TALKING TO OURSELVES: Whitesplanations of belly-dancing!


Interlude—Salon serves the one percent: Current progressive messaging is built around a weird distinction.

Quite correctly, we talk about the power of the one percent. In this way, we fashion ourselves as part of the 99.

This raises a puzzling question:

How in the world can the one percent maintain so much control over policy and politics?

In part, we’d say the answer lies with the way we progressive choose to talk to ourselves. In the process, we help fragment the 99 percent, obliterating natural bases for unity.

No one performs this service better than the new Salon. Consider the way the street-fighting journal has returned to the topic of white belly-dancers.

The headline on Tuesday’s piece said this: “I still can’t stand white belly dancers.”

The article, by novelist Randa Jarrar, was a follow-up to her original piece from the week before. That essay bore this headline:

“Why I can’t stand white belly dancers.”

Each piece has produced ginormous reaction in comments. Last week’s original piece now bears more than 2300 responses.

In these comments, angry claims about “racism” and “reverse racism” abound. The unity of the 99 disintegrates in those threads.

This may or may not be Jarrar’s fault or doing, depending on your perspective. But the phenomenon is very common at the new Salon, which routinely features headlines about hating white belly-dancers and about how disgusting Irish-Americans are.

In the comment threads to these pieces, the 99 percent dissolves into an angry Babel. For ourselves, we had these thoughts upon reading Jarrar’s follow-up essay:

Jarrar’s stated concern is the issue of cultural “appropriation.” Presumably, there are many worthwhile things to be said about this topic, although we’re not sure Jarrar has said them.

In the main, we were struck by the apparent bad faith as Jarrar started her defense of her original essay. This is the way she started:
JARRAR (3/19/14): I’ve written about the Boston bomber; about the U.S. government’s attempts to deport my brother, which kept him in jail for weeks; and about Israel detaining me—a U.S. citizen—and denying me entry in March 2012, but the essay of mine that has sparked the most impassioned responses is one about…

Belly dancing.

The volume of the published response to the essay—a personal opinion piece—was surprising. Guys in the Washington Post and the Atlantic wrote whitesplanations about how cultural mixing is a good thing; other men on racist blogs called me a moron. Daily News Egypt published a response by a non-Egyptian, non-Arab woman. G Willow Wilson wrote in defense of me (and since she’s not an angry woman of color, her argument is being touted as reasonable and sane). Muslimah Media Watch did a roundtable about the piece, and some dancers are saying they need to do better.
In that passage, then again at the end of her piece, Jarrar derides readers for reacting to a piece on a trivial topic like belly-dancing. To state the obvious, they reacted to her views about race, not about belly-dancing.

Often, readers reacted poorly, in our view. But very few readers were commenting on Jarrar’s views about belly-dancing. They were commenting on the way people of different groups can and should interact, a hugely important question.

The apparent bad faith continues in that opening passage. Jarrar rejected pieces in two major publications as “whitesplanations,” an amazingly flippant statement which helps explain why her pieces have received so many negative comments.

She then offered this claim about someone who spoke in support of her original piece, or at least so Jarrar says:

“G Willow Wilson wrote in defense of me (and since she’s not an angry woman of color, her argument is being touted as reasonable and sane).”

Poor Jarrar! She was denounced because she’s “an angry woman of color” (a perfectl6y sensible thing to be). Because Wilson isn’t those things, her defense of Jarrar has been touted.

We don’t know if Wilson’s argument is “being touted” somewhere; Jarrar offers no links in support of this claim. (By way of contrast, she does offer links to the pair of “whitesplanations.”)

That said, did Wilson really “write in defense of Jarrar?” In a sense, but not as such! This is the way Wilson’s piece began—although here too, for apparently obvious reasons, Jarrar provided no link:
WILSON (3/7/14): In Defense (Sort Of) Of Randa Jarrar

Many of you may have read this incendiary piece by Arab-American writer Randa Jarrar that appeared on Salon this week, condemning white women who belly dance...Jarrar’s piece is unabashedly—and to many people, perplexingly—furious, condemning without exception the white/western appropriation of raqs sharqi, “eastern dance,” the conglomerate of Mediterranean traditions we call belly dancing. White women, she says, should stick to their own art forms, and not attempt to achieve self-actualization “on Arab women’s backs.”

This generalization is so bare of nuance that the The Internet took immediate offense. Various rebuttals have been published, pointing out that if everybody is required to stick to the artistic traditions of their own ethnic group, we’d have to take away YoYo Ma’s cello, get rid of all those fusion food trucks in LA, and tell Russian ballet dancers to hang up their toe shoes. (This response by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic is probably the most eloquent; if you’d like a snapshot of the general reaction, I’d start there.)

