(Credit: ValaGrenier via iStock)
I applaud Randa Jarrar. I applaud her for fighting to save the “purity of idea” of her culture. However, I find her admonishment of white belly dancers troubling, for several reasons.
In a new Salon article, the Author claims:
Whether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation
The essence of her disapproval is :
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?
She calls it ‘Arab Face’ to suggest it somehow is akin to ‘Black Face’ :
Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used by white performers to represent a black person. It is often considered offensive, because it can imply stereotyped caricature of black people as in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville.
This is where her article really goes off the rails. Belly dancing is not akin to “Black Face”. Belly dancing is not used to forward stereotypical caricatures of Arab women. Nor is it any more a minstrel show than a white Hibachi chef at Benihana.
‘Black Face’ was primarily used to forward and further racial disharmony in the united states. In and of itself, it was the stereotype that was important, not the ‘Black Face’. It was not so much that the insult in ‘Black face’ lies in the costuming, it instead lies in the buffoonery carried out while wearing the costume, thus forever linking the stereotype with the visual aesthetic.
This is not the case in belly dancing. When most women, their race notwithstanding, engage in belly dancing, it is a form of sexual liberation, not racial campaigning. It is a feminine form of seizing power. That within the exact feminine confines of her body, she can exert and control men. That she not do so on a mans terms, through aggression and conflagration, but through feminine characteristics. Belly dancing is an artistic expression of women’s lib.
Nor has the image and stereotype of modern Arabic women matched the Belly dancer. The modern prejudicial stereotype of Arabic women is one of hijabs and burqas. I grant this is not a fair prejudice, but this is the reality.
In fact, if anything, furthering the culture of belly dancing to the world at large will do more to divest that same world of these modern prejudices. By sharing this liberated, female-power oriented part of Arabic culture with the world, it ingratiates and informs women around the world of just how complex and beautiful being an Arabic Woman can be.
While there were rumblings that “the real slim shady” Eminem, was too white to be a rapper, and before him vanilla ice, etc., today we completely dismiss these ideas. Macklemore does more to further both hip-hop music and the culture that gave it to us.
The Streets did not appropriate South London Black culture, they borrowed it, added on to it, in some ways improved it, and others took away from its purity. It also furthered it, and today both the South London community, and the music it spawned are better for it.
The world does not need intransigent cultures, entrenched unto themselves. It needs cultural exogamy and miscegenation.
More: Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers