It’s Halloween in the US. I have a pumpkin and some treats for the few kids who make it to my house. I remember when I was a kid, we trick or treated far and wide. One year someone stole all the candy a friend and I had collected–we were furious since grownups stood right by and didn’t intervene. Another year I planned to to dress as a “Gypsy.” I made myself a skirt of ribbons with bells on them.
This was waayy back in the late 60s; we didn’t know the word Rroma, or that “Gypsy” is a racial slur on the level of the n-word (apparently many people still don’t). But my mother did know the word RESPECT.
She told me that there was an actual Gypsy family living down the block from us, and that it might hurt their feelings for me to pretend to be them. That I could wear my outfit (which didn’t bear any resemblance to anything in particular), but I would have to find something else to call myself. So I did. And I made of point of being welcoming to those folks, whom I had not known were there.
My mom was a smart lady.
Looking back, I’m glad it never occurred to me, even in my then-innocence, to wear dark makeup. I’m glad that’s at least one thoughtless thing I never did.
Because that–blackface, brownface, etc–any of the colors of humanity that folk pretend to be, putting on makeup that they can wash off again at night–is extremely hurtful, to many people. People who can’t wash off their skin color. People who are oppressed and abused because of their color.
Sadly, we have a fair amount of that in the belly dance scene, right now, in 2019. So many western dancers opt for brownface–darker makeup to look more “Arabic.” Like the G-word, it’s just no longer acceptable.
And the most recent outbreak of blackface and racist “jokes” in our scene has caused deep pain and discord.
It is ENOUGH.
As practitioners of a dance that comes from another culture–from the Middle East! from Africa!–we owe it ourselves to educate ourselves.
Why are so few dancers of color or the culture famous here in the west? Why do so few get hired? Why do so few headline, when so many are among the best dancers I have ever seen?
Simple answer. Racism.
Black folks are systematically brutalized and degraded, as they have been for centuries, thanks to the racist examples set by white colonizers. Not just in the USA, but all over. The darker one is, the worse the hate.
Middle Eastern folks in many countries are right now under attack by the USA and our “allies”, torn by war, distrusted, branded villains.
What can we do?
It’s 2019. We have the internet. We can be famous and meet people all over the world.
We can *also* learn how to respect people and other cultures–we can learn about the harm caused by blackface and other forms of racism (not to mention the word Gypsy, homophobia, and treating other folks’ ethnicity/culture as a costume or a joke). My Mom knew this and taught it to me, 50+ years ago. I am grateful to the many black and brown dancers who continue to educate me.
White folks, in general, don’t know what black and brown folks go through. It is simply invisible to us. The looks. The turning away. The click of door locks.
Dancers of color (and other minorities, plus queer and disabled folks) are overflowing with hurt and anger thanks to hundreds of years of oppression.
*It is on all of us to take action to heal the hurt.*
* Celebrate our dancers of color and culture–listen to them, learn from them, hire them, support their work.
* Vote with your dollars. Support events that celebrate our dancers of color and culture.
* Think before you post. Opt for compassion.
* Speak up when you see racist comments or behavior. A quiet word to someone may be enough. If it isn’t, consider speaking more loudly. Consider stepping away from the person as well (anna borisova many others, anti-muslim dancers, and even more apologists, defending these actions).
I’ll be reading these books.
*So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo,
*Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria
by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Here’s an interview with Dr. Tatum about her book.