Sorry, You Can’t Dance. It’s Racist.

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:

define racism full

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.

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4 thoughts on “Sorry, You Can’t Dance. It’s Racist.

  1. I was recently informed, racism no longer exists. I smiled and replied, “it’s there, just hidden. Racist usually sit behind their computers spewing hate yet blend seamlessly into society.” The person that feels racism is no loner in existence is naive, or chooses to be ignorant-in which case, it’s far from bliss.

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  2. I am so glad someone else doesn’t see the difference between racism and “reverse racism”. Who cares if when you do the accounting if the victim of an incident’s race is the majority. The question is not if the race statistically has better opportunity or if the race has hurt feelings, it’s whether the victim has been wronged! I’m white and where I grew up I was a minority, not because of colour but language and sometimes was heard racist comments. You know what? I didn’t really care or take it personally because the person was either wrong to ascribe a characteristic based on [insert racist criterion here] or was correct in that I personally was “guilty” of whatever I was accused of.

    If you want to read something painting Australians with the same brush, read this: http://hoaiphai.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/happy-australia-day/

    I wrote it with love from a fellow Commonwealth member (I’m Canadian) so please don’t be sore.

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    • Love it. I couldn’t stop laughing, although I have to admit that I’m now very confused about my own country. But, like any Australian with a lot on my mind, I’m going to go flush the toilet a few times to find my inner zen in the oppositely swirling water while licking vegemite off a koala.

      As for racism – someone explained to me recently that there’s a big difference between ideological racism (feelings, behaviour, acts etc) and institutional racism (government, laws, opportunities, benefits etc.)

      But it seems that whatever I read, people are ignoring those two classifications of racism, and tagging any racism towards white people as ‘reverse racism’ and claiming that it’s not racism at all.

      Reverse racism, if you look at wiki, became a term in 1966 when Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), publicly accused members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of reverse racism in their efforts to exclude or expel whites from local government in Alabama to make room for blacks. (I copied and pasted that from Wiki.)

      Around 1996, in Australia, a politician called Pauline Hanson also made claims, saying that aboriginals were given more rights than white people and that it wasn’t fair to favour one over the other. She came up with proof that it was racism and discrimination, but she was ignored. The reason she was ignored? Because white people are the ones in power and Aboriginal’s have been given poor treatment since white people invaded, and didn’t stop until as late as the 80s. 20 years of trying to undo damage done by creating job opportunities, benefits, grants, etc is not racism towards white people since in this case, white people were not are not in the minority. Without the additional benefits that Aboriginal’s get, we will not become disadvantaged. Now or ever.

      But the Captain Internet’s don’t seem to realise that there’s a difference between those two classes of racism. Just because, technically, it can’t be racism when it involves the ‘system’, doesn’t mean that applies to behaviour as well.

      If you hurt, humiliate, degrade anyone because of race, that’s racism – whether it’s a majority race or not.

      Phew. Rant over.

      Like

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