I’ve seen this article posted twice now from people on my friends list and the reactions to it have been generally the same: “How dare you take away something I take pleasure in and deeply enjoy, simply because it is part of your culture/art/heritage, etc”. While people argue the merits of whether art and culture are fluid and transferable, I think an even more glaring problem our society is missing and leaving by the wayside is a problem with our social structure; our society.

When did a part of a person’s identity become a commodity? Because that’s really what this is about.

When you look at this from a 10,000 foot view, it comes down to one culture’s ideology and its impact on other cultures. The one culture (our European-American culture), touts its virtues of “freedom” everywhere we go. Americans should be free to dip our toes into whatever we want; however we want, when we want it. But we never want to look at the consequences of that freedom; what it costs. Sure, we talk about our military soldiers and the sacrifices they make with their lives in the name of freedom, but the average American citizen never has to really come face to face with that concept. We click the “like” button on a Facebook page or meme when it comes up in our feeds, but unless we are connected to a military member in some way, the idea of “what freedom costs” is a vague concept at best. Hell, even our general education history books do a horrible job of teaching our youth about what happened during the revolutionary war with any real depth.

As a European-American culture – as a social system- we suck at introspection; it hurts. To improve it means change, it means losing something we enjoy; it means facing the fact that we may be wrong; that our ideology maybe off. As a military veteran, I find it stunning how Americans refuse to really look at the impact of military operations in other countries and cultures; and on the military personnel themselves. Yeah, we pay lip service to how horrible the physical damage is, but we rarely want to look at whether that country or culture REALLY needs to have our way of life forced upon them.

It’s sad to me, to see a culture that only recognizes cultural specifics as being pertinent to a person’s identity; only when it pertains to a specific person.  Forget what you heard, America is NOT multicultural. It is dominated by European-American culture that has forced every other culture in its borders to castrate themselves so that all the best parts can be cherry picked and then assimilated into the dominate culture. The idea that art, culture and language are fluid and transcending (the way Americans practice it) is a European ideal. The idea that any random person can just learn techniques and moves of an art style, without any knowledge of the people’s history, culture and way of life and be above reproach or critique is a European ideal.

Not a universal human one.

It’s hypocritical at that, because with almost all art, culture and language out of Western Europe, a person is required to have extensive knowledge of these before being accepted as a valid patron of said study; whether that is through formal school, private lesson, indoctrination or all of the above (which most times it’s all of the above).

It’s sad to me, to see a discussion that could be about humans coming together, improving and understanding each other, devolve into a circular fight about personal rights and language definitions. This could be a discussion about fixing a systemic problem in our social system, one that would have a positive, corrective domino-effect on other social issues and improve our social structure as a whole exponentially. Instead, the threat of looking at things from another person’s point of view; looking at how one individual’s life might unintentionally impact another’s, is so frightening that the discussion falls into political rhetoric and an pseudo-intellectual competition of supposed fact-based one-upmanship.

Ironically, a similar conversation has been going on about the representation of women in super hero comic books, and the opposing responses are eerily similar to those teenage boys screaming bloody murder that these women, (who they believe don’t belong in comics in the first place) want to come and change their beloved past time. It’s always amazing to me, to see the same women who fight viciously to be represented with respect in the mainstream media, be completely blind to the fact that a request, like the belly dancing article above, is along the very same lines they were just fighting for.

The above article, if you pull back emotionally and read with an open-mind, is asking for respect. Respect for a culture, respect for how it is presented and respect for the people for which it originated from. If you REALLY love a specific art so much that you want to emulate it, then be respectful enough to give them that much at least.