The Appropriateness of Appropriation

An article over at Salon entitled “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers” has attracted scads of anger and angst. The author, Randa Jarrar, accuses white women who practice belly dancing of cultural appropriation:

Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. Just because a white woman doesn’t profit from her performance doesn’t mean she’s not appropriating a culture. And, ultimately, the question is this: Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?

The article and the conversation (for want of a better word) in comments remind me a bit of the controversy surrounding the Miley Cyrus twerking dealio awhile back, where Cyrus was accused of appropriating black culture.

I can’t even competently do a white person dance (unless Elaine’s arrhythmic flailing counts), so I don’t have a dog in the belly dancing or twerking hunt, but I do find the “appropriation” issue unsettling and interesting.

There are some cases where adopting facets of other cultures seems like a clear-cut case of exploitation (on an individual or societal level), and others where it seems like the sincerest form of flattery and a natural outflow of cross-cultural pollination. In determining where the line lies, it’s important to be mindful of how those who are a part of the culture being appropriated perceive it, but is that the final word? And how do we determine that?

And if the feelings of those who are in the appropriated culture are a factor, does it even matter what motivates the appropriators? I’m not sure, but I do know that a key component of “privilege” is a lack of awareness of an individual’s role within a cultural action.

The white belly dancers and twerkers almost certainly don’t perceive themselves as potential white usurpers — they have the advantage of not having to think in those terms and (at least in their minds) do not bear the burden of representing anyone but themselves.

Anyway, just wondering what y’all think.

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271 replies
  1. 1
  2. 2
    dedc79 says:

    Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?

    Well, if they’re dancing on arab women’s backs, I agree that is offensive and it changes the calculus.

  3. 3
    tokyo expat says:

    I don’t know how to react either as another white woman, who happens to be married to a Japanese. I’ve lived in Japan close to twenty years. In my city, you can hit any of the community centers and find numerous classes that touch on culture. Imagine a room of Japanese faces all belting out Amazing Grace. Gospel singing is fairly popular here. I attended a performance of Tahitian dance at the professional level, where the dancer was a Japanese woman, her son and some of her students.

    A very wonderful Indian gentleman of some eighty years, who has lived in Japan thirty years and is married to a Japanese for much of that time, has immersed himself in Japanese culture, studying Noh, Japanese folk songs and even cooking.

    Maybe there’s a sexual element I’m missing here, but I’d love to know what triggered this writer’s outrage. I’m in a mixed marriage, raising kids in another culture, while trying to teach them my own. My female friends are from countries all around the world. There’s a lot more that unites us than divides us. If I practiced this woman’s cultural attitude, I’d be pretty lonely over here, not to mention I’d have to hate on just about every Japanese I meet, given how much they’ve adopted all things American.

  4. 4
    Elizabelle says:

    I guess we shouldn’t be using Algebra or preparing our own Arabic cuisine either?

    Miley Cyrus’s problem was that she was tacky and attention-seeking.

    Not interested enough to read Ms. Jarrar’s gripe du jour. There are more pressing issues in the world.

    Maybe her next essay topic could be “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

  5. 5
    Roger That says:

    When I hear a complaint like this I feel like a Southwest air flight attendant- lady, you’re going to have to stow that baggage somewhere else. This is the 21st century USA and you don’t necessarily know what someone’s background is simply by looking at them and “belly dancing” ain’t a sacred ritual.

  6. 6
    Baud says:

    Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in

    That’s what I’m for, ladies.

  7. 7
    DaveinMaine says:

    Is the argument here that people can’t use something from another culture to empower themselves? That seems…narrow-minded.

  8. 8
    jon says:

    I think the idea that any form of art belongs to a group of people to be laughably naive. If someone wants to make rugs like the Navajo, make boats like the Vikings, craft a samurai sword, dance a hora or hula or funky monkey, then that person may be appropriating another’s culture. So what? Does someone really need to read and live the Algonquin Constitution before giving himself a Mohawk?

    I sympathize with the author over the most visible part of the women in her culture being a dress up show and an exhibition. But I don’t see the white women being true to that culture,, so the appropriation part just doesn’t jibe with what I see. Just as clips from Soul Train can only give me hints of Black Culture, I don’t have to go to the clubs and get my Black Card to enjoy and share some fun moves now and then.

    I don’t expect her to thank white women for bringing Arab Culture out of the mysterious Orient. Nor do I expect a Lakota elder to buy his kids a Playmobil tipi for Christmas. But her approach makes me see her as a “This is mine, hands off!” Culture warrior. Sheesh lady, try teaching rather than shutting down the performance. Might get more attention that way.

    On a related note, Linda Hunt shouldn’t have won the Academy Award for The Year of Living Dangerously because her character did not represent all cismen’s experiences.

  9. 9
    Butch says:

    I think that’s typical Slate contrarian nonsense and why I never visit the site.

  10. 10
    randomworker says:

    Her first sentence was enough for me. I would re-write it a few times…i.e. “Google “yoga” and the first images the search engine offers are of white women in…”

    The whole premise is kind of a throwback to the early 90s. I can’t remember exactly whose culture we were accused of appropriating but it was a thing back then.

    I guess as cultures get more exposure they get to have these moments of self-righteous indignation as part of the process.

  11. 11
    Gopher2b says:

    Every time an Arab woman airs her opinion in public and isn’t stoned to death, she’s appropriating American culture.

  12. 12
    raven says:

    Does this mean I have to stop cooking Cajun and Creole?

  13. 13
    greennotGreen says:

    Does this mean I have to stop eating tacos because I’m not Mexican? Purge bagels from my diet because I’m not Jewish? Should Chinese not waltz? Is an Indian permitted to rock and roll?

    Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass about belly dancing, Arab or middle American. Hula’s probably a better workout anyway.

  14. 14
    randomworker says:

    @Butch: It’s Salon not Slate but yeah, I avoid Slate too. Dunno if Salon is any better…if this is any indication, I guess the answer is no.

  15. 15
    Bob says:

    This is the same “problem” white folk had to face up to when they started playing the blues via rock and roll. For me it’s just a load of crap. But I’m white and privileged, so innately incapable of understanding.

  16. 16
    Flatlander says:

    My Hispanic wife plays Klezmer clarinet. I’m not sure who is being exploited.

  17. 17
    jon says:

    Also, too: yoga is only supposed to be done by emaciated Indian men who neither bathe nor wear Luluemon pants. Sorry, ladies.

  18. 18
    Elizabelle says:

    Shorter Randa: Get off my Persian rug.

    Although: it sounds like she’s written an interesting novel, A Map of Home. Good interview here.

    I don’t know if I’d want to get my name out there as Randa Jarrar has with her deliberately provocative essay.

    Familiarity and sharing builds communities and acceptance. She seems to be somewhat arguing for purism.

  19. 19
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    white women who practice belly dancing of cultural appropriation:

    says the Arab woman writing in English using a Western philosophical argument. Irony is not dead.

  20. 20
    Hurling Dervish says:

    OT, but the saddest drill in the country is taking place today in the Morgantown, W.Va. schools:

    Mon County High Schools Dismissing Early For Shooter Noise Demonstrations
    Written by Jared Pelletier
    Created on March 05, 2014 @ 6:51PM
    All Monongalia County high school students will be dismissed two hours early on Thursday afternoon to allow county schools’ staff to participate in active shooter noise demonstrations.

    The demonstrations will be conducted by the Operation Safe Schools Initiative and they will allow staff to listen to realistic sounds of gunfire inside the schools. The intent is to improve staff members ability to react quickly and make informed decisions in the event of a potential active shooter situation.

    Community members are being urged to remain calm if they hear the sound of gunfire near schools on Thursday.

  21. 21
    Suffern ACE says:

    Are there really belly dancing sisterhood sexuality clubs out there?

  22. 22
    Bob says:

    Also, too. You know what pisses me off? I’ll tell ya. Blacks appropriating perfectly good white stuff like baseball and basketball.

  23. 23
    Ajaye says:

    I was truly offended by her offense. I can’t even begin to muster a bit of sympathy for her because she is rather mean spirited in discussing the motives and aspirations of white ladies. I’m sorry, tired of the appropriation argument. Shoulda kept it in the harem lady! Then no non Arab woman would ever even know about it! And by her standards I guess no more blue eyed soul, Irish dancing Asian girls, ballet dancing Native Americans, Hunan chicken eating African-Americans and so on and so forth. Truly inane and about on par with Salon’s other dumbass contrarian, Camille Paglia.

  24. 24
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @raven: Amen to that. I saw the article and just skipped it.

  25. 25
    Elizabelle says:

    @Bob:

    Yeah. And beating us at our own game.

    Also: take that, Beyonce.

  26. 26
    DaveinMaine says:

    @Bob: And don’t get me started on all those non-English people playing soccer. That Leo Messi is just appropriating English culture for his own selfish ends.

  27. 27
    Tyro says:

    Basically, post colonial theory and the politics of appropriation/commercial exploitation of “exotic” cultures is a very popular thing to talk about right now, and Jarrar decided to apply this recent trend to criticizing westerners who took up a specific dance form. The ethnic dance troupes in my community take all comers.

  28. 28
    MattF says:

    I think the benefits of cultural promiscuity are so much greater than the dangers that it’s just a non-issue. It’s like the ‘issue’ of authenticity in music– Gillian Welch was born in New York, grew up in California, went to music school in Boston. Not a hillbilly by any standard. But her music is great.

  29. 29
    kc says:

    I think I’m sick of professional cultural grievance- mongers. “on Arab women’s backs.” That’s some stupid shit right there.

  30. 30
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @raven: No, it means you never did. You were just doing a cheap knock-off of the real thing.

  31. 31
    Interrobang says:

    @Bob: White people were playing the blues before rock and roll was a thing. Here’s Dick Justice, a white guy, playing his (black) friend’s song “Cocaine,” 1928.

    Given that blues was kind of a hybrid of black religious music and the white country music of the time, and that some blues pieces have roots that go back at least to 17th C. England (see Songsters and Saints by Paul Oliver — no idea what colour he is), who’s appropriating whom, exactly?

    I’m about as white as is possible, so I’m not going to throw stones here, but in any case like this, assuming that “it’s always more complicated than you think” is probably a good idea. Also, purity trolls are tedious, no matter their skin colour.

  32. 32
    Butch says:

    @randomworker: You’re right – I goofed. Just seemed so typically Slate that I guess I didn’t read right.

  33. 33
    Matt McIrvin says:

    I think the phenomenon of blackface minstrelsy, and the eventual recognition that it was something people really ought not to be doing, made Americans of progressive sympathies permanently wary of this sort of thing. Maybe excessively so, but the impulse is understandable.

  34. 34
    Tyro says:

    Shoulda kept it in the harem lady! Then no non Arab woman would ever even know about it!

    Funny you should say that, since the harem was populated by a lot of non Arab/non Turkish/non Muslim women from all over the Ottoman Empire. Apparently Arabs were complicit in the appropriation of their own art form.

