A few months ago when I agreed to write a response to New Treaty Militia, I thought it would be an easy task. As a writer with a visual art background, I usually find myself easily weaving together a quick piece, steeped in art history references, analyzing aesthetic choices and projecting an opinion from the viewpoint of someone trained in art direction and production.
Now autumn has turned to winter, and this write-up has continually been put on the backburner. While my response is delayed it is no means because of a lack of interest in performance. I have in fact found myself incredibly intimidated by the topic of “white guilt.” It is a feeling that has haunted me through my childhood in Indianapolis, to my adult-life in Brooklyn.
After the performance, when the Brooklyn audience was asked about differences between white guilt in the United States and New Zealand, the conversation lingered around Native Americans, making a direct connection to colonization in the two countries, while the more obvious causes for white guilt in the United States were sidelined.
In almost every city of the United States white people are flocking back to cities after the “white flight to the suburbs” that took place after desegregation in the 1970s. Rapidly changing demographics inevitably lead to the displacement of communities and has made “gentrification” a household word.
Growing up, I lived off of a main avenue called Martin Luther King Drive, within the inner-city limits of Indianapolis. While my personal relationships/ friendships never fit on one label, going to the local park I was referred to as “white bitch” or “hater” by strangers passing by. It was clear that my optimistic views of universality lacked an awareness of an oppressive history that I would confront for the rest of my life.
Now as an adult in Brooklyn, with close friends and roommates from countries around the world, I am confronted with another set of issues, which place a heavy weight upon the shoulders of my national identity and European ancestry. This weight is magnified when outside of the United States, as I am pigeonholed based on the politics of the country I am from.
It is needless to say the refrain “you make me nervous, nervous” that played throughout the performance, can be applied to my feelings and observations on this topic. Exoticism, attraction, privilege and nervousness are all relevant feelings and conditions that challenge us in overcoming our prejudgments and cultural biases.
Since seeing Cat Ruka and Joshua Rutter perform New Treaty Militia, I have engaged myself in conversation, which once seemed taboo. Treading upon rocky subjects with family members, friends and neighbors has begun to unfold a new understanding of who I am as a person, how I was raised, and how my life experiences continue to challenge my sociological perspective.