All these observations are true, and I myself am very wary of the ultraconservative, “everybody go back to their corner” attitude that has arisen recently in western postcolonial discourse. I understand why it exists, but it has the potential to cause great harm, not least because it operates under the false assumption that culture is a kind of science, and impure or problematic influences can be titrated out to achieve ethnic and cultural purity...
Wilson does go on to offer a “(sort of)” defense of Jarrar. That said, Jarrar plainly misrepresented the extent of the defense she received—and she withheld the link, for what seems like an obvious reason. And by the way:

That response by Friedersdorf—the response which Wilson recommends as “eloquent” and “true”—is one of the pieces Jarrar rejects as a “whitesplanation!” As such, a great deal has been withheld from Salon readers about that piece by Wilson, the touted piece which is supposed to stand in defense of the abused Jarrar.

Especially when such important topics are being discussed, it seems to us that Salon should require more good faith from its correspondents. But the new Salon seems designed to function this way—to stir up heat in the absence of light, to toy with Salon’s many excitable readers.

The new Salon’s headlines have become famous for the way they overstate and misstate the contents of the articles, always in ways which are designed to push its readers’ hottest buttons.

In these ways, a very slimy group of editors are trying to keep their publication afloat—are trying to put money into their pants—by toying with the most divisive, most painful topics in the American playbook.

Salon works hard to get people mad about race. It also loves to get readers mad at other “generations.”

It publishes very low-grade work about the society’s most serious topics. Jarrar’s two pieces about white belly-dancers are just the tip of a low-IQ iceberg.

It can almost seem like the new Salon is designed to blow the 99 percent far apart—to push and poke at every point which can create that new Babel. We feel quite sure that isn’t the point, but Salon does a good imitation.

In our view, Jarrar’s pieces inspired a lot of unhelpful accusations in comments—accusations about her own alleged “racism” and “reverse racism.” But what do you expect from work which begins in the way shown above, work which like this:
JARRAR: 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.


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.
Unfortunately, there’s no doubt about it. If you write a careless piece about race—an “incendiary” piece which is “bare of nuance”—a certain number of people are going to call you a douchebag or a moron and otherwise gift you with hate mail. They will also drop R-bombs on your head, the way our team likes to do.

In response, you can deal yourself a victim card and hide behind those facts.

But please. Even as she ends her piece, Jarrar continues to pretend. She pretends that she had no idea that her piece would touch a lot of hot buttons. She pretends she thought that only a few hundred people were going to read it.

She says she’s angry at centuries of dehumanization, but it doesn’t enter her mind that she may have done a poor job discussing that hugely important topic. But then, this kind of pretense lies at the heart of the grotesque new Salon.

When we visit the new Salon, we think we see a lot of people toying with our most important topics. Some of them are very young, very under-qualified writers.

(On the brighter side, you don’t have to pay them much. And they help you stoke anger among the “millennials,” your apparent marketing target.)

Sometimes at the new Salon, we almost think we see a conspiracy being enacted. We almost think the one percent must have hired the new Salon to split the 99.

We know that no such thing has occurred. But if the new Salon didn’t exist, the one percent might create it.

A narrow slice of the 99 applaud these pieces at Salon. We think we see the progressive world’s worst instinct being expressed at such times:

We think we see a gang of “progressives” talking to themselves.

Tomorrow: How do you talk to “those people?”


  1. She says she’s angry at centuries of dehumanization.

    I had no idea Jarrar was so old.

    1. And overweight, as seen in Google Images. But I don't hate overweight people, or white belly dancers.

    2. There are plenty of folks ready and willing to foment and exploit the wrath of Jarrar for "our" good, and they aren't all corporate shareholders.

    3. And who might these exploiters be, Cecelia, and what are their motives?

    4. Anonymous1:14pm, everyone from politicians to preachers, driven by whatever agenda they have.

    5. I will now look through those 2300 + comments to see which ones are politicans, which are preachers, and find which may be focused on those exploiting her wrath from the fat old person standpoint.

    6. I'll make it easy for you, Anon2:14pm, for the fat old person perspective, always default to government workers and pharmaceutical companies.

    7. Yes. And typing from the tank at the local jail.

  2. "How in the world can the one percent maintain so much control over policy and politics?"