  35. 35
    greennotGreen says:

    This post sent me to watch some haka again (the All Blacks.) It strikes me that wanting to mimic some aspect of culture can be a way of honoring it. I don’t think that would be true if you were taking a funeral ceremony and turning it into a dance step to sell soft drinks, but if you’re attempting to use that bit of culture somewhat the way it was intended, how is that offensive? It may be naive. However, I don’t think human understanding is increased by drawing imaginary lines that others aren’t allowed to cross.

    Culture is a shared activity, but our response to it is individual. Klezmer speaks to Flatlander’s Hispanic wife and Don Byron. Maybe if I lived in New Zealand, I would take a haka class. Chances are Randa Jarrar wouldn’t be around to disapprove.

  36. 36
    Fuzzy says:

    This is why men will never understand women. This is logic that some (not Betty) of the fairer sex must believe in or this discussion would not be taking place.

  37. 37
    cleek says:

    she wrote this in English, right? not Arabic?

    hands off my lily-white mother-tongue, crazy brown woman! you just don’t wield it as well as a white person, and you never will because genetics or culture or something makes it impossible!

  38. 38
    Tyro says:

    @Matt McIrvin: then it is kind of funny how Jarrar is expressing an essentially American pathology while cloaking it as concerns arising from her own Arab ancestry.

  39. 39
    Suffern ACE says:

    I think there is a difference between cultural appropriation that doesn’t apply to belly dancing. I think it would matter if there was a cover up or intentional forgetting the origins of belly dancing. I am not really in touch with the white belly dancing subculture. Are the white belly dancers taking credit for inventing the form?

  40. 40
    Bob says:

    @Interrobang: I was using shorthand, I’m aware of the lineage you discuss. None the less, white rock and rollers were often criticized for steeling from black music.

  41. 41
    The Pale Scot says:

    Everyone is always welcome to learn Irish dancing, such as the Keltic Dreams from Public School 59 in the Bronx.

    Great video, brings a smile.

    The rest of us will have to stick with dancing like Jed Clampett does.

  42. 42
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze.

    From the article. I would agree with that statement. I would ask this though: although it does exist so that people can do those things with it, is it necessarily wrong that they do so? Also, are they turning it into a joke or are they sincerely pursuing something they love? Are they Pat Boone or are they Elvis?

  43. 43
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Tyro: I suspect that a lot of arguments over cultural appropriation, especially between Americans and Europeans, get hung up on stuff that is actually very specific to American history and its fraught relation to race. Which is not to say that other countries, especially ones with a history of colonial empire, don’t have their own issues up the wazoo.

  44. 44
    LarryB says:

    It’s an interesting conversation, in the general case, but belly dancing? That ship sailed long ago. My lillly white sister was going to belly dancing lessons in 1970s suburban San Diego. You can’t un-melt that particular pot.

  45. 45
    Pogonip says:

    As a white belly dancer (just a hobby, I am not now nor have I ever been a professional dancer), I appreciate everyone’s remarks. Thanks.

  46. 46
    Jim C. says:

    @jon:

    You basically said what I was going to come in here and say. The attitude here reminds me of that episode of The Sopranos where Paulie gets upset about being in a Starbucks because that whole coffee thing should have belonged to the Italians.

    To a certain extent, a bit of watering down of a particularly piece of culture is to be expected as it enters the mainstream. It’s just the price you pay for the wider visibility, acceptance and appeal.

    An example of this from my own experience is video game culture.

    I was a video gamer before it was cool to be one. Now, nearly everyone plays video games and the entire industry as a whole is targeting the casual gamer because of their great numbers.Ten years ago games like Flappy Birds or Angry Birds would have been considered laughably bad and shallow from every measure of what makes a good game from gameplay to story and character development to graphics and sound and level design.

    But the tradeoff of a particular culture or item gaining mainstream popularity is that it has to expand and adapt to a wider number of people. In return for the stigma of gamers being fat, pimple faced nerds who only exist in their parents’ basements going away, “core” gamers (defined as those who are dedicated and buy lots of different consoles or build computers dedicated to gaming and spend a lot of their disposable income on games and a lot of their disposable time playing them) have to accept that we’re not the only target market for game development anymore.

    It’s a weird feeling knowing that the girl you took to the dance before she was a part of the cool crowd is now trying to dance with your parents.

    But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t games out there for me to find and play, just like it doesn’t mean that Randa Jarrar can’t go find authentic arab dancers if she so chooses.

    The attitude is one of fear. “Does this mean that the thing I love is going to go away?” Will all future games be terrible Flappy Bird phone apps and I won’t see games like The Witcher 3 or Dark Souls 2 released in the future? Not really. But that’s the fear that Randa Jarrar is experiencing.

  47. 47
    pharniel says:

    Apropos of nothing but I keep reading her name as “JarJar”…..

    …because that’s how ridiculous this argument sounds.

    I hear you’re having soccer mom problems and I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a mini-van ain’t one.

  48. 48
    Suffern ACE says:

    I also think it does matter that no one is appropriating the form for commercial profit. I think Calypso is an example of that – where songs that had actual living composers weren’t given credit or compensation for writing their songs because the white people decided that all Calpyso was folk music and belonged to everybody. I’m not certain that that is the case here. Are there specific belly dance innovators who are being shafted?

  49. 49
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    I do notice that everyone here saying, more or less, it’s no big deal seem to be self-identified white people. Myself included.

  50. 50
    Bargal20 says:

    @Gopher2b: Yeah, because only in America aren’t women in public stoned to death.

  51. 51
    Nutella says:

    @Fuzzy:

    This is why men will never understand women. This is logic that some (not Betty) of the fairer sex must believe in or this discussion would not be taking place.

    This shows that men are ignorant gender-essentialist assholes who attribute every opinion of every woman to the fact that she is a woman and therefore so different from normal people that normal people can’t understand her and is ignorant of the fact that cultural appropriation is an issue of importance to many people of many genders.

    Or, to avoid making Fuzzy’s obnoxious mistake: This shows that Fuzzy is an ignorant gender-essentialist asshole.

  52. 52
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Bargal20: Well, sure, it doesn’t happen in Canada either, but that’s just because they can’t find the stones under all the snow. It is my understanding that they just beat the women to death with big chunks of ice.

  53. 53
    RSA says:

    @randomworker:

    Dunno if Salon is any better…

    Typically when something stupid shows up on Salon, it’s sincerely meant, unlike with Slate.

    I think the author of the article makes a reasonable point in comparing belly dancing to other forms of stereotypes of non-white culture. I can’t judge how much someone else might be offended by something, of course, so I’m trying to think of an analogy: Maybe if in some other country, a group of people adapted what happens in Catholic or Protestant religious services to their meditation techniques, without paying attention to the beliefs? I can imagine some people being bothered by the appropriation, even if it were a sincere tribute.

  54. 54
    Poopyman says:

    Oh noes! Someone’s culture is being appropriated!

    Which reminds me: What’s everyone doing for St. Patrick’s Day?

  55. 55
    Gopher2b says:

    @Bargal20:

    Finding offense in everything is also a key aspect of American culture, so if you’re not American, please stop, it offends me. If you are American, keep up the good work.

  56. 56
    Woodrowfan says:

    hell, it’s not even solely “Arab.” it’s a mixture of Arab, Persian and Turkish with a lot of western influence (sexual fantasies) blended in. Or does she think that women in Iran or Turkey are also “stealing” it?

  57. 57
    Woodrow/asim Jarvis Hill says:

    Hi. Occasional commenter, and actual belly-dancing guy here. I’m also, for the record, Not White — but also Not of Near Eastern decent.

    This is an artform I’ve spent decades in and out of. It’s not a joke, it’s not a passing fancy for me. The “asim” I go by is a name a lot of people know me by, and know as my only name. Which, as you’ll recall, is a point in the article.

    Those of you demeaning this person’s writings seem to be more invested in strawmen about “ethnic” restaurants — likely because she invokes race — than in actually engaging the points she makes. It has been, and continues, to be an actual struggle, with actual people, in the West around “how far to go” with taking on aspects of Near Eastern culture when we do this dance. As, it turns out, does anyone who does any form of ethic dance, including Polynesian.

    I’ll thank the more rakish among you to keep in mind that this is far more nuanced than eating at Taco Bell, please.

    The fact that the wars we generally decry in this space (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) have echoed centuries of Western meddling in this region — a history that’s directly responsible for what we think of as belly dance — is not lost on many of us, either. As a Westerner, as an American, I feel I have a strong responsibility to the cultures I present on a stage. It’s not a joke to men, and has been the cause of long nights to me, these questions she rightly raises.

    I may or may not like the way she says them. I many not care for the fact that she lumps “white women” into a class of people.

    That does not take away from the importance of her points. These are not questions every dancer asks — but a lot of us are. And to say they are the “Get off my lawn” type is to compel the concept that, for all that we claim the mantle of Liberal/Progressive/etc., we don’t care to examine what it means to someone who could give a rat’s ass if we’re Democrat or GOP’er.

    Nor from the fact that this was part of a series of voices of Women of Color, not oft-heard in our culture — even among Feminists. Which is it’s own hell, as has been discussed here before.

    One response:
    @Suffern ACE: If I had a dime for every “the origins of belly dance are shrouded in pre-historical mystery” comment I’ve ever read — including by people from the area! — I could be rich. No, SERIOUSLY. Some of that is from we in the West screwing, very badly, with the area’s sense of identity, starting in many ways with France’s invasion of Egypt. The parallels to the African-American experience are kind of obvious, at least to me. The thought that we in the West have no responsibility to this art, save technical perfection, is disturbing.

    Yes, there is a strong–and very good and healthy–sense of sisterhood in the belly dance world, which also makes things…complex, for me. In a culture that oftentimes derides and pits women against one another, it’s a good thing to have this space that’s female-centric, and supportive. The downside is that it is, indeed, balanced on something far more complex; to not acknowledge that is, as the kids like to say, problematic.

  58. 58
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Woodrowfan: (psst. All good things in the Middle East were brought to you by Arabs. The Arabs themselves told me so.)

  59. 59
    David in NY says:

    @Suffern ACE: Absolutely. I have it from an African-American former colleague (now a federal judge) that his friends didn’t think much of Elvis’s appropriation of songs had been that were written and sung by black musicians who got no credit (or money) for their work. While it may not be true that Elvis said, “The only thing black people can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my music,” (and my fried believed he did), lots of black folks believed it, and it was no doubt credited because there was no general recognition given to the fact that that style of music, and many of those songs, didn’t originate with a white country boy.

    But absent the widespread commercial theft or unacknowledged source present in the white adoption of rhythm and blues, I’m not sure I see the problem.

  60. 60
    Citizen_X says:

    I think Arab women might be less touchy about this if we were doing less of the droning and invading over there. Just saying.

  61. 61
    PaulW says:

    If women are gonna dance, they’re gonna dance. However they choose.

    Belly-dancing by the by is a good workout, so it’s good for any woman brown, white, black, yellow, or green.

