If I was the house cat, and Randa Jarrar was the lion then the answer would be a yes.
If you are reading this and are off beat let me explain myself. In an article titled “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers” the author, Randa Jarrar, chauvinistically states that white women are stealing her and other Arab women’s form of art, that form of art being, Raqs Sharqi/Belly Dancing/Dance of the Orient/Eastern Dance/Etc.
She tells her reader that the white women she’s unfortunately witnessed belly dancing are “incredibly thin,” and didn’t remind her of her super favorite belly dancer Fifi Abdo. Well, after reading Jarrar’s article thank god the belly dancer didn’t remind Jarrar of Fifi or Jarrar would of had to tear the white belly dancer a new one for “appropriating” Fifi’s style. I’m also not sure why Jarrar found it appropriate to discredit the belly dancer’s body. I found it be somewhat dehumanizing and shocking that a pro-claimed feminist would pick at another woman’s body because she didn’t think of it as suitable to be participating in belly dancing. Jarrar later ponders to herself on why these women have never thought that their appropriation of the art form caused others harm… she answers her pondering by stating that these white women are just blindly racist.
Now, I know I wasn’t being completely fair with my last jab at Jarrar… I understand the woman in some respects. I’ll give her that. Before she claims these white women to be racist son-of-a-guns she mentions a white belly dancer having a pseudonym sounding similar to a Middle Eastern name. Eh, I can see how that’s a bit offensive, but for Jarrar to claim ALL white women belly dancers to be racist just because they learned to shake their hips a certain way, may dress up in sparkly bra and put on some airy pants, is a little bit more than offensive. Jarrar is attacking ones moral character because 1) they are white, and 2) they are belly dancing.
Just to clarify the definition of racism, its definition is as follows, “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
To be honest with you Jarrar I don’t see a difference between you and the white woman that made her stage name Middle Eastern sounding… you are bashful against these women just based on the mere fact that the color of their skin is white.
Would Jarrar sleep better at night if I had yellow or red or black skin and decided to take up the art of belly dancing? Would you accept me if I was more exotic looking? And not covered in my domestic pasty, pink skin?
After reading the fascinatingly, chauvinistic article I wondered what were the true origins of belly dancing. I read a webpage on the dance titled, “The Condensed History of Raqs Sharqi.” The webpage professed that it did not know the true origin but it suggested, due to ancient historical artifacts, that the dance did originate in the regions known today as North Africa and the Middle East. The dance was originally practiced by midwives and other women who would dance around a woman in labor. The dance gave the woman in labor support from the women around her. They website also suggested that the dance was performed at weddings to promote fertility in a newly-wed couple. The webpage also suggested that the dance’s origins did not come from Islamic background but was created by ancient pagan ancestors that inhabited the region before the emergence of Islam.
After reading “The Condensed History of Raqs Sharqi” it seems to me that belly dancing should not be deemed a cultural or traditional Middle Eastern art form but should symbolize and be practiced with an appreciation of womanhood.
What I believe to be Jarrar’s most devastating hit to the white women or to any woman who reads this, or practices belly dancing was her article’s last paragraph:
“But, here’s the thing. Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. Just because a white woman doesn’t profit from her performance doesn’t mean she’s not appropriating a culture. And, ultimately, the question is this: Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?”
But, here’s the thing. Caucasian women, just like Arab women, just like African women, just like Indian women need a vessel to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not just white women dressed in silly bangles or silly eyeliner or silly tiny bells. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ALL women’s, it does not exist so that an Arab women can claim it as only theirs. It exists so women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. Just because it came from the “cradle of civilization” and not from New Jersey, USA doesn’t mean the only women that can benefit from the dance should of Middle Eastern culture. And, ultimately, the question is this: Why can’t a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, happen on a Middle Eastern woman’s back? Are y’all not strong enough?
But to be honest, I don’t think the strength of a woman is color coated. We are women, we are not suppose to be bound and separated by our borders, we are suppose to be connected through our unique and miraculous gift to bear life. If we want to dance because we feel disconnected in whatever way, then let us fucking dance no matter if we are black, white, red, yellow, orange, blue, purple, or whatever. Let us dance because we want to be set free from the oppression of the world, even if it’s just for the moment. Let us dance because we want to feel sexy, let us dance because we want to feel like sisters, just let us dance. A dance should not be bound by borders because people are afraid it will be disrespected or misrepresented. A dance will forever mean something special to whoever is preforming it and no one can deny that. Not even the exotic lion that is Randa Jarrar. Let my little domesticated house cat-self roar with the lions, let me feel as free as you do when you dance along with Fifi, and do not antagonize my race because we are white and want to dance.