walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

A few more remarks about belly dancing and cultural appropriation

I've been mildly obsessed with the topic ever since reading this:

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

My favorite response was this (well, you would sort of expect that a Seattleite would like something from the Pacific Northwest, right?):

http://www.nwbellydance.com/a-brown-dancer-responds-to-why-i-cant-stand-white-belly-dancers/

To be fair, I suspect that the author of the original piece is responding to the kind of belly dancing and businesses associated with belly dancing perhaps now more commonly found in the Midwest and the South: all the examples I could find of unreconstructed I Dream of Jeannie outfits, middle eastern names taken by very Southern women, etc. were in places like Kentucky, Nebraska, Florida, Georgia, etc. They seem like nice women, and for their region, a bit less conservative and a bit more open minded than most. But picking on that kind of woman directly is Not Cool (that's kicking the less educated poor also); the author sort of munged that community up with the ATS (American Tribal Style) crowd, which _does not_ display the same kind of drag/Middle-Eastern-face type appropriation, and which is well represented by the second piece I linked to. Anyone who represents the ATS community accurately is going to have a whole lot of trouble understanding where the cultural appropriation complaints are coming from.

My sister and I discussed this a bunch (and my poor husband and my non-walking-partner friend M. got dragged in, too, so please pity them) over the weekend. We really weren't interested in this style of dance before and will likely never have anything to do with it, either as an audience or as a participant. But we do identify as cosmopolites? cosmopolitan folk? "Citizens of the World"? I don't know. But she's lived overseas for several years, and I love learning languages and reading history and blah blah bleeping blah. We'd like to continue to pursue our interests without pissing people off (I used to do martial arts, as well, but haven't for a long while), or at least we'd like to understand why people are offended so we can better navigate that difficult terrain.

And after we sort of worked through the etiquette issues, and the pay attention to non-verbals, and don't back people into a corner, and don't try to be "cool", and don't try to put on an identity that isn't yours and so forth, it dawned on me that the original piece looks suspiciously like a TA/Eric Berne game called "Let's You and Him Fight". Only it's the worst kind, in that it is designed to get two groups of people who together constitute a threat to a very problematic status quo, but if you can get them to fight with each other, you can align yourself with the winner and stay in power.

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

It doesn't. But if someone can convince women to fight out the racism or whateverism issues among women, rather than focus on those same issues AND SEXISM and, ahem, the patriarchy (comments about which appear in the second post linked above), then that someone might win. And I bet we can all figure out who that someone (ahem, patriarchy) might be.

So. Let's be kind out there. And if our hobbies, avocations, passions are offending, let's try to adjust them to reduce the offense. And then _don't_ get sucked into a game of Let's You and Him Fight. More or less like that second post I linked to above.

In the meantime, I'm finally reading _White Women's Rights_, which is about historical versions of the same kind of problem. And which has been on my shelf for over a decade so really, it's time.
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