  62. 62
    justawriter says:

    Wonder what she thinks about Mummy movies?

  63. 63
    PaulW says:

    @Poopyman:

    Oh noes! Someone’s culture is being appropriated!
    Which reminds me: What’s everyone doing for St. Patrick’s Day?

    The same thing I do every Cinco De Mayo: try to take over the world!

  64. 64
    mpbruss says:

    I can’t stand white rock musicians. I can’t stand white Americans. I can’t stand white people who use Arabic numbers and math.

  65. 65
    wil says:

    Who cares whether someone’s ‘culture’ is being appropriated?

    Is there anything more depressing than suburban white women who are either overweight or suffering from self-esteem issues or both belly dancing? Or rather, trying pathetically to wiggle around enough that they make some sort of sad simulacrum of a belly dancer?

    It’s a thing nobody should have to see.

  66. 66
    Craig says:

    Sick to death of this whole “cultural appropriation” rubbish. It’s time to put a stake through it’s heart, and I hope this assinine article helps people realize that.

    What’s particularly insiduous about the idea is that only certain classes of people are even capable of committing it. Leontyne Price singing opera–Japanese kids studying violin–Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Othello (*)–obviously don’t count. The whole concept of cultural appropriation is part of the interlocking array of sophistries cooked up in a thousand English and sociology departments to put certain kinds of people beyond guilt, and other kinds beyond redemption.

    To hell with it. Art borrows and alters and builds. Every artist draws from the art of those who have gone before and imparts her own vision and sensibility. Our art is the common heritage of humanity, and no one is entitled to wall off a part of it and say “no Arabs allowed,” “no whites allowed,” or any other equally offensive thing.

    (*) Possibly the best Othello in human history, Ewan McGregor as Iago, available on audio from Amazon.com. Do yourself a favor.

  67. 67
    Emma says:

    Sigh…. so I can’t do yoga because I might offend an Indian and I can’t belly dance because it might offend an Arab. By golly if I catch any of them doing the tango or dancing flamenco there shall be hell to pay!

  68. 68
    Starfish says:

    I did not read the article, but I am offended by her offense because I am not an Arab. And I only say that I am not an Arab because I am Iranian, and that is some hilarious shit when Iranians get pissed at being called Arabs.

    Anyway, this person is not only wrong. She is the wrongest. Basically, during colonialism, the colonialists went various places and turned all of the local dances (whether danced by men or women) into lady dances that involved scantily dressed ladies because they liked the cabaret. (See also: The Hula” which I think was a man dance.)

    And how those dances evolved is far enough from the original tradition that being offended shows a lack of understanding of her own history.

  69. 69
    KXB says:

    @Flatlander:

    Your ears.

  70. 70
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Craig: I don’t know. If you grab and commercialize a couple of things from a culture (whatever culture it may be) without context or history, aren’t you trivializing that culture? Irish culture is more than Danny Boy, leprechauns, and green beer.

    Of course artists are influenced by other art. The Impressionists borrowed from the Japanese. And so on. OTOH people of Polynesian descent can reasonably be insulted by what Tiki bars have done with their heritage.

  71. 71
    steve says:

    1. I think some art requires or at least appears to elicit the donning of a persona. It is certainly possible that an outsider attempting to interpret the art and the culture(s) from which it originates will don a persona during performance that is an ignorant or even hateful stereotype. So, in the extreme, you got minstral shows as grotesque exagerrations of black music and dance that portray blacks as whites at the time saw them: goofy, stupid, lazy, carefree and cartoonish in apperance. More subtly (!) the Miley Cyrus thing, which appears to play to the stereotype of black women as agressive and hyper-sexualized. Even if doning that persona is not meant to be condescending or offensive…even if it is meant to be a compliment (“look how liberated you are compared to us white gals”) it can be offensive. The art is not about the majority group and its hang-ups…exoticism is still a form of objectification.

    I don’t know enough about belly dancing or how white or other non-arab women perform it in the US or elsewhere to know if a similar sort of stereotyping, buffoonery, or other offensive interpretation is common.

    2. Even in the abscence of the above, if the dominant racial/ethnic/religious group whatever performs the art and monopoloizes the stage such that the originators are denied credit or livelihood, this could be a problem. So I could imagine quite culturally sensitive and appropriate peformances of dance that would still be problematic in that majority audiences might prefer one of their own doing the dance (to provide some sort of comfort or relatable link to the other) than than a member of the minority group from whose culture it originated. Again, I don’t know enough about this particular instance to know whether white performance is crowding out native performance.

  72. 72
    steve says:

    1. I think some art requires or at least appears to elicit the donning of a persona. It is certainly possible that an outsider attempting to interpret the art and the culture(s) from which it originates will don a persona during performance that is an ignorant or even hateful stereotype. So, in the extreme, you got minstral shows as grotesque exagerrations of black music and dance that portray blacks as whites at the time saw them: goofy, stupid, lazy, carefree and cartoonish in apperance. More subtly (!) the Miley Cyrus thing, which appears to play to the stereotype of black women as agressive and hyper-sexualized. Even if doning that persona is not meant to be condescending or offensive…even if it is meant to be a compliment (“look how liberated you are compared to us white gals”) it can be offensive. The art is not about the majority group and its hang-ups…exoticism is still a form of objectification.

    I don’t know enough about belly dancing or how white or other non-arab women perform it in the US or elsewhere to know if a similar sort of stereotyping, buffoonery, or other offensive interpretation is common.

    2. Even in the abscence of the above, if the dominant racial/ethnic/religious group whatever performs the art and monopoloizes the stage such that the originators are denied credit or livelihood, this could be a problem. So I could imagine quite culturally sensitive and appropriate peformances of dance that would still be problematic in that majority audiences might prefer one of their own doing the dance (to provide some sort of comfort or relatable link to the other) than than a member of the minority group from whose culture it originated. Again, I don’t know enough about this particular instance to know whether white performance is crowding out native performance.

  73. 73
    M.C. Simon Milligan says:

    Oh for fuck’s sake; Raqs Sharqi is a dance form that originated in the deep, murky past of the early 20th century when Egyptian Arabs combined the traditional Ghawazi dances of the Dur peoples (basically Egyptian Gypsies) with Russian ballet! The danse de ventres of the 19th century was Ghawazi NOT Raqs Sharqi, so someone needs to shut the fuck up about cultural fucking appropriation. I mean, really. Arabs? Complaining about cultural appropriation? I’m sure the Persians find that downright hilarious.

  74. 74
    CaseyL says:

    I can’t tell you how glad I am to see most of the comments are critical of Jarrar’s premise!

    The “cultural appropriation” argument really angers me, because it advocates mono-culturalism and parochialism. Where would we be as a society if the only people who could enjoy certain cuisines, art forms, sports, science – hell, any endeavor! – were those of its originating nationality and ethnicity?

    I get it that a lot of people oppose multiculturalism, or have given up on it, but I think they’re small-minded bigots.

  75. 75
    Booger says:

    “Culture” = “Heritage” = “Traditions” = all that shit that people who aren’t me did a long time ago and which I now have to venerate because they said so. So how bout belly dancing to Miley Cyrus draped in a confederate flag?

    Show me something YOU have done and I’ll respect you for it. I don’t give a shit what your great-great-great whatever did in the village back in the day.

    I’m so sick of bullshit tribalism being used to divide us up into little clumps of rage. And I’m speaking from the perspective of a grateful recovering person who formerly identified as Irish but got fed up with the hibernian-celtic pity party.

    Stuff your cultural appropriation somewhere else.

  76. 76
    Kylroy says:

    Am I allowed to be offended by PSY? There’s no way you can tell me “Gagnam Style” isn’t a blatant ripoff of American pop and dance music. Or would I need to be African – American to be allowed to object?

  77. 77
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @CaseyL: As I think about it, It seems to me that multiculturalism requires respect for the cultures involved. Lack of respect leads to minstrelsy. It can be a thin line.

  78. 78
    Tyro says:

    @M.C. Simon Milligan: Arabs? Complaining about cultural appropriation? I’m sure the Persians find that downright hilarious.

    And the Greeks, and the Assyrians, and the Copts. The Arabs, a conquering, colonizing power to the core, are considered geniuses for their ability to absorb learning and culture from other groups and continue the work for their own intellectual and cultural benefit.

  79. 79
    elm says:

    @Woodrow/asim Jarvis Hill: Thank you.

    To the other commentators peddling cheap snark without even reading the article: Shame on you: punch up, not down.

  80. 80
    wil says:

    Instead of worrying about who might be offended by cultural ripoffs, let’s all just agree that suburban white women belly dancing is just a sad spectacle that makes nobody happy.

  81. 81
    Craig says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: You make some good points. People trivialize artistic traditions all the time–grabbing a few flashy higlights, mauling them almost beyond recognition, and losing the deeper meanings and resonances. But now we’re being critics, and saying that people have made bad art–not that they have no right to make it at all. And when cultural tropes are held up for mockery and derision–like the tradition of the “stage Irish” character who starts every line with “Faith and begorrah!”–that’s obviously wrong.

    I

  82. 82
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @wil: No one said you had to watch it.

  83. 83

    I don’t know. I’m a white guy, so I know I’m oblivious to much racism and exploitation that goes on all around me, as much as I try not to be. So I can’t just wave away what she says.

    At the same time… Well, I’m a big fan of Latin American culture. I lived in Honduras for two years, and though I don’t want to presume, I think of it as my second home. I feel more at home there, to tell the truth, than I do here. I don’t know if that makes me a cultural appropriator or not. I love the society there, and I love the life there. At the same time, I also know that much of why I love it so is that I’m a comparatively wildly well off white guy who can leave Honduras as soon as I feel like it. I see the poverty, I know many poor people, I understand how hard life is for them, at least in a clinical, intellectual way, but I don’t live that way, so I have the freedom to appreciate the best things about Honduras.

    I wonder about this stuff a lot. I’ve even spoken about it to many of my Honduran friends. (Oddly, often I’m much more hopeful about Honduras’s future than many Hondurans are, and I’m often more of a booster and a champion on Honduran culture than they are.) I really don’t want to condescend, and I’ve told my friends there that I worry about this. They all tell me that they don’t feel looked down on, or somehow exoticized (I just made that word up, but it seems to work). They’re glad that I appreciate what their country has to give the world, the more so since so few gringos do.

    But I still wonder about it. I can’t just pull the plug on my love for the place; it’s too much a part of me and of my life. But this awkwardness I feel is something I have to deal with. I know that it’s about as light a burden as anybody could ever hope to bear. I don’t have to worry about being hassled by the police for looking like I’m in the “wrong” neighborhood, or deal with poverty or worry about the I.N.S. or anything at all, really; so a little awkwardness is the least I can put up with.

  84. 84
    Woodrowfan says:

    If belly-dancing were done to make fun of Middle-Eastern women, then yes, it’d be offensive. But if it’s done because some women from other parts of the world think it looks like fun and good exercise, then go for it.

