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
“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
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.