Novelist Randa Jarrar has been mocked – and accused of racism – for telling the world that she “can’t stand” white belly dancers. As Eugene Volokh notes, if we were to universalize Jarrar’s objections to “cultural appropriation,” then we might object to East Asian cellists or Japanese productions of Shakespeare, rather than treating the arts as they ought to be treated: as the “common stock of humanity, available for all humanity to use, rather than the exclusive property of some particular race or ethnic group.”
Are such rebuttals entirely fair? After all, there is such a thing as cross-cultural mockery or unintentional caricature. And Jarrar is claiming that the belly dancing of white women is a form of racism and cultural degradation that causes her and other Arab women direct emotional harm. It is something that happens “on Arab women’s backs.” How is it racist and degrading? For wearing traditional costumes and certain kinds of makeup, Jarrar accuses white belly dancers of dressing up in “Arab drag” and appearing with a “brownface Orientalist façade.” She otherwise criticizes the appearance of white dancers (one dancer was too thin for Jarrar’s liking) and the use of made-up names.