My immediate response: That's racist.
This led to an interesting debate with Brad and Cx. Brad spoke up early:
So you're saying there are contexts where racism is acceptable? Hell, no.
Justifying when (and how) portrayal, parody or even sincere attempts to tell a story & use of items in the telling is not the answer to ending racism, if that's your goal. The old adage: *The honor of one is the honor of all.*
Doing nothing except applauding racism like this example certainly won't do anything to end the scourge. My critiques are far more likely to do the trick.
"Art" excuses racism?
Theatrics or storytelling for what purpose? The purpose is the context. If it's to educate or enlighten, maybe. If it's merely to entertain by parading racism, literally, so observers will laugh at the funny nonwhite people...again, no.
So you're in favor of people in minstrel shows performing in blackface? Because that's exactly the same thing.
"People of other races can't portray each other without the label of racism?" Depends on the context and purpose. If it's to portray people falsely, with stereotypes, no. That's almost always unacceptable.
Perhaps you need to (re)read the documented harm of stereotyping as proved in psychology studies. Here you go:
The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence
As one recent example of the harm, the "savage Indian" stereotype promoted by hipsters in headdresses tells Americans that tribal courts are unfair and violence against Native women is to be expected. Hence the conservatives' unwillingness to pass VAWA.
Yes or no: This performance is equivalent to a minstrel show in blackface. If no, how is it different?
If you have to ask someone if their racism is "satire," the satire has failed. If the satire isn't evident to observers, it doesn't exist except in the satirists' minds.
As I've explained dozens of times, the outcome is what matters, not the intent. People who malign women or gays or minorities don't get a free pass because they didn't "intend" to insult people. If they committed the offense, they're responsible regardless of what they intended.
P.S. Any research specific to Native stereotypes obviously applies to other minorities. More important, it's the tip of the iceberg. There's much more research about the harm to other minorities that I didn't cite.
Don't need no intent
Again, their opinions on what they were doing are irrelevant. What matters is the outcome.
Is this a fair and accurate portrayal of Arabs or Muslims as a whole? If not, it's stereotypical. If they're singling out Arabs or Muslims for this treatment, it's racist.
Still waiting for an answer to my blackface question.
Every American can and should decide what's racist and speak out when something obviously is. If a person doesn't, she's part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Same as if they see a rape happening in Steubenville or on a military base. Those boys didn't mean to hurt anyone, and neither did those soldiers. Shall we give them a pass because of their intent?
Yes or no: Is this performance equivalent to a minstrel show in blackface?
Yes or no: Is this a fair and accurate portrayal of Arabs or Muslims as a whole?
Yes or no: We should judge military rapes by whether the rapists intended to cause harm?
Yes, this performance is racist. I wasn't kidding when I wrote that in my first comment.
Finally Brad returned to the debate:
I would concur that you have to consider "intent", however not at the expense of "result". I think the rape example is a poor one, because while intent can serve as a mitigating factor the end result is always unquestionably harm. With racism that's considerably more of a gray area.
I think it's possible for one race to portray another in the context of education, performance art, or historical commentary without necessarily being racist. So I would say that's a point for Cx's argument on the issue. One example would be if a theater company in Norway were putting on a production of Othello, I wouldn't expect them to hunt down a black actor capable of playing the part. So it would probably be forgivable if they put an actor in blackface even though it wouldn't be absolutely necessary.
In this example, however, I think I'd have to side with Rob because the intent clearly doesn't meet the standard of being educational or informative. Nor are these people "satirizing" Arab culture. I think the comparison in this case to the "borrowing" of Native American culture is a good one. These people are pretty clearly lampooning Arab dress for their own purpose. I wouldn't put it on the same level as someone stereotyping, such as portraying an Arab as a crazy terrorist, but I would probably say it's on par with white people dressing in inaccurate Native attire and holding a pow wow. ;-)
Here's some factual background to consider:
Abdallah Shrine: A Brief History
"Arabs are terrorists" or "Indians are savages" is negative. "Arabs ride camels" or "Indians wear feathers" is neutral. But again, all these claims are stereotypical.
And if you persist in making these claims after you've been informed of the facts, I'd say they're racist too.
As for Brad's claim, I thought I said portraying a different ethnic group may be acceptable in certain circumstances. This isn't one of them. As you put it, Brad, it serves no purpose as "education, performance art, or historical commentary."
Therefore, agreeing with Cx means agreeing with me on this limited subset of the debate. On the main point, though, you're right that I'm right. There's no question that this parade float is stereotypical and arguably racist.
With its talk of priests and mosques, the Abdallah Shrine looks like a whole "homage" to (i.e., mockery of) Islam. It brings to mind such faux "Native" groups as the Order of the Red Men and the Y-Indian Guides. These groups appropriated and abused Native culture; this group seems to have done the same for Islamic culture.
Brad reaches a verdict
Ha! Ha! O.k. I think I see what you're getting at Cx. Yes, the result of this situation is that they raise money to help sick children. Are you suggesting that they couldn't achieve the same result without the pageantry or phony "tradition". I think they probably could.
In a parallel example, the Washington Redskins are civic organization which has won football championships and no doubt helped the Washington D.C. community in numerous economic and philanthropic ways. Does that make their use of Native culture and iconography acceptable because there's a positive outcome?
Brad, I'm still comprehending what this is exactly. At first I thought this was a music performance in costumes, and perhaps a parody. I've since learned from the link you included that these are a group of shriners. That's where we left off. I don't think that simply because shriners as a group are philanthropic affects is this racism or not. I see it more as a theatrical effort. I still don't know if they are a parody or satire or serious from the still photo alone. Donning the clothing common to another area of the world or culture isn't in itself racism either. I look forward to picking up where we left off, Brad.
For instance, the minstrel shows I mentioned. The performers thought they were just being "entertaining." But observers could see that their so-called entertainment was racist.
My position on this particular affair Cx is that it's racist. I think the two things clouding the issue are that it's a culture that's considerably less familiar to us and that the origins of their misuse are so long removed from the current practice.
On face, I'd say this no different than the hipster "pow wows" The origin of this civic group was in a "secret" society or club of white folks who used the Arabian imagery and mythos for their club strictly because it was old and "cool" and gave their organization the air of being something ancient and mystical.
As if that weren't bad enough, the current members are appropriating the cultural hallmarks of Arab society and wearing them in a mocking or cartoonish way, again much as the pretend Indians do. In that sense, I'd say Rob's example of the minstrel shows isn't parallel however as these people aren't attempting to actually portray Arabs.
In both cases, the act can cause painful mental trauma. Yes, rape is usually worse, but people have committed suicide over racist taunts and bullying, just as they've done over rape. The only "gray area" here is how severe the trauma is, not whether it exists.
And in both cases, you can't be sure of the perpetrator's intent. A rapist could've seriously thought he was "making love" to his victim and you can't prove him wrong. As with racism, we judge rape by the results because the intent is irrelevant. Harm is harm whether the perpetrator intended it or not.
As for the Shriners, I suspect they thought they were portraying actual Arabs. And I doubt minstrel performers were any less aware then than they are now. They were spoofing or caricaturing blacks for "fun," exactly as these Shriners are doing to Arabs.
Therefore, all my examples are good ones. Other than that, I agree with Brad since he agrees with me. ;-)
For more on the subject, see Bloody Jackson, Family Guy, and Archie Bunker, Hipster Racism, and The Magical Power of Intent.