Cultural Appropriation Can Win You Olympic Medals

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I guess there are days when I’m thankful for having been an ice-skating fan in my younger days, though I was absorbing some floaty, dreamy, and cornball heteronormative crap against the white-ice backdrop.  So, as much as I did enjoy figure skaters Oksana Domnina’s and Maxim Shabalin’s technical excellence, I can honestly say they should have applied all that technique—and subsequent press–to another routine that didn’t involve offending people of color.

Here’s their original routine, if you missed it:

Bev Manton, a Worimi woman and chair of the Aboriginal Land Council, sums up the outrage:

From an Aboriginal perspective, this performance is offensive. It was clearly not meant to mock Aboriginal culture, but that does not make it acceptable to Aboriginal people. There are a number of problems with the performance, not least of all the fact both skaters are wearing brown body suits to make their skin appear darker. That alone puts them on a very slippery slope.

Australians know only too well the offence that can be caused by white people trying to depict themselves as black people during performance pieces. Last year’s domestic and international furore over the blackface skit on Hey, Hey it’s Saturday’s Red Faces is a recent case in point.

That said, I don’t think it’s the most offensive part of the performance. That honour belongs to some of the claims by Domnina and Shabalin that have accompanied it.

They are not, as they state, wearing “authentic Aboriginal paint markings”. They are wearing white body paint in designs they dreamed up after reading about Aboriginal Australians on the internet. The designs are no more “authentic” or “Aboriginal” than the shiploads of cheap, “Aboriginal” tourist trinkets that pour into our country from overseas.

This is not a particularly difficult concept. For art to be Australian, it must be painted by an Australian, and for art to be Australian Aboriginal, it must be painted by an Australian Aboriginal. Russian art is not painted by Italians, and I doubt Russians would be impressed if someone tried to pass it off otherwise.

And just as the designs are not Aboriginal, nor is the music to which the dance is being performed.

I acknowledge that Aboriginal people do not own the sound of the didgeridoo. That is one of our gifts to the rest of the world. Everyone is free to use it. But that does not mean it should be sampled and then presented as something it is not — traditional Aboriginal music.

Al-Jazeera English reports :

“The dancers have defended the routine, saying it’s not intended to represent Australian culture, but a mélange of ethnicities.”

Before anyone starts in with “but Domnina and Shabalin are racially ignorant exceptions” or that they don’t “get” racism because they’re Russians (or globe-trotting sportspeople), I’d say that, like many other human societies, Russia isn’t an othering-free country, though people of color in that nation may not call what they’ve experienced “racism” as how USians understand it:

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The Fading Histories of People of Colour: Depardieu Plays Dumas

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

DumasReader Carleandria sent us this link to an article from the Times Online, discussing a controversy that is gaining ground in France after the release of a biopic on French writer Alexandre “The Three Musketeers” Dumas starring Gérard Depardieu:

A fuss over race has soured the release of the latest film in which Gérard Depardieu takes on one of the giants of French history. Black actors and anti-racism campaigners are upset that the white star is cast as Alexandre Dumas, the country’s biggest national hero with mixed blood.

The blonde, blue-eyed Depardieu sports curly hair and darker skin in L’Autre Dumas [trailer here], directed by Safy Nebbou. Dumas, who is still probably the world’s best-loved French author, was an exuberant, high-living celebrity — like Depardieu. His paternal grandmother was a former Haitian slave. His father, a Napoleonic-era general, was deemed to be a Caribbean “negro”. In his lifetime, the novelist was mocked for his African features and he called himself “un nègre”.

…Non-white celebrities, some Dumas experts and black organisations are angry because they say that the producers missed a chance to celebrate France’s ethnic diversity and remind the world of the writer’s part black origins.

“There is a mechanism of permanent discrimination by silence,” said Jacques Martial, a black actor who made his name playing a television police detective. Patrick Lozès, President of the Council of Black Associations (CRAN) wondered: “In 150 years time, could the role of Barack Obama be played in a film by a white actor with a fuzzy wig? Can Martin Luther King be played by a white?”

…In a protest on the internet, the CRAN said that the casting of Depardieu was fresh evidence of France’s failure to promote non-white stars in its cinema and media. “Very few of our compatriots know that Alexandre Dumas was mixed race and considered to be a black in his lifetime,” it said.

The film commits a double sin in the CRAN’s eyes because its plot, adapted from a successful play, discredits Dumas’ genius by depicting his white assistant as the true creator of his works. “Possibly for commercial reasons, they are white-washing Dumas in order to blacken him further,” it said.

…Dumas’ Wikipedia entry (yes, sorry) contains a quote in which Dumas replied to a taunt about being black. “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.”

Personally I had no idea that Dumas was black.  This makes me wonder how many famous people of colour – especially those of mixed heritage – are white-washed by history.   I also recently learned (through another reader tip!) that the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was black too.

POC reclamation project, anyone?