah. This thing? What does it mean for communities to own their own archives?
We are proud of our naps and we also want to acknowledge the struggle to produce concrete deliverables right now! This piece was very difficult for us to co-write because of the aforementioned exhaustion and we knew each other’s emotional energy was being sapped by our respective environments. We really had to let go of the idea of a “polished look” and ask ourselves how whiteness was showing up even in this most intimate process between two friends. We almost backed out of publishing before realizing what we needed was to shape this offering through our feelings. The amount of times we say “messy,” in and about this conversation served as our center. By living in the messiness and incompleteness of our thoughts, we actively engage in our own offering: documenting ourselves in a way contrary to what whiteness demands. We show up here in draft–potentially nonlinear, unpolished, incoherent, unpalatable–and will continue to show up in that way for each other and our communities. This practice is what is so crucial to the process of undoing white supremacy as it shows up in our text messages, Zooms, hair, courtrooms, streets, friendships, gossip, institutions, and articles. In doing so, we commit to the gentleness and grace necessary to build community and a sense of belonging.
Rebecca Fitton is from many places. She cultivates community through movement, food, and conversation. Her work in the dance field as an artist, researcher, administrator, and advocate focuses on arts and culture policy, labor practices, and community-led advocacy. Her practice takes shape in studios, basements, warehouses, bars, grocery stores, rooftops, gardens, sidewalks, and streets. She served on Dance/NYC’s Junior Committee from 2018-2020 and was selected to join Dance/USA’s Institute of Leadership Training in 2021. She is an active member of the Bridge Collective and Dance Artists’ National Collective. Fitton holds a BFA in Dance from Florida State University and is currently pursuing an MA in Performance as Public Practice at the University of Texas at Austin.
Born on the unceded native land of the Kusso (Charleston, SC), Veronica Jiao (she/her/hers) is a Filipino-American dance creative and educator. As the grandchild of immigrants, she is engaged in the work of ending white supremacist structures in the arts and our bodies, by archiving the Asian-American experience. Her creative practice renders this work in the form of dance improvisation, facilitating critical conversation, and writing. As a former member of Dance/NYC’s Junior Committee, Veronica co-facilitates and organizes discussions for equity and inclusion in the dance field through many mediums, including various episodes of the Dance Union podcast, Dance Magazine’s online archives, and social media. As a performer, she has danced with BABEL Movement, Josh Pacheco Dance Theater, Thomas Woodman, and Disney Cruise Line.
This article appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of In Dance.