    Easily, because they own the corporate-media, and that is where most Americans still get their news.
    All the making believe that Dowd, Matthews, etc are anything near liberal spokespeople isn't going to change that fact.


    1. Well, I think the blogger's point is that we do a good job of hating each other without their help.

      I'm cynical enough to think that it doesn't take a lot of palm greasing to cause us to look down on each other.

    2. Blogger must not be clear when one of his regulars has to pitch in and tell us what she thinks his point is.

    3. And if blogger is not entirely clear does that mean he is wrong?

    4. Well, if you know I'm a regular then you read the blog.

      Do you think he's clear or not?

    5. Murky at best.

    6. Right, Cecelia. I'm certain it took no palm greasing to get Somerby to loathe the long, long list of people he loathes and obsesses about daily.

    7. I'm sure too. He's an utter free agent.

    8. So we agree. Bob is working hard, and for free too, to make sure that the 99 percent stay fragmented by spreading his own brand of fear, loathing and hate.

    9. Anon 5:36pm, with your logic the same could be said for any blog that consistently went after particular conservatives and Fox News.

      Understand too that the charge of being an r-bomber is not of the same coinage as the charge of being a racist, simply because they are both charges.

      What's divisive in our culture isn't the criticism of politicians and media members, as partisan as those opinions may be.

      The problem is in viewing entire regions and swaths of people as being as being stereotypical, nefarious, or uncouth over differing political and philosophical positions.

    10. "Anon 5:36pm, with your logic the same could be said for any blog that consistently went after particular conservatives and Fox News."

      By George, she's got it! Bob is no better than any other one-issue, obsessive one-man blogger!

    11. So go bother Talking Points Memo.

  3. Berto,
    They own damn near everything!

  4. So the original Salon piece generated 2300 comments and articles around the globe. Bob's original review generated 10 comments, more of which were sarcastic than on topic.

    Well, Jarrar's piece is similar to the entirely valid critiques of Jared Leto trans gender folks have been voicing. It's about power and culture, which is why the author explicitly talks about black face and drag.

    Bob's failure to interest in gay people, even controversies they care about which are media related is noted. He'd rather cover men's room coffee shop conversations about Hawking than the hetero-homosexual divide.

    1. Even trolls shouldn't make assumptions about the sexuality of transgendered folks.

    2. "Even trolls .... ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    3. Sounds like you need to lose weight or get a CPAP.

    4. Yes, so how about this then:

      "Bob's failure to interest in gay people..."

    5. damn bracket-eating comment process!
      should read:

      Yes, so how about this then:

      "Bob's failure to interest in gay people..."

      [rolls over, falls into a deep sleep]

    6. How about it! Then.

    7. So I left out "show." So sue me. And continue to show your own lack of interest in LGBT issues.

    8. Bob shows interest in gay black kids. He's the only one. No one else does.

    9. I tried, Doc. But Dr. Stephen J. Krune, Jr. wasn't in my network.

    10. Dr. Krune this is submental bloggism, the kind of eye-rolling, purblind trendiness that afflicts bloggers whose sole claim to pundit status is the ability to stay au courant with whatever is making the rounds among the chief pseudo-con blogs. In its vulgarity and cynicism it is really beneath reply. Which is why, of course, I did.

    11. "In its vulgarity and cynicism it is really beneath reply. Which is why, of course, I did."

      sheesh...Here's some eye-rolling purblind trendiness at it's worst.

    12. Improper use of "it's." Why is this so hard for people? It's always to be used as the contraction of "it is."

    13. Anal contractions in they're youth youd think, but we just doan no.

  5. More reviews of dance please. Arts coverage makes a nice interlude.

  6. This raises a puzzling question:

    How in the world can the one percent maintain so much control over policy and politics?

    In part, we’d say the answer lies with the way we progressive choose to talk to ourselves.

    Fuzzy question. Hazy answer.

    How much is "so" much?

    What part is "in part?"

    1. They own the media and they buy our elections. If you haven't noticed, the 1% have a lot of money. They use both to divide the 99% to prevent them from wondering why 1% own everything. It doesn't seem to bother you much though. You'd rather make sure everyone gets their daily ration of Somerby hostility. Wouldn't want anyone to be distracted by his main message and accidentally think about what he's saying. Might keep them from buying stuff.

    2. I hope he's not saying that because it sounds like the ravings of a paranoiac.

    3. I guess we don't apply the same standards to TDH that he applies to reporters covering, say, a Chicgo police press conference or a study of rude drivers.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Who can fathom the type of weirdo who would read The New Salon non-ironically?

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