  85. 85
    Freemark says:

    @RSA: You mean like voodoo

    1. A religion practiced chiefly in Caribbean countries, especially Haiti, syncretized from Roman Catholic ritual elements and the animism and magic of slaves from West Africa, in which a supreme God rules a large pantheon of local and tutelary deities, deified ancestors, and saints, who communicate with believers in dreams, trances, and ritual possessions. Also called vodoun.

    I am sure many Catholics are probably upset about this, but hey, they don’t have it patented or copyrighted.

  86. 86
    AxelFoley says:

    White people in this thread mad as fuck. Who knew ya’ll wanted to bellydance so bad? LOL

  87. 87
    Woodrowfan says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: agreed. they’re not doing it for your pleasure, they’re doing it for their own. Sorry, but overweight people get to enjoy their bodies too even if we make you feel icky..

  88. 88
    gelfling545 says:

    I don’t know enough about it to say for sure but I’d be really surprised if the dance form in question didn’t contain at least some elements “appropriated” from other cultures. That seems to be mostly how the arts work. The elements float around the world & people mix them & interpret them in different ways and even repurpose them.

    Are we to assume that no people from the author’s culture should be permitted to study ballet or ballroom dancing lest they “appropriate” someone else’s culture?

  89. 89
    cleek says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    If you grab and commercialize a couple of things from a culture (whatever culture it may be) without context or history, aren’t you trivializing that culture?

    not if we don’t claim that those couple of things actually represent all of that culture.

    i get that it’s possible to trivialize (minstrelize) a culture. but that doesn’t happen automatically. that’s a choice someone makes.

    adapting and adopting things we like, regardless of context and source is what humans do. the examples are uncountable: food, music, dance, language, religion, visual arts, etc.. by the simple facts that no culture has ever sprung up from the ground fully-formed, and that no culture lasts forever: anything people do today, anywhere, was adopted and adapted from some other culture.

  90. 90
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @cleek:

    not if we don’t claim that those couple of things actually represent all of that culture.

    I should have added something to that effect.

  91. 91
    Aimai says:

    @wil: fuck off.

  92. 92
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Aimai: Succinct.

  93. 93
    Origuy says:

    I guess I should tell the Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian people I’ve done Scottish dancing with that they are appropriating my cultural heritage. Not to mention the German guy who teaches it. Of course I’m only part Scottish, so I should skip class once in a while.

  94. 94
    J says:

    @tokyo expat: Liked your post!

  95. 95
    Ecks says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    it doesn’t happen in Canada either, but that’s just because they can’t find the stones under all the snow. It is my understanding that they just beat the women to death with big chunks of ice.

    It’s a nicer way to go.

  96. 96
    J says:

    @Craig: Was about to say something about Leontyne Price (one example of many), but see you’ve done so already. I found myself totally incapable of caring about Miley Cyrus during the period when it was obligatory to have a view about her, but my first reaction to the subject of this thread was horror at the thought of the world being deprived of Leontyne Price singing Aida (& countless other role) because Verdi wasn’t part of her ‘culture’.

  97. 97
    D58826 says:

    Does that m mean this German-American can only eat struddle and sauerkraut but no pasta or tacos? And my Norwegian_American wife must starve because she hates lutefisk (a Norwegian favorite).

    It’s why your doing these things not that you are doing them. If you are belly dancing to lose weight that one thing but if your doing it as part of a minstrel show type act than that is definitely wrong

  98. 98
    cleek says:

    @Ecks:

    It’s a nicer way to go.

    it’s a beauty way to go.
    ya hoser.

  99. 99
    RareSanity says:

    @Aimai:

    I was just about to say, I don’t know about where he lives, but the women in the suburb I live (right outside of Atlanta) are generally attractive and in pretty good shape…including my lovely wife. :-)

  100. 100
    RSA says:

    @Freemark:

    You mean like voodoo

    Oh! No, I didn’t know. I guess my analogy falls apart, then; I don’t think anyone’s offended by voodoo.

  101. 101
    SatanicPanic says:

    The problem with Miley is that she was treating someone else’s culture as a way to move beyond being Hannah Montana. If someone just wants to belly dance I don’t see why it matters, unless they’re holding themselves up as representing belly dancers.

    (blog pimp) I wrote several posts on cultural appropriation on my blog before I kind of gave up without coming to a conclusion.

  102. 102
    ruemara says:

    Not saying I don’t understand what everyone is saying counter to her argument, nor am I saying I agree with her, but the quantity of dismissive comments-without even a cursory look at her piece-surprises me. Coming from a culture or rather cultures, that are highly appropriated, I can attest to the disturbing mix of emotions seeing it can entail. It’s not liking an art or a style, it’s the separation of one aspect of the culture from every other part. I make sushi out of riced cauliflower. I’d never offer it with some tea and say I’m doing a tea ceremony, especially to friends from Japan. She’s rude and not really discussing things well, but, there’s some points to be discussed.

  103. 103
    PJ says:

    @David in NY: The songwriting business in that era was notoriously crooked (and still is, though not as much), and Otis Blackwell was a victim of those practices, but he still did pretty well for himself: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05.....thers.html

  104. 104
    Suffern ACE says:

    @RSA: I don’t know. I remember going to church youth Sunday meetings (once you got past the sixth grade, we had meetings rather than Sunday School) to here lectures about the sinister ways those Satanists presented themselves to fool Christians. We definitely discussed Voodoo. Also too, practicing Yoga was a way for those Indians to subvert good Christians to their cults. It’s not appropriation I suppose if it is going to make you weaker and suseptible to Satanic suggestions.

    How I got to be a functioning adult in the world who hasn’t decided to hide in a cave, I’ll never figure out.

  105. 105
  106. 106
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Aimai: Co-signed! ;-)

  107. 107
    patrick II says:

    Does this mean I have to stop listening to white people playing blues?

  108. 108
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: This is where I am on the issue.

  109. 109
    wil says:

    @Aimai:

    @wil: fuck off.

    Back atcha buddy. Nobody wants to see overweight suburban women belly dancing and trying so hard and failing so badly.

    These days I just refuse all requests to go to any kind of belly dancing, because it’s so sad and depressing.

    FWIW, I lived in Turkey and have seen the real thing, both male and female.

    They should just reclassify belly dancing classes here as either weight loss programs or self-esteem help classes.

    Neither work, either. Just sad exercises in futility.

  110. 110
    cleek says:

    @SatanicPanic:

    The problem with Miley is that she was treating someone else’s culture as a way to move beyond being Hannah Montana.

    maybe that’s giving her far too much credit. she was probably just doing a dance move she learned at a club somewhere.

  111. 111
    Someguy says:

    I agree with Ms. Jarrar, and in a show of solidarity have decided to stop eating Italian food cooked by non-Italians, beer brewed by non-Germans, and algebra problems solved by anybody other than Arabs.

  112. 112
  113. 113
    SatanicPanic says:

    @cleek: If it were just her twerking it would be one thing, but with the video for We Can’t Stop plus her follow up 23 it was pretty obvious what she was doing.

    Which isn’t to say I think it’s terrible- too often people throw around the idea of cultural appropriation to protect their own status- like famous rappers calling other people fake when their own position at the top looks threatened. But in this case I think Miley was just using rap as a costume.

  114. 114
    CONGRATULATIONS! says:

    I’m a musician. Am I no longer allowed to listen to or play blues or jazz because I’m “appropriating a culture”?

    If the author wants to take another stab at this and lambast white women who belly dance badly, I’ll support that. But to rage out just because somebody’s doing it? Nope. Sorry. Dance and music belong to us all.

  115. 115
    mattH says:

    @jon: Best part of this, what most people think of when you say Navajo rugs are actually the result of white traders looking to make money on Persian rugs and teaching the patterns to Navajos.

  116. 116
    kc says:

    @wil:

    I’m with you, man. White women really suck. And not in a good way, amirite?

  117. 117
    elm says:

    @CONGRATULATIONS!:

    I’m a musician. Am I no longer allowed to listen to or play blues or jazz because I’m “appropriating a culture”?

    If you’re performing jazz or blues under a stage name that’s intended to sound black, wearing costume, jewelry, and makeup that signifies “black”-ness, then maybe people would consider what you’re doing offensive.

  118. 118
    Citizen Alan says:

    @wil:

    Instead of worrying about who might be offended by cultural ripoffs, let’s all just agree that suburban white women belly dancing is just a sad spectacle that makes nobody happy.

    It makes the suburban white women who do it happy. Which is the fucking point.

  119. 119
    Citizen Alan says:

    @SatanicPanic:

    Are people seriously suggesting that twerking has a rich cultural history amongst African-Americans that is being denigrated when white girls do it? Do people say that?

    Personally, I thought Miley’s twerking was probably the least offensive thing about that performance, behind her creepily infantalized appearance, her teddy bear themed backup dancers, her awful song, her weird belief that sticking her tongue out like a Great Dane is sexy, and her sharing the stage with Robin “No is such an ambiguous word” Thicke.

  120. 120
    kc says:

    Every time a white lady moves her hips, God kills a kitten.

  121. 121
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Citizen Alan: No, I’m suggesting that she’s using hip-hop imagery, music and dance moves without having anything more than superficial knowledge of hip-hop (despite her claim of having a favorite JayZ song in Party in USA) and I direct you to the songs + videos she made for 23 and We Can’t Stop. Her performance with Robin Thicke was mostly just an insult to people with good taste.

  122. 122
    taylormattd says:

    I’m not sure I really understand or agree with the linked article, but I have to say, I’m a little disturbed by some of the reaction here.

  123. 123
    elm says:

    @taylormattd: White people are viscerally upset and react nastily when non-white person talks about white people’s interaction with middle-eastern culture.

    Welcome to White Privilege.

  124. 124
    gwangung says:

    @elm:

    White people are viscerally upset and react nastily when brown person talks about white people’s interaction with brown people.

    Pretty much. They automatically go to “You’re censoring/thought controlling me!”

    As someone whose culture gets appropriated a lot (see Royal Shakespeare Company and their yellowface, see Philadelphia’s Lantern Company and their “Japanese” (complete with chopstick fonts) Julius Caesar), I’d like a little more nuanced conversation here.

    Remember, a lot of times, majority culture just blows off the other and ignores them until they get all in your face like Jarrar did.

    I’m a little more concerned about artistic respect, which cuts more to the heart of things than appropriation.

  125. 125
    Bob says:

    @Someguy: Beer has a much longer history than those thieving Germans. Beer, we need to thank those dark hued folks of the Fertile Crescent, Or so I’m given to understand.

  126. 126
    Linnaeus says:

    My mother does/did belly dancing. Interestingly, she was also once rebuked for doing it, but not in the sense that Jarrar would. She was accosted in the parking lot on the way to her class by a woman who didn’t like the fact that my mother and her classmates were learning to do “that Arab dance”. And not for reasons of respecting Near Eastern cultures.

