Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Appropriation and Priveledge

Writing in Salon, Randa Jarrar explains why she hates white  belly dancers.

Whether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation

I should explain, appropriation is the sister of privilege which I wrote about a few weeks ago. Privilege is something that other people posses and is always a pejorative. For example, someone can be the victim of white privilege.

Appropriation is when someone of privilege takes anything from another culture and, like privilege itself, appropriation is always bad.

Jarrar goes into some depth but she makes one thing very clear - the issue entirely consists of being subjected to a white person doing a dance that should only be performed by brown women. She admits that the dancer who inspired the column was a decent dancer. What's more the dancer had been trained for 15 years by someone Jarrar approves of. Jarrar brushes this off
Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” 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. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.

When I have argued, online and in person, with white women belly dancers, they have assured me that they learned to dance from Arab women and brown women. This is supposed to make the transaction OK. Instead, I point out that all this means is that it is perfectly all right with these teachers that their financial well-being is based on self-exploitation...
If a white had made these arguments about an Arab or African performer playing classical music, he would be pilloried as a racist. That's the beauty of the terms privilege and appropriation. It turns the tables. Belly dancing has been done in the US for over a century. It predates the family car. You would think that by now it would count as part of American culture. But by using these loaded terms, Jarrar can justify objecting to a performer based on nothing more that the color of her skin.

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