What does it mean about you when you live in a big city? What about a small town? How many of those stereotypes about culture and race and location are true? How does racism and social construct affect the way you see the people around you? We speak to folks from all over to tell us about what preconceived notions they might hold against other people.
So, one Friday after a couple of Bia Hanois (beers), my American friend and I set off in search of canine cuisine. The search didn’t take long. Within a couple of minutes, we were being led to the side of a central Hoan Kiem restaurant, where we found a live dog laid out on the table.
At least I thought it was still alive.
It was only as I neared the head that I realized something was amiss. As in missing. Half of its rib cage was missing. Out sprung an animated chef, dancing some kind of crazed knife dance with jazz hands. Evading this guy and working our way round to the head, I was amazed to see that all its teeth were present and it still looked lifelike—just with a slightly darker coat. I later discovered this is because there isn’t any preparation or oven basting. The dogs are just cooked whole with a blowtorch.
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.