Randa Jarrar has some stern words for white women who belly dance:
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?
Ouch. I hope you dancing whiteys are ashamed of yourselves. Celebrating on Arab women’s backs? That’s pretty callous – when will you pale-skinned cultural appropriators realise that Arab women are human beings?
I can sympathise with Jarrar. I come from an unashamedly racist family. Sometimes, my mother would cook us Chinese food and provide chopsticks with which to eat it. My father would sometimes read me stories from One Thousand and One Nights before I went to sleep. Even my school was institutionally racist – they forced us to culturally appropriate Arabic numerals!
All I can do now is shut up, listen, and try to do better next time.