Re-adopting the conquerer's position
Randa Jarrar said this:
I’ve written about the Boston bomber; about the U.S. government’s attempts to deport my brother, which kept him in jail for weeks; and about Israel detaining me – a U.S. citizen – and denying me entry in March 2012, but the essay of mine that has sparked the most impassioned responses is one about …
There were amazing, supportive, beautiful emails from Arab-American sister writers.
There were also violently angry emails and tweets that, in a typically sexist and fatphobic way, criticized my appearance and my size.
I have been called a fat camel and a hairy ape and a dirty terrorist ever since I moved to the U.S. at the age of 13, so – I’m used to it. But call some people out for wearing genie pants and makeup, which are supposed to make them look Arab, and they go nuts.
In my essay, I historicized the appropriation of belly dancing, but I naively thought people knew about the British empire, about U.S. imperialism, about how these have fucked the Middle East for centuries.
And belly dancing is one of many appropriations … it can be argued that it’s so low on the scale. I mean, dancing? But look at how people are reacting to it. What happens when we start talking about Israel appropriating land illegally and settling on it? About America’s colonization and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the effects of those wars, about the current drone campaigns, and on and on?
I’ve read the following arguments, all of which ignore the systematic racism by the dominant culture:
At the end of the day, it’s not belly dance that people are protecting. It’s the right to take anything they want and not be criticized for it.
I’m thrilled that something I wrote on my dining table in a few hours, one I thought a couple of hundred people would read, has sparked such a discussion. I refuse to sit quietly in the margins and only speak when I can “calmly” educate and teach. I’m fucking angry, y’all, at decades and centuries of dehumanization, and belly dancing is just the tip of it – hate mail be damned. (“I still can’t stand white belly dancers,” Salon.com)
Her ace in the hole is that liberals won't identify with the conquerer's position -- that those they dominated weren't beautiful indigenous worthy of thorough respect but actually heavily beholden to many abhorrent, barbaric practices. Until they do, her "you've enfranchised yourselves with an art from a country your monstrous ancestors brutally, carnally ravaged, and still today favor its grotesque appropriated form over its far more beautiful original," has power. She can sashay over you with pleasure, as she so-silly-girl does here in mocking your 3000 responses to her article with it just having being some casual blow from her nose. You've got to be aligned to terrific power if when the horde masses, you in delight pro-offer a mischievous quip -- "let them eat cake." And for now, she is.
Liberals might lose their interest in primitivism if something else helps define them against regressed conservatives/republicans. This might just be avid defense of the modern state, the early ones that colonized, which at least in European cultures was also concurrent and absolute party to the advance of science over superstition.
Let's be honest. The author's lament has nothing to do with belly dancing and everything to do with her seething dislike for Americans of Northern European descent.
In this way, any previous wrong by anyone from their "dominant culture" makes them equally guilty and invalidates any right they have to participate in the cultural traditions of others, or object to the hateful invective hurled their way. That one person called her a "terrorist" is ample reason to rightfully consider everyone in that culture an "imperialist".
All hatred directed toward them based on their class, race, nationality or color is valid and cannot be "racism" because they are members of a "dominant culture". Whatever their personal beliefs or individual actions, they are still collectively 'guilty' by nature of their ancestry and residence. They forfeit all right to enjoy, or participate, in the traditions of other cultures and must accept that blind hatred and endless blame of their culture is an integral part of multi-culturism.
It isn't that the author can't stand white belly dancers. It's that she can't stand white people and is trying to justify her hatred with all this talk of cultures. Next she will be telling us that "some of her best friends are white people".
I write this as a member of a historically persecuted culture who have undergone years of discrimination and stereotyping based on their color, national origin, religious belief and gender. I am confronted with daily reminders of how it remains acceptable, and even encouraged, in some circles, to blame people like me for others lack of employment, financial success and family cohesion. My people are regularly characterized as ignorant, violent, drunken buffoons for the enjoyment of other cultures. I am expected to watch my cultural beliefs rendered as cartoon caricatures by Hollywood and Madison avenue and would be considered overly sensitive if I objected to how the Anglo culture has historically oppressed me and now belittles my heritage to sell children's cereal.
As an American male of Irish Catholic descent whose family arrived in poverty after the end of slavery and had to overcome signs that read "Irish need not apply" in order to find ways to feed their family without the benefit of a welfare system, who gave their blood and sometimes their life to defend and liberate people from true oppressors, I find this article both ignorant and highly offensive.
@Resolute Hey, Lucky Charms libel! And, at least your ancestral culture has been appropriated.
But overall, I think you've nailed it.
@Resolute Very well said.