  127. 127
    Mnemosyne says:

    @gwangung:

    I haven’t quite worked this through in my head, so hopefully it will come out right and not sound too confusing:

    I think that, due to immigration and post-9/11 anti-Muslim/anti-Arab feeling, a lot of people of Arab and Middle Eastern descent are going back to their roots and appreciating the culture that was left behind.

    I see kind of a similar dynamic going on in the city I currently live. Armenians have been in California for decades (if not a century) by now, but there’s been an uprush of Armenian pride and nationalism because of an influx of recent immigrants. We now have people saying things like, We need an Armenian governor of California — George Deukmejian doesn’t count as a “real” Armenian because his family was assimilated.

    So I actually think Jarrar’s complaint is stemming more from that kind of reawakened ethnic pride, which becomes tricky in itself because, as others have mentioned, white suburban women have been belly dancing since the 1970s at least, and it’s hard to pull something that’s already been assimilated into the culture back out again.

  128. 128
    moderateindy says:

    I think this whole complaint is something that is a ridiculously hard sell to an American audience. We are one whole huge experiment in appropriating other cultures. So boo as well as hoo somebody finds something your culture does and finds it enjoyable. They aren’t doing it to make fun of your culture, or to denigrate you in any way, so get over it. Of all the crap that matters on this planet, this is what your spending your time being outraged about?
    There is also a small problem with the Elvis stealing all the black folks music, which he of course totally did. But the argument pre-supposes that Elvis somehow stole money from the people whose songs he ripped off. Sans Elvis, as well as people like him, those songs weren’t going to become popular on their own. In fact, his ripping those songs off probably helped the original authors gain recognition that they otherwise woul never had achieved. Popular culture would never had embraced those same tunes done by the actual guys that wrote them. Obviously, that ignores the whole screwing them out of royalties thing, but that had nothing to do with cultural appropriation, it was thievery, pure and simple.

  129. 129
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Ajaye:

    ballet dancing Native Americans,

    Indeed, some of the greatest ballet soloists and principal dancers have been Native American women. Look up “The Five Moons”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Moons

  130. 130
    gwangung says:

    I think this whole complaint is something that is a ridiculously hard sell to an American audience. We are one whole huge experiment in appropriating other cultures.

    Given American history, I don’t think this is as strong an argument as you think it is.

  131. 131
    kc says:

    @elm:

    It is kind of surprising that white people would react defensively to an article headlined “I Can’t Stand White [fill in the blank]”.

  132. 132
    Lurking Buffoon says:

    Iunno, I would think that wider acceptance of an artform from a particular culture would be the antithesis of bigoted exploitation. I mean, has anyone tried to make bellydancing a decidedly white thing? But then, I’m a white heterosexual guy that finds bellydancing hypnotic no matter who’s doing it, so I’m sure someone can make me out to be a monster.

  133. 133
    SatanicPanic says:

    @gwangung: As someone who makes music, I want to be able to borrow from other styles without feeling like I’m a thief. Then again, if I do do that, I understand the expectation that I don’t make a joke out of it either. I think that’s fair.

  134. 134
    elm says:

    @kc: Authors don’t write the headlines.

  135. 135
    Linnaeus says:

    I think there is a discussion to be had about cultural appropriation, what it is, and what its effects are. So I don’t want to be summarily dismissive of Jarrar’s viewpoint. But there are some very thorny questions that don’t have clear answers:

    How can we define “cultural appropriation”? Is that even possible, or is it a Potter Stewart-esque “I know it when I see it” thing?

    How is a culture to be bounded to resist poor appropriation and, more importantly, who gets to police those boundaries? Who decides that?

    The latter questions are especially difficult in societies like the United States (though the US is by no means the only example) where so much of its populace has mixed ethnic heritages. Am I German? Polish? Germans and Poles probably wouldn’t think so, even if I can trace some of my ancestry to those cultures.

  136. 136
    Freemark says:

    @RSA: Since I agreed with and just a gave real instead of hypothetical example your sarcasm makes no sense. I just also pointed out that if Catholics are being offended it doesn’t really matter much.

  137. 137
    wuzzat says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    In that same vein, remember that this Disneyfied piece of Middle Eastern culture has been adopted in a social sphere where Middle Eastern women are, more often than not, unwelcome. I’m not saying that the term hasn’t been abused, but that sort of thing is where the “cultural appropration” debate started. When we adopt a bit of culture in a way that excludes the people that it originally belonged to or trivializes (or worse) an important part of another culture (e.g. a religious ceremony), it might be worth some discussion beyond “Melting pot, bitches!!1!”

  138. 138
    gwangung says:

    @SatanicPanic: Oh, yeah, that’s fair. Making a real effort to understand and use it is appreciated (as long as you understand that if you do it badly anyway, you’ll still get criticism).

    I don’t like the term “appropriation.” It’s a two dollar word that really means a half-assed effort to be exotic, where your half assed efforts means instead of understanding and doing your homework, you’re relying on your own dimly understood preconceptions of the other culture—which means you’re probably relying on stereotypes and racist simplifications.

  139. 139
    gwangung says:

    @wuzzat:

    In that same vein, remember that this Disneyfied piece of Middle Eastern culture has been adopted in a social sphere where Middle Eastern women are, more often than not, unwelcome. I’m not saying that the term hasn’t been abused, but that sort of thing is where the “cultural appropration” debate started. When we adopt a bit of culture in a way that excludes the people that it originally belonged to or trivializes (or worse) an important part of another culture (e.g. a religious ceremony), it might be worth some discussion beyond “Melting pot, bitches!!1!”

    Yeah….if you’re up there with masters of the artform and jamming with them, it’s not appropriation….

  140. 140
    elm says:

    @Lurking Buffoon: There’s a whole article on the topic of exactly why one individual finds it offensive. I believe you can find it here. If you had read those 1200 words, you might know more about the details of that argument.

  141. 141
    Mnemosyne says:

    @wuzzat:

    In that same vein, remember that this Disneyfied piece of Middle Eastern culture has been adopted in a social sphere where Middle Eastern women are, more often than not, unwelcome.

    That’s why I think it’s partly a post-9/11 thing, though — before then, (assimilated) Middle Eastern women were welcome in those white suburbs, if they were the “right kind” (aka Christian, often Lebanese or Syrian). I think it was the post-9/11 hysteria and anti-Muslim feeling that made them unwelcome after the fact, which is what I think Jarrar is responding to.

    I think the current anti-Middle Eastern prejudice is a little different than some of the other ones we’re dealing with because most people of that background were pretty well-accepted and well on their way to following in the footsteps of the Italians and Irish in becoming completely unremarkable backgrounds until 9/11 happened.

  142. 142
    slag says:

    Totally down with this. It’s also why white women shouldn’t do math either. Where do you think those numbers come from, bitchez!?!

  143. 143
    g says:

    Specially the zeros.

  144. 144
    elm says:

    @SatanicPanic: I agree that that’s fair. I also hope you’d find it offensive if somebody was performing Chinese music in a conical straw hat, charlie chan glasses, and buck teeth under a stage name like Chin Chan Cho.

    In the article, the author does call out the sorts of things that bother her, like:

    a white woman came out in Arab drag — because that’s what that is, when a person who’s not Arab wears genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as “Arabic” because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind — and began to belly-dance. She was not a terrible belly dancer. But she was incredibly thin and didn’t remind me, in any way, of Tahia Karioca or Hind Rostom or my absolute favorite Raqs Sharqi dancer, Fifi Abdo.

    and

    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.

  145. 145
    The Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion says:

    @Freemark: The syncretization of West African Diaspora traditions with Roman Catholicism is a poor example. The people didn’t go “Oh, Catholicism looks cool, we’ll throw some of that in.” They were converted at gunpoint, and had to find a way to keep their spiritual beliefs and practices alive in the middle of an allegedly “Christian” dominant culture. Most African diaspora traditions are syncretic, combining elements of any cultural traditions they encounter, which further complicates the comparison. A more apt analogy might be the incorporation of Native American practices by Voudoo/Santeria/Macumba/Condomble/Shango/Etc., but in that case they’re borrowing from a tradition that is also syncretic. The whole idea of cultural transvestisism is itself a product of 20th century European anthropological guilt that really isn’t appropriate when applied to indigenous or other syncretic traditions.

  146. 146
    Suffern ACE says:

    @elm: Yep. If you’re going to take up belly dancing and get good enough to perform publicly, and you feel the need to take a stage name. It does seem a bit more than classless to call yourself “Sheikette Aliah Bah Bah” or some nonesense.

  147. 147
    SatanicPanic says:

    @gwangung: I agree, the term is awkward. I like -face because it conveys that you’re making a joke out of something.

    I think there’s something to the idea that- hey I was doing this for 20 years and never made a dime, now some white person comes along and it’s a hit . I get the resentment but I have no idea how to remedy this.

  148. 148
    elm says:

    @The Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion:

    @Freemark: The syncretization of West African Diaspora traditions with Roman Catholicism is a poor example. The people didn’t go “Oh, Catholicism looks cool, we’ll throw some of that in.” They were converted at gunpoint, and had to find a way to keep their spiritual beliefs and practices alive in the middle of an allegedly “Christian” dominant culture.

    Thanks for sharing some of the specifics around that. I’m less familiar with the details, but the example seemed poor to me just from looking at the relative power of the groups involved.

    Black former slaves and their descendents are obviously far less powerful and influential than U.S. Roman Catholics. They clearly lack the influence and power to seriously distort the understanding and image of Roman Catholic practices.

  149. 149
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:

    I got in late, but this sums it up nicely

  150. 150
    RSA says:

    @Freemark: Sorry! I actually missed reading what you wrote beneath the block quote. I didn’t intend any sarcasm, and I should read more carefully in the future.

  151. 151
    Samuel Knight says:

    Sad that Salon is now printing this cultural troll bait. A few weeks after a horrified article claiming that no-one thought Macklemore should win the rapper award. (no-one except the voters I guess).

    Sorta nuts to try to publish an article about cultural appropriation in the US

  152. 152
    SatanicPanic says:

    @elm: Of course, that’s terrible. Part of having respect for a culture you don’t actually belong to is admitting that you don’t belong to it.

  153. 153
    Paul in KY says:

    @Jim C.: I was a video gamer back in Space Invader/Pac Man days. I is old.

  154. 154
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Samuel Knight: Macklemore himself said Kendrick Lamar should have got the award.

  155. 155
    gwangung says:

    @Samuel Knight:

    Sorta nuts to try to publish an article about cultural appropriation in the US

    Again, I don’t think your argument is as strong as you think it is.

  156. 156

    It was just another click bait article. Personally, I wish Salon and Slate would get back to presuming Woody Allen’s guilt or what the proper behavior for a new age atheist should be.

  157. 157
    elm says:

    @gwangung: Intellectually, calling the article (or author?) “Sorta nuts” is a weak argument. Rhetorically, it’s remarkably strong. Complacency and dismissal (powered by white privilege) will take you a very long way in the U.S.

    GHayduke’s link (@149) is very good.

    We have a responsibility to listen to people of marginalized cultures, understand as much as possible the blatant and subtle ways in which their cultures have been appropriated and exploited, and educate ourselves enough to make informed choices when it comes to engaging with people of other cultures.

