A chef preparing sushi. How multicultural!
UPDATE 10/03/14: When I talk about racism in this piece, I’m not discussing the definition of (reverse) racism/discrimination ‘against members of a dominant or majority group or in favor of members of a minority or historically disadvantaged group.’ I do not believe there are many, if any, cases where that can be said to be true. I do not believe that any incentive or programme (in any country) for black people to encourage better education, more job opportunities, better housing etc. is at the detriment of white people. I do not believe white people are being left out and I do not believe that it is unfair to white people.
I also understand that our position of power comes from being represented in government, media, education boards etc., how the norm is focused on being white. I know that this power can’t be switched to favour black against white in the definition of racism above because the power is in favour of white people, and I know that it’s not equal, either.
The racism I’m discussing is emotional/behavioural, which I thought I would clarify.
Everyone has their own story to tell, one that’s personal to them. This one in particular, featured on Salon.com by Randa Jarrar – ‘Why I can’t stand white belly dancers’, this is Randa’s story.
This is her own story, her own feelings, thoughts and opinions. They’re hers and belong to no one else.
But there’s a story that is everyone’s. No matter who you are, where you’re from, what you’ve experienced, this story belongs to all. If you haven’t experienced it, maybe you’ve seen it directed at someone, maybe you’ve directed it at someone… However you came across it, this is a story that everyone should be aware of, it’s a story that should be everyone’s in understanding and awareness – no exceptions.
It’s called racism.
This isn’t an argument about who had it worse off or who has suffered more. This isn’t a competition. No one can look back at history and deny that black segregation, genocide, slavery, discrimination or cruelty happened. That’s why we need to remember history, so that it isn’t repeated.
But it isn’t a black only thing. There’s no such thing as reverse racism. Racism is racism. It’s the only kind there is.
According to the internet, by some activists, by other bloggers – this only requires a basic search – racism is only racism when it’s directed towards a minority group. It’s not racism if it’s experienced by a majority group, because that’s not the experience of all of the majority group. Because the majority group are the ones in power.
No, you can’t re-write the definition on this one. Just like there are feminists who claim that it’s only sexism when it’s directed towards women from men, because men are by default the ones in power. Bullshit. If I say that a man’s place is only in the toolshed and they should suck it up and man up, that’s sexism. If I treat a man like shit simply because he’s a man, if he worked for me and I limited him in duties because of his gender, that’s still sexism.
If you tell anyone, of any race, that they can’t do something – that’s racism. If you demean, belittle, or cast stereotypes because of someones race, that’s racism.
Racism is, by definition:
This definition, this problem, isn’t unique to one specific race. It doesn’t say “hey, you’re not black, this definition can’t apply to you because you’re in a majority-race.”
By no means am I saying that white people have it bad, or will ever experience racism as ugly as the racism people of colour have faced.
I know that by being white, I’m by default privileged. I know that I will never experience Driving While White. I know that my job opportunities aren’t limited by my colour, or that my shopping experience will be tainted by the racist view that I’m automatically a shoplifter just because of my colour, something I didn’t choose.
If somebody gave me the choice to choose my skin colour, regardless of the beauty that is dark and black skin, I would still choose my skin colour – because it’s me. It’s the colour I’ve lived in for almost 28 years. It’s part of me. I’ve experienced things in this body, lived my life in this body, and to choose anything different would be denying everything I’ve gone through, everything that makes me me. Just as everything you’ve gone through, just as how you look, how you feel, who you are is you. It’s special and it’s important. It should never be ridiculed, you should never feel less of a person because of it.
If you’re targeted because of your race, something you can’t control or choose, then its racism. If you are made to feel less of a human, inferior, unworthy or told that you can’t participate because of your skin colour, then it’s racism.
It’s ugly, it’s hateful and it hurts, regardless of who it’s directed to.
