'Microaggression' Is a Stupid Word That You Should Take Seriously
“So where are you from?” It’s innocent enough, that question—a way to break the ice when no more can be said about the weather. But if you aren’t White, there’s a good chance it will be followed by one of the most cringe-inducing sentences in the White lexicon: “No, I mean originally.”
That’s never asked of me, mind you. No one ever wants to know where I came from, since I’m pale enough and sufficiently boring-looking to appear to other White people as a born-and-raised American, which I often lament that I am. That question, when I’ve heard it, is always posed to a friend of mine, who always responds the same way: “Ca-li-for-ni-a.” This always comes out sounding a bit like “Fuck. You.” It inevitably causes offense, this matter-of-fact response. It isn’t what people—White people—want to hear. They feel cheated.
“Oh, you know what I meant,” they always groan, the word asshole on the tip of their tongue.
The problem is apparently my friend, who isn’t White and looks “exotic” to people whose idea of exotic is a beer with a lime. My friend isn’t pale like me, which means he’s a walking zoo exhibit from the coasts to the country, always expected to respond to strangers’ interrogations about his native land with a smile and a careful recounting of his family tree.
Hey Assholes, ‘Arab’ Is Not a Halloween Costume
I was doing some online shopping this week, and it got me thinking about the fine line between tastefully incorporating the aesthetics of another culture and being a straight up ignorant asshole—and I am not sure anyone can clearly identify where that line is drawn.
As I was gathering ideas for a last-minute Halloween costume and frantically searching through random noun-turned-slut assortments, I came across the “Dreamgirl Sexy Middle Eastern Arab Girl Burka Halloween Costume,” previously sold by Sears. This piece of tasteless appropriation doesn’t teeter between cultural borrowing and plain ignorance. Besides obviously disrespecting a culture, there are a couple blatant reasons this costume is politically incorrect. Let’s start with the name: It’s not a “burqa,” it’sniqab. And, why are belly-dancing coins dangling from it? Did someone just brainstorm the first three words that came to mind after “Middle Eastern” and threw them on fabric? Veils! Belly Dancing! Bedouins! And, whore it up, boys!
In Western society, Middle Eastern women often get the reputation of being sacred, good-girl virgins, oppressed by their clothing and locked in the basement by the man of the house—only to be let out if food or cleaning is involved. So will Middle Eastern culture only be accepted and incorporated into Western culture if it’s exotic and sensual but not assertive or political? Are Middle Eastern and Islamic clothes looked down on unless they are used as exotic, sexy costumes, ironically playing with the “good-girl virgin” stereotype?
But this ridiculous standard isn’t limited to Halloween costumes; celebrities think Middle Eastern clothes are costumes too. M.I.A walked the red carpet to an award ceremony in a niqab back in 2010. Then Lady GaGa played dress up with one just last month. Lady GaGa is provocateur. She collects style points from shocking and controversial headlines. I highly doubt Lady GaGa actually values a niqab’s religious or cultural attributes. But at this point, is it really even shocking anymore? Aren’t there more important things going on in the world to shock us? It’s trite; it’s tired; it’s stale.