    Cultural appropriation is itself a real issue because it demonstrates the imbalance of power that still remains between cultures that have been colonized and the ex-colonizers.

  158. 158
    Swannie says:

    Cultural appropriation , in dance , is usually called, choreography .

  159. 159
    Anya says:

    It’s rich coming from her since the dance was originally appropriated from Africa.

  160. 160
    Don says:

    @gwangung: I think appropriation is a good and valid word, it’s just diminished when people like Jarrar can’t find any line between appropriation and adoption/assimilation. Taking someone else’s shit and locking them out of success is a very real thing and I think appropriation well describes what’s happening.

    Compare the way rap became a part of the culture to the way R&B did. I was a suburban white boy when the Sugar Hill Gang hit the scene and many of us were out there buying their albums along with Run DMC and Public Enemy and more. White voices became a part of the scene and now it’s a crapshoot whether the rap star du jour will have a lot of melanin or not. I don’t think that represents appropriation.

    R&B on the other hand, saw black musicians slotted into a particular market and their work re-recorded by palatable-for-caucasian-audiences artists who adopted their sound. Hi Elvis! Those artists may have had a legitimate love of the material but they were adopting someone else’s developed material and displacing them from commercial success and recognition. That, to me, appropriation that should be disdained.

  161. 161
    Paul in KY says:

    @Suffern ACE: We had those too! I can still tell you what is ‘heretica’l about each non-Methodist sect (especially the unusual ones like Johovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, Mormons, etc.).

  162. 162
    Paul in KY says:

    @wil: You sure come across here as a smug douche.

  163. 163
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Roger That: You sure enough got that right. Belly dancing seems quite popular among working class “white” women a lot of whom, especially in Appalachia, have Semitic heritage, often hidden Arab heritage.

    Was it cultural appropriation when MLK studied non-violent resistance from Mohandas Ghandi? I guess if he had been orientalizing that shit.

    I don’t have a problem with people studying any kind of world dance but yeah, I’ve sometimes heard bullshit around bellydancing that should have been stuffed. I know some pretty serious bellydancers, though–it’s both a dance and kind of an athletic thing. Which may be what’s driving the “empowerment” language. For many American women the culturally proscribed forms of athletic activity such as team sports are highly unappealing. It’s fun to find out what your body can really do.

  164. 164
    Paul in KY says:

    @SatanicPanic: She does say in her RS interview that she is playing characters in much of her dancing/stagecraft.

  165. 165
    Jewish Steel says:

    This particular brand of kulturkampf sounds suspiciously like standing athwart history and yelling, “Stop!”

    Culture don’t give a damn no how.

  166. 166

    Besides, cultural appropriation is the history of humanity. You come up with a better spearhead, I copy it. I figure out a better way of attaching the spearhead, you copy it. Eventually someone drops an a-bomb on someone else. It’s the of the world. How do you fight snails in your garden?

  167. 167

    Besides, cultural appropriation is the history of humanity. You come up with a better spearhead, I copy it. I figure out a better way of attaching the spearhead, you copy it. Eventually someone drops an a-bomb on someone else. It’s the way of the world. How do you fight snails in your garden?

  168. 168
    Paul in KY says:

    @SatanicPanic: I think she knows more about hip hop than you might think. She’s been a professional performer & singer since she was 12, has been in many a studio, has met & spoken with various rappers/producers, etc.

  169. 169
    Paul in KY says:

    @Mnemosyne: What do Armenians think of Kasey Kasem?

  170. 170
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @RSA: Catholic Marian symbols actually do get appropriated by certain subcultures in the US, mixed in with appropriation of Santeria and folk Mexican Catholic practices.

    Here is how many fucks this Irish Catholic gives:

  171. 171
    Paul in KY says:

    @moderateindy: Popular ‘white’ culture.

  172. 172
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Bob In Portland: Lots of unattractive things are part of human history. As an article linked above noted, there is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. Perhaps we should strive toward exchange rather than appropriation.

  173. 173
    SRW1 says:

    Ok, no belly dancing for me.

    What did I drink all that beer for then?

  174. 174
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Paul in KY: Probably the same as everyone else: Dear god, is he still on the air?

  175. 175
    Peter says:

    As with nearly all issues of Cultural Appropriation, it’s a good deal more complicated than the loudest voices on either side of the debate would have you believe. On the one hand, appropriation is something which happens naturally whenever two cultures rub up against each other. Both cultures become inflected by the other. And there’s nothing wrong with that – nor should cultural boundaries be an impermeable wall, forbidden everyone from participating in anything outside of the culture they were born into.

    On the other hand, in colonial and post-colonial contexts, cultures are unequal. White, euro-centric American culture occupies a position of privelege over minority cultures, which allows those cultures to not only take, but take as their own, to perform it without acknowledging it’s nature as a borrowed practice. See: the entire history of Rock & Roll.

    Doing this isn’t just disrespectful and tacky – although it certainly is that – it also dilutes the significance of the original practice. It’s yet another way for the dominant culture to erode the validity and practice of subaltern cultures.

    So, when is it normal culture mingling, and when is it harmful appropriation? Unfortunately, it’s generally pretty ambiguous and without a clearcut answer. There are some cases where it’s pretty obvious, like the early history of Rock and white people wearing Native American-style headdresses as simple ornamentation, but by and large it’s a complex issue and two people could argue over it for years without coming to a proper conclusion.

    In general, though, if you’re playing in another culture’s backyard, it’s always best and respectful to acknowledge it. If you’re borrowing another culture’s practices or imagery without an understanding of where it came from, and what it means in that original context, you’re probably being disrespectful.

  176. 176
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Don: I don’t see any difference between what Elvis and what Emininem did. Both were just playing the music they liked and a producer who saw $ signs made them into a star. I think people want to pile a lot of their anger at what happened to black rock and roll performers on Elvis, but I don’t think that’s totally fair.

    Taking R & B and making something new with it isn’t even that different than what Sugar Hill Gang did with disco.

  177. 177
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Thank you. I find those frat boys in black face and those hipsters in pseudo Native American gear highly offensive. That shit causes real pain to real people.

    If you cloak your belly dancing in Orientalism and exoticism, I have a problem with you.

    Miley Cyrus didn’t get flamed for twerking or even twerking badly. It was her exploitation of a black body to send a coded message about her own sexuality. It was fucking offensive as shit. I don’t hate her or anything, but that was wrong.

    I also feel like appropriating people’s religious beliefs kind of crosses a line, and it’s important to listen to people affected by this kind of thing. Like when people in the US appropriate Native American religions. Listening doesn’t always mean one is persuaded. Some Catholics screamed bloody murder about The Last Temptation of Christ but it doesn’t mean they were right.

  178. 178
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    I could understand her point better if it were a matter of non-Arab women “appropriating” it in the sense of excluding or preventing Arab women from doing belly dancing, as if it were wild rice to native Americans.
    But it’s not like there’s only so much belly dance in the world and not enough to be shared. Nobody’s stopping this woman from belly dancing, and if she has a “white” woman on her back, she should tell them to dance somewhere else.

  179. 179
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Yeah, I know. The think about the black-face minstrels is it was part of Jim Crow. The shows couldn’t have a real black person doing the song. Now, that was exploitation and freezing out a culture from its production.
    White women joining a belly dance club doesn’t rise to this level at all, in my opinion.

  180. 180
    Paul in KY says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: LOLing!

  181. 181
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @Poopyman: Not sure the real Irish like the American version of that holiday. Then again, I don’t see it as being done “on the backs” of the Irish.

  182. 182
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @SatanicPanic: I see the line more as Elvis vs Pat Boone myself.

    @Another Holocene Human: Another aspect that comes in to this is for whom are the performs doing there thing. When I see a second line dancing in NOLA or go to a traditional pow wow in Wisconsin, the dancers aren’t doing it for me. They are doing it for themselves and their peers. I can watch and enjoy, but I should know that it isn’t happening for my enjoyment. If that makes sense…

  183. 183
    gopher2b says:

    @Howlin Wolfe:

    Depends on how late in the day it is. Boom!

    (My ancestors were Irish so I’m allowed say this).

  184. 184
    Marc says:

    @Peter:

    If you’re playing this game you have to follow it through to its logical conclusions. Should all Shakespeare plays be performed with white English actors (to be completely traditional, all male?) This isn’t a gotcha. Either art and music are universal or they are not. Period.

    The usual dodge, around “privilege” and the like, comes down to a violation of the Golden Rule. It’s utterly unpersuasive to outsiders because it comes across as what it is: special pleading. “I’m allowed to do whatever I want to, and there are special rules about what *you* can do.”

    Now it’s entirely possible to adopt a tradition badly or in an insulting way. But there is a world of difference between that and a blanket condemnation of all (fill in the blank) being allowed to do something at all. It’s destructive, morally wrong, and I see nothing at all wrong with confronting such a small-minded and destructive attitude.

  185. 185
    Marc says:

    @Howlin Wolfe: Blackface is a tradition. It’s just a white racist tradition.

  186. 186
    xenos says:

    What about the Greek and Bulgarian women who learned belly dancing from the Turks? Or does that kind of colonialism not count?

  187. 187
    Alex Milstein says:

    My daughter studied and performed Irish step-dancing from the age of six until she was 16. And she’s Jewish. With family roots in Eastern Europe. I hope we didn’t offend the Irish.

  188. 188
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Agreed. That’s a good example

  189. 189
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @wil: Are urban women belly dancing ok? How about rural women? Gotta know what I’m supposed to think is pathetic.

  190. 190
    gwangung says:

    @Marc:

    If you’re playing this game you have to follow it through to its logical conclusions. Should all Shakespeare plays be performed with white English actors (to be completely traditional, all male?)

    Sorry, but that’s bullshit. It shows you haven’t thought about it very much.

  191. 191
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Howlin Wolfe:

    Gotta know what I’m supposed to think is pathetic.

    How about wil?

  192. 192
    Don says:

    @SatanicPanic: I don’t think the problem is Elvis himself. Elvis did what he wanted to do and made art. I think the problem is when the Elvi of the world come along and take a place when the originators never get to succeed. I’m not sure who to lay that at the feet of or if it’s practical to do so. But I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be angry when you see something ripped out of its context and turned into a whitewashed product w/o anyone involved in making it being successful as a result.

  193. 193
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @wil: So overweight urban or rural women are A-Ok? I don’t care where the fuck you lived, your sexist dismissal of women who don’t measure up to your “cosmoplitan” standards is pretty fucked up.

  194. 194
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: It’s good to know that in the midst of controversy, we can unite around one truth.

  195. 195
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Betty Cracker: I try to be a uniter not a divider. God knows, I try.

  196. 196
    Marc says:

    @gwangung: And its so obvious that you can’t even give a reason. Priceless. I’m waiting for an answer that doesn’t devolve into pretzel logic and special pleading about why it’s OK for (ethnic group A) to perform in a genre originating from (ehtnic group B), but not vice versa.