@Resolute I'm of Irish descent, but I'm wondering before we became historically oppressed peoples if we were all that, though. I'm wondering because Romans once gauged our most ancient ancestors as abominable child-sacrificers and cannibals, and used it to legitimize their conquest. Which was bad. Awful. Cause all they wanted to do was rape, steal, and conquest. But archaeologists did eventually reveal that they were nevertheless child-sacrificers and cannibals, though.
Which didn't mean they should have been invaded by the Romans -- who just wanted to rape, steal, and conquest, as I said. But someone should have politely stopped them. And if reformed, their original culture disappeared or was appropriated into a different form … well, if the new version reflected the proclivities of a people who were less demon-haunted -- probably for the good .
Sometimes I wonder if all the primitive or pre-literate art we like to glory at is all that as well. Humanity's original art in caves, the blood-red ochre paintings, were associated with human sacrifice and child rape. The Venus statues, were as it turns out probably raping wands. The author herself believes that all-female culture surrounding belly-dancing was something glorious, sexual and exotic in a superior way than when it's done for men. Women getting together can do some terrible things, though. Women chant as they gather around for clitoris removal rituals, for instance. And a lot of women -- scholars -- still say the nicest things about that. Maybe the practitioners of the original forms of belly dancing should forget what they're doing and appropriate what some of the Westerners might be up to -- especially the really nice ones we've heard from on this site; those who really empathized with the author's pain. Their version might in fact be born out of a more loving spirit than that from our collectively darker past.
@Patrick McEvoy-Halston @Resolute "all that".....? relevant? admirable? virtuous? culturally superior?
I think I take your point, but wish you wouldn't muddy it up with an empty phrase like "all that"
But if you are talking about what Bertrand Russell described as, “The Superior Virtue Of The Oppressed", I agree that ignoring the sacrificial religious practices of the Olmec, Mayans, Aztecs and the slaving practices of West African tribes, allows one to perpetuate a myth of colonial forces destroying a an idealized culture of balance, harmony and peace.
The point being that no culture can claim a moral high ground and claiming that being oppressed somehow equates to being virtuous is flawed thinking, but nevertheless a commonly held belief on the Left.
In every example, being oppressed merely temporarily inhibited a culture from oppressing another. In almost every case, it was preceded or immediately followed a period where that same group oppressed someone else.
In the same way that Jews were certainly oppressed under the Nazis, but could also be described as oppressing the Palestinian people since. This makes neither all Germans, Jews or Palestinians guilty of oppression until the end of time. Any more than it makes any of them more virtuous for having been oppressed.
You can be on very sound footing in calling nearly anyone a racist, or for that matter a nose-picker. The dishonesty is claiming that you have never done the same.
@Resolute @Patrick McEvoy-Halston I would say that the Germans oppressing the Jews was an example of actually an inferior people dominating a superior one. Nothing about DNA. Just that the thing that drew Germans to hate Jews was that they had been sufficiently better loved in childhood and so possessed an ongoing ability to enjoy and participate in Weimar-enabled societal growth. To love-deprived, brutally raised Germans, Jews, who were actually just showing remarkable ongoing emotional health, came to seem guilty for being spoiled. Jews seemed appropriate "poison-containers" for “selfishly” obtained acquisitions they wanted to disown themselves of, so they projected in mass onto them, and tried to wipe them out in order to feel pure -- what is always going on when one people tries to wipe out another.
Europeans who had evolved to the point where they could embrace science and reject superstition, alchemy, and magic with ease, were an example of an oppressor that was superior to the still-superstition-bound peoples they dominated -- dominated, let me once again point out, principally for purposes of rape and exploitation, not for whatever enlightened purpose they saw it for.
It's a fact, but not one to be celebrated -- for compared to where progressives are now they're pretty much barbaric peoples themselves. You look at their first advances to protect children, animals, women, the weak, and it's just paltry stuff to what better-raised, more loved descendants were readily capable of centuries later. Their anti-slavery material, as we know, for example, however still commendable for the time, served a double-purpose of pornography they got off on.
My parents are from India, and yeah, the Brits colonized India and they did some awful stuff (just like they did to the Irish when the colonized Ireland) - the starvation of millions of Indians during a famine during which the Brits continued to export grains - similar to what they did in Ireland - comes to mind. But I seriously don't care that now in the UK they use Bollywood dance moves, the Beatles and other rock bands used sitar music, Brits eat tons of Indian take-out, etc.
