Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Racism and Belly Dance

Let me start by saying this:  Racism has no place anywhere for any reason.  Ever.  There is only one race and that is the human race.  With that in mind, I want to address an article I read a few months ago that really, really, really, REALLY bothered me.  It was an article posted on salon.com entitled:  "Why I can't stand white belly dancers."  The title alone is offensive.  Oh, you can't stand white belly dancers? Loki's balls!  You know what I can't stand?  I can't stand child abuse.  I can't stand human starvation.  I can't stand horrible violence.  I can't stand sexual assault.  I can't stand poverty.  And I guess I just can't stand a petty statment like "I can't stand white belly dancers."  

Deep breath.

I like to give people the benefit of doubt, as a rule.  So I thought maybe this was a tongue in cheek kind of article.  *Spoiler alert!* It's not. 

The author of the article cries "cultural appropriation."  Now, she is entitled to her opinion, of course.  But I think it's a dangerous one for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it's hateful.  Whether she truly is or not-it makes her sound racist and that is always dangerous.  Secondly, cultural appropriation is a very real issue and one to be taken seriously.  Folks, I'm a practicing Pagan so if you think I don't feel the twinges of cultural appropriation every single time a major holiday rolls around then you can think again.  But I always stop myself and remember something I wish this author had thought about-cultural appropriation requires intent.  Yes, Christianity absorbed Pagan customs and rituals into their holy days in an effort to erradicate Paganism.  But that was thousands of years ago.  The Christians who want to do Easter egg hunts today aren't trying to erradicate my religious beliefs!  The more the merrier, I say.
So, the fact that I'm white and I belly dance doesn't mean I'm trying to take over any aspect of Middle Eastern culture.  Belly dance-like all dance-is an art form.  Most artists want to see others take part and add their flavor to it.  In this way, art doesn't just survive-it thrives.  It lives.  It is beautiful!  Should we forbid anyone of non-European descent from performing Mozart or ballet?  Should only those of American heritage participate in modern dance?  Should only English men be allowed to recite the words of Shakespeare?  Should we divide our art this way?  Should we restrict certain art forms to certain goegraphical borders?  Should we make art racist or xenophobic?
Of course not!  Particularly in belly dance where there IS a cultural history of sisterhood and strength we should honor that tradition by supporting each other rather than tearing one another down.  I stand up for all belly dancers whatever their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, or body type.  To do otherwise is missing the point. 

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