    There is a reason why these arguments – which were briefly popular in the 80s and 90s – were both unpopular and short-lived in prominence. And privilege isn’t it.

  197. 197
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Alex Milstein: Well, again, if during the performance, she introduced herself as Maddy O’brien and made jokes about her drunk policeman father and went to Ireland to perform in a hotel and wrote an article for Salon about the dying state of Irish Dancing in Ireland and how Irish dancing would be dying if not for the Jewish dancers moving to Ireland, then I think there would be a problem.

  198. 198
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Marc: Shakespeare’s work isn’t representative of a marginalized or minority culture, now is it?

  199. 199
    Peter says:

    @Marc: What an astonishingly bad counterexample. Do you honestly think that there is a single Shakespeare production occurring anywhere on the planet that is not a tacit acknowledgment of Shakespeare’s position as Bard Supreme of British literature?

    You can say it’s unpersuasive until the cows come home but regardless, the reality is that identical actions taken by a culture in a position of strength and a culture in a position of weakness have very different outcomes.

  200. 200
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Don: A lot of those people did go on to some degree of success in the late 60s when people started looking back to see where the music they were listening came from.

    I’ll give you my #slatepitch here but I think the fact that in the late 50s, early 60s almost all of the early rock and roll stars either died or made terrible choices that killed their careers. That set back rock and roll so much that all these originators- Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf had to basically sit on their hands for 5-10 years while rock and roll regained its momentum. If it hadn’t happened the way it did I think some of those pioneers would have done much better commercially. Imagine if all the best MCs had disappeared by 1989, what would hip-hop be right now? Something strange.

  201. 201
    kc says:

    @elm:

    she was incredibly thin and didn’t remind me, in any way, of Tahia Karioca or Hind Rostom or my absolute favorite Raqs Sharqi dancer, Fifi Abdo.

    “These white women are terrible! And the portions are so small!”

  202. 202
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @Bob In Portland: Some say double posting is, too.

  203. 203
    La Gata Gris says:

    @mattH: Oh FFS that is NOT the origin of Navajo weaving: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo_weaving

    Speaking of cultural appropration…I’m a Native American (not Navajo, but Milluk Coos) and not only do we have to deal with bonehead cultural appropration based on inaccurate stereotypes of our cultures, BUT people regularly mischaracterize our histories and claim it all originated with white folks anyway. This sort of nonsense goes centuries back to whites insisting the mound builders were wandering Welsh or Vikings or something. The more things change the more things stay the same….

  204. 204
    Betty Cracker says:

    @kc: Hahahaha! Thanks for that. ;-)

  205. 205
    Annamal says:

    @greennotGreen:

    This post sent me to watch some haka again (the All Blacks.) It strikes me that wanting to mimic some aspect of culture can be a way of honoring it. I don’t think that would be true if you were taking a funeral ceremony and turning it into a dance step to sell soft drinks, but if you’re attempting to use that bit of culture somewhat the way it was intended, how is that offensive? It may be naive. However, I don’t think human understanding is increased by drawing imaginary lines that others aren’t allowed to cross.

    Culture is a shared activity, but our response to it is individual. Klezmer speaks to Flatlander’s Hispanic wife and Don Byron. Maybe if I lived in New Zealand, I would take a haka class. Chances are Randa Jarrar wouldn’t be around to disapprove.

    Actually there are some cultural lines on various kinds of Haka and who can use them and where.

    There are two different Haka performed by the All Blacks, ka mate(written a long time ago) and kapa o pango(written recently) .

    There was a lot of controversy about the women’s rugby team ( the black ferns) performing Ka mate and these days they do a purpose written Haka.

    The armed forces have their own Haka which they’ll perform at ceremonies including welcoming home the bodies of the dead.

    The All Blacks are not mimicing a culture, they are actively engaging in it, there’s a difference.

  206. 206
    Joe Bauers says:

    I guess I’m not a good liberal after all because instead of making me wring my hands and feel guilty, that article made me shake my head and file the entire subject under “things about which I give zero shits”.

  207. 207
  208. 208
    moderateindy says:

    @gwangung:

    Given American history, I don’t think this is as strong an argument as you think it is

    No given American history is exactly why her argument is such a tough sell. Because every ethnicity has had this same experience of the greater populace adopting parts of their native culture. It’s been a basic building block of this country, so most people are going to look at her complaint as too bad, so sad, welcome to the USA. I’m not arguing that it’s necessarily the right attitude, but it is overwhelmingly the prevailing outlook.

  209. 209
    Joe Bauers says:

    @elm:

    Just because some/many/most people of other races are not silly does not mean that all people of other races are not silly.

  210. 210
    elm says:

    @Joe Bauers: The fact that you don’t have to think or worry about it is a privilege you enjoy. That sort of privilege is not available to everybody.

  211. 211
    moderateindy says:

    @Paul in KY: @Paul in KY:

    Popular “white” culture

    I’m sorry, but back in the 50’s, and early 60’s popular culture was lilly white. Music being the first serious conduit to adopting parts of black culture. Pop culture as a term means what is popular with the populace at large. (hence the POP part) Even today, although there is much more overlapping. there is a distinct difference between pop culture. and “black, or rather. “urban” culture.

  212. 212
    Alex Milstein says:

    @Suffern ACE: Of course, what intrigued my daughter about Irish dancing was a visit to an Irish Fair here in Southern California. We had been trying to interest her in ballet and she kept refusing. But when she saw the demonstration of Irish step-dancing, she said that’s exactly what she wanted to learn. And the officials of Irish dancing don’t mind other cultures taking part. In fact, the Jewish daughter of friends of mine has competed in the world championships in Ireland…and did very well for herself.

  213. 213
    Kylroy says:

    @Peter: Yes, I do, if anyone is performing this: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Une_Temp%C3%AAte

  214. 214
    Keith G says:

    Some of us are a mixture of so many cultures (one or two quite marginalized, OO) that I might have problems knowing which pursuits were acceptable appropriation and which were not.

  215. 215
    Marc says:

    @Peter:

    And yet somehow we assign zero weight to the argument that only white Anglo-Saxons should be permitted to act in Shakespearian plays. I think that’s completely proper; do you? “Dominant culture” or no has nothing to do with the question of whether originating an art form gives you a monopoly on participating in it.

  216. 216
    jon says:

    In a world where the most famous belly dancer is a 5’2″ Colombian woman, blaming it on white women is a bit of a stretch.

  217. 217
    Joe Bauers says:

    @elm: I disagree. I believe that everybody has the ability to not think or worry about white American women belly dancing. If this is truly a phenomenon that must be regarded as a real problem, then we’re doing a lot better than I thought because we are a rounding error away from a perfect society.

  218. 218
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Marc: Your argument is creeping right up on “how come only black people can say that word?”

  219. 219
    jon says:

    @elm: The bit about using names in faux Arabic is certainly dickish. 100% with her on that point.

  220. 220
  221. 221
    elm says:

    @Joe Bauers: Obviously McIntosh’s point was that ethnic minorities don’t have the luxury of ignoring the perspectives and beliefs of white people. Even silly beliefs held by a group in power can be leveraged for harm — oftentimes it is silly and ill-founded beliefs that are leveraged in that way.

  222. 222
    Kylroy says:

    @elm: Right. In these conversations, dropping the word “privilege” lets you ignore anything that a member of the majority has to say. And I absolutely understand all manner of minorities get ignored all the time in much higher stakes situations than online discussions…but nobody ever convinced anyone of anything by saying “your opinion is worthless.”

  223. 223
    Keith G says:

    @jon:

    The bit about using names in faux Arabic is certainly dickish. 100% with her on that point.

    She’d absolutely freak out at some of the drag shows I have been to. “Ijaz Kumm” or “Najah Horr” were a few I recall.

    Horrible folks, those drag queens.

  224. 224
    Joe Bauers says:

    @elm: I’m not missing or disputing McIntosh’s point. But when I made a remark about a specific thing, you responded with a blanket statement about white privilege. The article either has merit or it doesn’t. My privilege does not cause anything I choose to dismiss to have more merit than it otherwise would.

  225. 225
    Kylroy says:

    @Joe Bauers: No, but your privilege could make you blind to the merit the article has. And you wouldn’t know how or to what degree it does so, because the definition of privilege is that you aren’t aware of it. The article has merit (or not) independent of your opinion, but that’s just the point – due to your privilege, *your* opinion is meaningless.

  226. 226
    kc says:

    @Kylroy:

    due to your privilege, *your* opinion is meaningless.

    Beautiful.

  227. 227
    kc says:

    @Kylroy:

    due to your privilege, *your* opinion is meaningless.

    Beautiful.

  228. 228
    Wil says:

    @Howlin Wolfe:

    @wil: Are urban women belly dancing ok? How about rural women? Gotta know what I’m supposed to think is pathetic.

    If you could find urban or rural belly dancing. While I’m sure it exists (the urban version, anyway), it seems to be a plague that mostly afflicts the suburbs…or perhaps is just most noticeable there.

  229. 229
    StringOnAStick says:

    @Wil: Your statements sound more like fat/age/lack-of-acceptable-beauty shaming than anything else. Fuck all those women who are in your eyes inadequately attractive or athletic enough or thin enough to be allowed to sully your visual field. So noted.

  230. 230
    Wil says:

    @StringOnAStick:

    @Wil: Your statements sound more like fat/age/lack-of-acceptable-beauty shaming than anything else. Fuck all those women who are in your eyes inadequately attractive or athletic enough or thin enough to be allowed to sully your visual field. So noted.

    There are ways that women can be attractive at any age, weight, or level of athletic ability.

    Belly dancing ain’t one of them.

    It’s more like when the dads in their fifties decide after a few beers to go out and play some football like they used to back in the day. Really not a good idea and nobody wants to see the sad spectacle that ensues.

    Hope that’s enough of a non-sexist analogy for you.

  231. 231
    Annamal says:

    @Marc:

    And yet somehow we assign zero weight to the argument that only white Anglo-Saxons should be permitted to act in Shakespearian plays. I think that’s completely proper; do you? “Dominant culture” or no has nothing to do with the question of whether originating an art form gives you a monopoly on participating in it.

    For starters, Shakespeare’s actors probably weren’t only anglo-saxon, there might have been the occasional Norman in there for diversity…

    And more seriously, a great deal of effort goes into understanding the context in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, it would be nice if a similar effort went into understanding the context of other cultural endeavors.

  232. 232
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Wil:

    Hope that’s enough of a non-sexist analogy for you.

    Nope, you’re still kind of a douchecanoe. If you don’t like something for aesthetic reasons, don’t fucking watch it.

  233. 233
    Diana says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: yeah, I come late to this thread but that was my first response. My ancestors were native English speakers, does that mean I can say everyone who speaks or writes English is appropriating my culture and they shouldn’t be doing that?

    after all, if such an argument shuts down an essay as moronic as this one, maybe I should make it!

    But I agree, it’s just Slate trying for page-views. The more out there, the more attention, the more comments.