I do get pi**ed when ignorant Americans say that India has never contributed anything to the world - hello, we invented the zero and the numeral system that the Arabs then adopted and transferred to the West, where it replaced the Roman number system. Without the zero and the decimal number system, I doubt the Americans would have been able to send a man to the moon. Even doing division with Roman numerals is hard, let alone the calculus! Indians also invented the binary number system back in 200 BC.Also, Indians invented the spinning wheel, buttons, chess, rulers, cataract surgery, plastic surgery, ink, steel, and were the first to mine and use diamonds. Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose first demonstrated radio waves for communication, two years before Marconi. So when Americans say ignorant crap about Indians, I can cite some of the important discoveries made by Indians. However, I also have to admit that India has some horrible stuff too - like the caste system and suttee and the poverty of the people and the corruption. This is called intellectual honesty. Similarly, the Arabs have given the world many great things, yet there are problems with Islam and with Arab society. Slavery still exists in the Arab world, for example. Yet without the Arabs, much of modern civilization would be lost.
The same can be said of any culture, though, because we are all human beings. Human beings all share both the capacity for greatness, innovation, discovery, compassion... and the capacity for cruelty, evil, stupidity, etc.
While it is sad that people have called the author names, spit on her (!) and so on, at the same time, I am sure that there have been numerous white Americans who have been friendly, helpful, kind, accepting, etc.
My experience in America as the daughter of Indian immigrants - yes, there are people who are racist. There are people who are unkind, mean, etc. But they are vastly outnumbered by people who are at least tolerant and sometimes kind, generous, curious about a different culture, etc. I think America is a much more open society than any other. Certainly it is easier to be an immigrant in America than it would be in say, Egypt or Japan. Or India.
@ssohara Thank you for the wide view.
@ssohara The same can be said of any culture, though, because we are all human beings. Human beings all share both the capacity for greatness, innovation, discovery, compassion... and the capacity for cruelty, evil, stupidity, etc.
Apes barely recognize their children when they're off the breasts, and often starve for not being fed. That might be where we all started from -- not even yet Winnicott's good-enough child-rearing. Nobody's fault. Just evolution had this new trick called empathy, and it was like the first small mammal amongst the dinosaurs -- containing the seed of greatness, but almost worth forgetting about at this point.
From there, we've all grown. Though cultures which remained pretty much the same for thousands of years, haven't done much to avoid keeping themselves fixated on their ghastly origins. Pre-literate societies, pre-scientific societies, probably had childrearing of such an insufficient kind that they spend quite a lot of their time in animistic dream states, merged with their inner perpetrator alters. In dream states, everything was infused with their projections, so science matched less well with their experience than magic, and would have been rejected. Plus science lead to constant growth, which wasn't permitted because the adults hadn't advanced to the point where children existed for anything more than to satisfy their own unmet needs.
I'm sure they all had art. But I think if we honestly spent enough time in certain cultures -- without willing ourselves to see beneficent primitivism, as so many anthropologists have done, and which in fact their whole occupation depends on -- everything, even the art, might seem less about nourishing life than coping with previous trauma. Decorated pearl shells rubbed and cherished, healing their hurts, and convincing themselves they won't be eaten -- it's not motivated by as admirable an instinct, nor is it anywhere near as beautiful as Mozart, I'm afraid.
I have no idea where the original belly dancing falls on the spectrum, what originally motivated it and the function it served. But let's not simply assume it was part of the simply beautiful of wo/mankind that counterbalances the part that's bad. Sometimes the bad, or the grossly insufficient, infuses everything.
We all know this is not about convincing the author, but I would like to point out why this is. Right now, if you were to go to Russia and try and talk sense to many of them about the Ukraine, they couldn't possibly be moved. What they're doing is bonding with the nation as Mother, and preparing themselves to war against an other they've projected all of her unwanted aspects into, as well as all the aspects of themselves they need to be disowned of -- specifically, spoiledness, self-centeredness, selfishness, and vulnerability. The result is that they are pure and strong in staunch defense of a pure Mother Russia -- her favorites, as they had always hoped to be in life. And you're simply not going to be allowed to get in the way of that.
That's what's motivating her, this author. Every time she angrily makes her point, aiming nothing short of reclaiming a whole tradition stolen from an ancestral Mother, she feels her own mother beside her, loving her for her admirable defense -- and it's the most enfranchising feeling ever.
We all get the same way when we can fuse with something we can see as maternal as well. So if we start identifying ourselves with old clannish habits we had forgotten this long while while we gorged on "corrupt modernity," and feel refreshed for having done so, cleansed of poisons and joined anew to something more meaningful -- this is what we'll be up to. If we all identity ourselves as working-class Americans again, known foremost for our humility, our anonymity, and our deference to our nation's needs - - including, of course, eager self-sacrifice -- this is what we'll be up.
Let's be on the watch for it, because it'll mean we too are entranced, beyond being reasoned with.