Month: March 2010

March 1, 2010 / / WTF?

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:

Read the Post Cultural Appropriation Can Win You Olympic Medals