  234. 234
    Diana says:

    @Starfish: Apropos of nothing the Tango was originally a dance only performed between two men. wikipedia doesn’t mention this but the photos that illustrate the early Tango are of men dancing with each other:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_tango

    history is weirder than we can ever know.

    which is yet another reason why “cultural appropriation is BS” is true.

    Not paying someone for making money off their work is just copyright theft, not cultural appropriation.

  235. 235
    Peter says:

    @Marc:

    It’s quite germane when the outcomes of the two scenarios is very different. Are you this thick naturally, or did you have to practice?

    @Kylroy:

    Even that – which is not, strictly speaking, a performance of Shakespeare’s work – exists because of Shakespeare’s position as the exemplar of the colonizer’s culture.

  236. 236
    Diana says:

    @gwangung: um, no. Saying Randa Jarrar must have hit a nerve because people react to her column is akin to Sarah Palin thinking that she must be right political choice because having her as a Vice President of the United States upsets liberals so much.

    If you can’t figure this out, post here and I’ll explain.

  237. 237
    Wil says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    @Wil:

    Hope that’s enough of a non-sexist analogy for you.

    Nope, you’re still kind of a douchecanoe. If you don’t like something for aesthetic reasons, don’t fucking watch it.

    That’s kind of like saying, “If you don’t like my comment, then don’t fucking read it. ;)

    Sorry if you don’t like it, and I don’t much care.

    BTW, have you ever thought about the really pretty nasty sexist overtones of “douchecanoe”?

    Remember, if you don’t like my comment, don’t fucking read it.

    Douchekayak.

  238. 238
    Diana says:

    @Don: ok, this is the first response I’ve read so far in favor of the article that makes any sense…

  239. 239
    Diana says:

    @Marc: amen

  240. 240
    Diana says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I dunno, have you sought the opinion of Phillip II of Spain recently?

  241. 241
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Diana: You seem rather invested in this. My opinion, stated above, is that multiculturalism requires respect for the cultures involved, that lack of respect leads to minstrelsy, and that it can be a thin line. Also, that Canadian women are frequently beaten to death with chunks of ice if they express their opinions.

  242. 242
    JMS says:

    Why are you all so hostile? It’s less about crossing cultures than mangling the crossing and not caring. Kind of like going to the Olive Garden. One would be curious how she would feel about a white true practitioner–someone who had as deep an understanding of Raqs Sharqi as she does–conflicted, perhaps. There *is* definitely a touch of hostility/insecurity there. But really she’s not complaining about such a person–she’s complaining about the women in I dream of Genie costumes with gibberish “Arabic” names–and they are easy targets. As for all of you pointing out how well people can cross cultures–well that’s the point. It’s not offensive when it’s done in good faith and a sincere interest in the culture. I grew up with (though not dancing, at least not much) the hula. And all races can hula–BUT it’s also about great authenticity–some kind of touristy parody with made up Hawaiian names and Hollywoodized hula skirts passing itself off as hula would not go over well.

  243. 243
    Diana says:

    no, I just got in late at night and read the entire thread in one go.

    Don’t they make Canadian women speak French when they want to express their opinions? Unless they’re French, in which case they make them speak English?

  244. 244
    kc says:

    It’d be funny if that trolly-ass Salon piece leads to droves of white women taking up belly dancing.

    I’ve never thought much about it before, but, you know, there are some mesmerizing clips of Shakira doing it. It looks really cool. Maybe I’ll seek out some lessons . . .

  245. 245
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @JMS: Not all of us are so hostile.

    @kc: FWIW Shakira is of Middle Eastern heritage.

  246. 246
    kc says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Yeah, I know that.

  247. 247
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @kc: Just sayin”. About the appropriation thing.

  248. 248
    kc says:

    @JMS:

    One would be curious how she would feel about a white true practitioner–someone who had as deep an understanding of Raqs Sharqi as she does–

    I read the article. Her position is that white women shouldn’t belly dance. At all.

  249. 249
    Diana says:

    @JMS: @JMS: no, I’m hostile because articles like this misunderstand racism.

    Saying “These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm” is like saying the Virgil in the Aeneid is more interested in his investment in Roman poetry and Greek myth than in questioning whether his appropriation of the Greek poetic hymn caused harm. He didn’t question whether it caused any harm (because it didn’t) and posing the question that way contributes to the CPAC understanding of racism, which is that is no real racism, just muddled thinking.

    I’ve met a black college student who submitted her resume for a position, only to be met with horrified looks at her interview and told, “you’re not the image we’re looking for.” I told her she should sue, and she said she wouldn’t because she didn’t want to work with people who didn’t want to work with her, but henceforth she would make sure that she would put some black students’ association whatever on her resume so this didn’t happen again.

    That’s racism. Blacks getting arrested for marijuana at rates far exceeding whites is racism: http://www.aclu.org/files/asse.....a-rel2.pdf

    blacks and Latinos having to wait twice as long to vote is racism:
    http://www.motherjones.com/moj.....-long-vote

    And I can’t find a quick link because the statistic analysis is complicated, but blacks and hispanics are still discriminated against in terms of lending, getting mortgages, etc.

    There’s real racism in this country. White middle-aged women learning belly dancing isn’t it. Saying it is gives ammunition to the racists. That annoys me.

  250. 250
    kc says:

    Saying what?

  251. 251
    kc says:

    @kc:

    I used Shakira because: 1) there are tons of clips of her; 2) she’s not wearing a lot of costume-y stuff in them; and 3) she really does look cool.

  252. 252
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @kc: Oh fuck it. Read the rest of my comments on this post. Or don’t. I don’t really care.

  253. 253
    Wil says:

    @kc:

    It’d be funny if that trolly-ass Salon piece leads to droves of white women taking up belly dancing.

    That horse left the barn eons ago, along with the horse in the neighboring stall, Jazzercize. ;)

  254. 254
    Annamal says:

    @JMS:

    Yeah this was sort of what I was aiming at with the comment about the haka. If you’re honestly attempting to engage with a culture then you generally won’t have a problem (or if you do then you learn from it and do better next time), it’s when you jump in feet first without understanding what you’re doing that you run into problems.

    I would strongly advise not doing that with tattoos because there’s a world full of people who will spend a lot of time sniggering at you.

  255. 255
    kc says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    It’s a long thread and I’m on an iPhone tight now, so humor me.

    Would it be okay, in your opinion, for me to take belly dancing lessons?

  256. 256
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @kc: Are you going to be an asshole about it? Look, I am whiter than most people. I just think that one should think about the implications of what one does. Are you doing it as an asshole or not? Your decision, not mine.

  257. 257
    kc says:

    @Wil:

    Isnt jazzercise an 80’s thing?

    As for belly dancing, I didn’t know it was such a fad. I mean, I’ve heard of occasional classes at the Y, but it’s not like, you know, Zumba . . .

  258. 258
    kc says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Why are you so pissed off?

  259. 259
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @kc: Read the thread.

  260. 260
    kc says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    You directed this shit to me.

  261. 261
    kc says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    You can’t even articulate your point. If you have one.

    You know what? Maybe you could “think about the implications of” a white man getting all sanctimonious about any woman’s choice of self-expression. Or the implications of your need to be Mr. Sensitive Male Explainer on every thread while doing that bullshit self-effacing act. Or the implications of your playing Shakira’s ethnicity like a farking trump card and then getting all pissy when asked for elaborate.

    Congrats. You wanted me to be an asshole, you got it. Now go preen yourself some more.

  262. 262
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @kc: And there were a shitload of comments beforehand creating a context.

  263. 263
    wil says:

    @kc:

    @Wil:

    Isnt jazzercise an 80′s thing?

    So was belly dancing…maybe a bit more early nineties. But jazzercize and the like went away, while belly dancing is sort of like a pinata at a party, everyone knows it’s lame and worn out, but eventually someone trots it out again nevertheless.

  264. 264
    gian says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    are we all of east African rift valley heritage anyway?
    I mean human and the earliest fossils are rift valley, right?
    we do still think that the current human race started there?
    are we all not human? Does the Salon author claim to be some-thing else?
    (I really don’t like the people who claim to be a better strain of humanity)

    this whole my tribe owns what-the-fuck-ever misses the point that we’re all the fucking same.
    in many ways the “my tribe owns” is a right wing thing way of thinking.

    all you motherfuckers who use well made paved roads are stealing from the romans, who never ever saw a road before they came about. (right? no roads ever before then… and I want to know who copied who for pyramids.)

  265. 265
    mattH says:

    @La Gata Gris: Woah, I’m there with you. Nowhere did I say it was the ORIGINS of their weaving, only that the stereotypical “Navajo” designs that most people think of when southwest weaving is mentioned isn’t traditional Navajo design. Sorry I wasn’t clearer but I had to head off to work and probably should have waited to post it.

    Local traders “helped” convert Navajo blanket weaving into rug weaving, creating a nationwide market for Navajo goods, all the while siphoning off most of the profits, but they also pushed them to make their designs more Persian as the rugs selling best at the time were imports.

  266. 266
    lou says:

    I have a friend, white, who seriously learned belly dancing and became a professional. She learned it after her family was stationed in Morocco, and her mother learned it from the local artists and passed along to her daughter. I think that is a great thing.

    OTOH, how sacred is belly dancing? I can see Hopis in New Mexico, for instance, getting upset if whites appropriated some of their sacred dances for fun and recreation. Or Cambodians getting upset with the same about their apsara and khmer dances.

    But isn’t yoga a religious experience in India? But it’s a recreational activity here.

    So I have mixed feelings!

  267. 267
    Paul in KY says:

    @moderateindy: You are agreeing with me here. I just thought you needed to explicititly say popular white culture when you wrote that post. Blacks & Asians (and others) had their own popular culture back then, even if it was dwarfed by the prevailing white culture.

  268. 268
    Paul in KY says:

    @kc: I have seen those clips. Her hips don’t lie.

  269. 269
    Paul in KY says:

    @Diana: Good points, Diana.

  270. 270
    Tehanu says:

    @Wil:

    It’s more like when the dads in their fifties decide after a few beers to go out and play some football like they used to back in the day. Really not a good idea and nobody wants to see the sad spectacle that ensues.

    “And nobody wants to see the sad spectacle…” What in the name of fuck makes you think that those “dads” are doing it in order to present the spectacle to your eyes? This is the same idiot argument I remember from a Dear Abby column back in the 1960s, about how women shouldn’t wear pants because then men might have to see their fat behinds. Who gives a damn about what some moron passing by sees? When somebody is doing something for themselves that they enjoy, according to you they’re supposed to not do it because you might not like what it looks like? I suggest you stick your head even further up your ass so you’ll only see things that appeal to you.
    @Diana:

    There’s real racism in this country. White middle-aged women learning belly dancing isn’t it. Saying it is gives ammunition to the racists. That annoys me.

    This, 100%. Thanks.

  271. 271
    Sparrow says:

    @Butch: The article isn’t on Slate.

Comments are closed.