Thursday, March 20, 2014

Randa Zarar responds to hate-mail

The original article was critiqued by Dr Omar and here is her detailed response aimed at her critics (does not speak about her forthcoming book though).

It is startling what she has to report- arab americans are facing grave levels of discrimination - the author is speaking from personal experience (people throwing lit cigarettes at a composite arab lady of college going age, also making fun of her mother's accent, sneering at her muhajjaba aunt and trying to deport her brother)


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.

I’ve read the following arguments, all of which ignore the systematic racism by the dominant culture:

“So black women can’t be ballerinas?” If black women were part of a dominant culture that had colonized Europe starting at the Italian renaissance, and later colonized France and Russia, and if, after all that, black ballerinas danced in bikini tops, then yes, this argument would work. But it doesn’t.

“I’m Egyptian and I love white belly dancers!” Good for you. Come live in America for 23 years, have people throw lit cigarettes at you and make fun of your mother’s accent and sneer at your muhajjaba aunt and try to deport your brother, see a white woman be applauded in a bar while dancing to “Walk Like an Egyptian” in a “Nefertiti hat,” and if, after that, you still feel the same way, cool, write your own opinion piece about it.

 “You’re an idiot! America is a melting pot!” Yes, America pretends to be a melting pot, but this means everyone has to adhere to a cultural norm, and in the process, minorities are negated and further made invisible.

“It’s appreciation, not appropriation!” No. Please read this for more about appreciation vs. appropriation.

“But Korean tacos! Mixing cultures is delicious!” Again, if the person making and serving those 
tacos is from a dominant culture that, for centuries, colonized Korea and Mexico, and then served those tacos to you in a conical Asian hat and a mariachi outfit, with a bikini top underneath, then, yeah, this argument would work. Again, it doesn’t.

”You’re a racist!” Please, save us both time, watch this, and learn how that’s not possible.

“You’re appropriating white culture by using a computer right now!” I can’t even honor this level of idiocy and entitlement with a response.

“If you don’t like our multiculturalism, go back to your own country!” Umm, doesn’t multiculturalism imply an acceptance of people from different cultures? Also: I was born in Chicago. This is my country. I know it’s hard, but Ay-rabs are Americans, too. Also: OK, let’s say I humor you and try to go back to another country: Whoops, I don’t have one, because I’m a descendent of Palestinians.

Many other arguments kept centering white people in the discussion, asking what they’re allowed or not allowed to do. Ultimately, that’s not the discussion I want to have. And one person can’t stop anyone from doing anything: White women will continue to belly-dance. What I’m asking is, when you are part of the dominant culture and live in a country that subsidizes the theft of land and resources from Arab people; in a country that supports and financially aids Arab governments that silence and even imprison democratic protesters; in a country where kids don’t feel safe telling schoolmates that they’re Arab-American – maybe think twice before you put on some genie pants and kohl and call yourself Samirah Layali?

How difficult is it to examine one’s own privilege without calling the person asking you to do so a douchebag? Evidently, it is very, very difficult.

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.


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