A debate on white belly dancers:
Randa Jarrar wrote the article, “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers: Whether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation.” It sparked a debate when I shared it.
“It’s Arab face,” my friend Nadine once said, pointing at an invitation from a white acquaintance of hers. The invitation was printed on card stock and featured the woman and a dozen of her white friends dressed in Orientalist garb with eye makeup caked on for full kohl effect and glittery accessories. We wanted to call these women up and say, “How is this OK? Would you wear a dashiki and rock waspafarian dreads and take up African dance publicly? Wait,” we’d probably say, “don’t answer that.”
The most disturbing thing is when these women take up Arabic performance names — Suzy McCue becomes Samirah Layali. This name and others like it make no sense in Arabic. This, in my estimation, completes the brownface Orientalist façade. A name. A crowning. A final consecration of all the wrongs that lead up to the naming.
Here’s some comments from the discussion (names redacted. Randa did not make any of the comments)
"When i was a little girl, none even called it oriental dancing… the referent is only relevant in contradistinction to some modal dance form… the one that is culturally dominant. I don’t think europeans and americans can do our dances any more than i could do an African tribal dance, or an Indian dance. Or sing Kabuki, though i could learn any one of these arts, I would not be a natural and it would never be more than enriching to myself, but cannot possibly aspire to awe others. No, european dancers definitely lack the necessary sensuality and their dance steps though choreographed methodically are just not up to par. To be fair, i have never seen excellent ballet, ballet that moves, performed by a culturally arabic dancer. Nope. Not once."
"The most fascinating part about this story is the reactions to it! Fifteen years ago, Salon readers would have agreed with the author and have been more than happy to participate in a self-depricating rant. Now, the world has changed so much and the blending of cultures so commonplace that white people feel OK to call out the author. Even I don’t care anymore when I see blond dread-headed girls doing African dance in the park. Preservation of culture is on that culture. As one Arab said in the comment section: ‘Let the white girls dance.’"
"What’s the about? If people like dancing, they should be allowed to dance any which way they like, regardless of origin, style or type. Expressing oneself through dancing is liberating, erases self-consciousness and borders. This is another example of PC gone mad. Does that mean that only French and Russians should be allowed to dance ballet? Or only New Yorkers do hip-hop? Think about it."
The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation
"There is some credence to this in terms of cultural appropriation, especially when people change their names to sound more ‘authentic.’ There’s also the issue of the costumes as part of the exotic other."
"That’s a loaded question, like "can black people be racist?" No they can’t. They can make racist comments, but racism is a structural problem. So can a brown woman take a couple ballet classes from a Russian, change her name to Evdokiya, strap on a tutu and start giving classes to brown people under the banner of empowerment? Yeah I guess so, but you’d probably find someone who has a problem with it."
"i’m not sure i agree with the first statement, xxxxxx. i think *anyone* can be racist towards others who are "different" from themselves. and internalized racism is a whole other kettle of fish. and therein lies the problem: it’s a question of power dynamics, is it not? of course brown people can dance ballet. of course black people can sing opera. and yes, even white girls can belly dance. the problem is not with the art form itself, but rather how the individual engages in it. some might even argue that such art forms as ballet and opera are under no cultural threat when folks of all backgrounds engage in them. the most important part of the author’s article, to me, is that such engagement becomes a problem when folks start performing another culture by trying it on for size, but exoticizing it, by taking it far out of context without any respect for the wheres and whys of its origins."
"Racism is an issue of power. I’m wondering if any of the white people in the room have been victims of racism or the men victims of sexism? My opinion is that people might have thought or said something negative about me based on my race, gender and nationality, but being a white male from the US has afforded me far too many privileges to say those comments represent anything remotely close to racism or sexism."
And it continued…