Many regard Jessye Norman as one of the preëminent dramatic sopranos of our time.
Primarily, though, Ms Norman is a thief.
And a racist one at that, no matter how unwittingly so.
See, classical music originated in Europe and surely ranks among the whitest of all art forms. Then along comes some black lady and, by belting out Wagner, attempts to wrest it away from us white folk, its rightful proprietors—are we not human beings that deserve to be treated as such?
Or take this guy Lang Lang, the ivory-tickling whiz kid from China. What licenses him to play Mozart concertos on a Steinway? Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, et al., were white composers of white music, and the piano hails from Italy, not the sinosphere. If Lang Lang wants to be a musician, he should confine himself to plucking guoyue tunes on a guzheng.
Noodles were invented in China. So if Lang Lang has pasta for lunch, no problem.
Now you probably think I’ve completely left the ranch.
Actually, I’m merely expanding upon a curious thesis advanced in a piece by one Randa Jarrar and published in Salon.com’s “feminists of color” series, titled Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers.
Its author puts forth that
[w]hether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation.”
Specifically, Ms Jarrar objects to Caucasian females practicing—i.e., stealing—an originally Arabian art form because
[t]hese women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.”
There you have it.
It follows that if belly-dancing while white makes you racist, then so does Wagner-singing while black, or Mozart-playing while Asian.
And, of course, the most appropriate time and place for racist Eric Clapton to play the blacks’ blues would be at a KKK rally.
Ms Jarrar concludes:
Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. […] Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?”
Good point. And us whites are human beings, too, not vessels for non-whites to pour themselves into. We are not keys on a piano or notes in an aria. Keep that in mind, Jessye and Lang Lang, next time you’re out there garnering plaudits on our backs!
Although she doesn’t explicitly state so in her article, I suspect Mr Jarrar looks equally askance at whites appropriating Arabic numerals, for any white person that writes 2015 instead of MMXV is clearly being racist in purloining Middle-Eastern intellectual property.
Some people seem so distressed over the specter of white supremacy that they resort to advocating segregation as a means to combat racism.
One-way segregation at least.
Because, perhaps, Jessye Norman pretending to be Sieglinde is somehow different in kind from some bangled-up Swedish sylph flashing her midriff and pretending to be Morgiana from One Thousand and One Nights; just as a Native American sporting denims and cowboy boots raises far fewer eyebrows than would, say, a blue-eyed French guy dressed up as an Apache chief—imagine that!
So could it be that it is not the deed itself but the ethnicity of the perpetrator that renders the identical behavior an instance of reckless cultural appropriation as opposed to a laudable example of colorblind casting?
A tricky line to draw, to say the least.
(For the record, I am perfectly fine with black opera singers. Not too crazy about opera in general, though. I much prefer the blues. Ever since reading that Salon.com piece, however, I’m afraid to play, i.e., to appropriate it. Because blacks are human beings, not vessels for pouring my musical preferences into—do I have this right, Ms Jarrar? Native white Austrian that I am, I should just stick to crooning Schubert in the shower. That way, no wrongful appropriation takes place, nor will I ever torture an audience with my pitiful butchering of Die Winterreise. Everybody wins.)
[Update: In a recent Huffington Post article headlined It’s A Slap In The Face When White Women Wear Black Hairstyles, the author opines that there exists no such thing as reverse—i.e., black-of-white—appropriation, because black women that rock white hairstyles are not appropriating but are simply “assimilating” due to “a real necessity to conform and survive.”]