Nobody should be made to feel like they can’t have a voice, or that they don’t have any rights. Nobody should have to fight for what should be theirs by default. Privilege shouldn’t be a white-only thing. Black/brown/in between, you shouldn’t have to fight for the right to speak, to be listened to, to be treated with respect and dignity. Nobody should.
So when someone tells me that I can’t belly dance because it’s “brown face”, when someone says:
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.
I laugh and think, what the hell? Dancing is not racist. Eating hummus is not racist; enjoying an aspect of another culture is not racist.
There are many things that are racist. But there’s still only one definition of racism, and this doesn’t even come close.
This ‘appropriation’ and others like it is why we’re a multicultural world. Few countries are closed to immigrants and tourists. We eat salami, practice T’ai Chi and drive cars made in Japan. Some of us belly dance. We eat hummus, watch Manga and drink coffee. Some of us belly dance. Not me, but still…
Not everything we do or drink or eat or drive comes from our own country. Centuries of immigration, trade and tourism has meant that we’re introduced to new customs, food and drink, religions and beliefs. This means that we don’t live in a world so small that we believe that our own customs are the be-all-end-all, the undeniable truth, so that we have no knowledge of anything other than what our own small, closed minds believe.
This is what other cultures teach us – to understand, love, experience. To see that the world is much bigger than just us.
If we lived by the belief that a culture and all that belongs to it should remain in that specific country, if the belief that practicing anything from another culture is racist, then only the English would have electricity. Only the French would be allowed to play roulette. Only the Greeks could experience theatre. Only the Chinese could make paper and print, that’s only to name two out of many things. Forget about using shampoo if you’re not from India, or being able to get cataract surgery. Forget about using a refrigerator if you’re not American – but then American’s aren’t allowed to use electricity because they’re not English, so there goes that invention (plus Australia is fighting you on that one). But you get door bells, America. And mail order.
We would all live in countries where it’s illegal to practice a religion, a belief, an art form or anything else that comes from a different country.
How limiting and closed-minded is that? How un-progressive is that, that you shut yourself into your own small world and not allow entry to anyone else?
I often think that it’s too easy for people to cry ‘racist!’ as a way to opt-out of discovering why they really don’t like when someone says or does something, instead of reflecting on their own beliefs and prejudices.
Is a non-Arab practicing belly-dancing really racist?
When you say that we’re not allowed to belly dance because it’s not our own native dance, that’s like saying we’re not good enough. Because of something accidental like skin colour and where we’re from.
You’re saying that we have no right because of our skin colour. As though dance and expressing yourself is only unique to your colour. As though your skin colour decides what you can and can’t do, what you can and can’t feel.
The only thing that should matter is what that dance means to you. The rest is unimportant. Just because we touched your dance does not mean it’s broken.
This isn’t even limited to dance; this can go for anything that’s been introduced to the world view. I’m not sorry we touched whatever it was. I’m not sorry that we fell in love with whatever it was.
I am sorry that it becomes an ‘us’ and ‘them’ argument. I’m sorry that there’s a divide. There shouldn’t be. I’m not responsible for how you feel, but I am responsible for me and what I do:
I live in Australia, a very racist country. I was in Sydney for a work meeting and during a break, one of the women was saying that they shared the same smoking space with Aboriginals from the community centre next door. She said: “I was smoking next to one of them and thinking eww, get away from me, why do you have to stand next to me?.”
Everyone laughed. I was the only one not laughing, but suddenly I was tongue tied. I didn’t know what to say. They looked at me, slowly they stopped laughing, I cleared my throat and changed the topic.
I’m still ashamed that I didn’t say something. Now I can think of hundreds of things I could have said, both diplomatic and rude, but I didn’t say it when it mattered the most.
Next time, I’ll say something. I will help in whatever way I can in my own life, to say something against racism, to stand up with any person of any colour, not because they need me to speak for them, not because of their colour, but because that’s the least I could do for a person.
Everyone should be equal, regardless of race, gender or sexual preference.
I don’t belly dance, but I’m still going to be racist by drinking Arabic coffee.