Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"The burqa dance". What do you think?

Check the video below and tell me; do you think this is...

a) funny
b) racist / Islamophobic
c) boring
d) funny for about 10 seconds and then kinda boring
e) just stupid
f) in poor taste for making fun of a vulnerable minority
g) clever because it plays around with our expectations and stereotypes
h) or something else?

You can pick more than one.

Then answer this honestly:

Would it make any difference to your answer if I told you that the people who made this are white British non-Muslims?

Or would it make any difference to your answer if I told you that the people who made this are British Asian Muslims?

No right or wrong answers here, I'm just interested in what folks think. How much is our appreciation of humour dependent on who it's coming from? Can we just laugh instinctively, or do we need to decide if something is ideologically okay first?

For the record, the creator of the video is Muslim. You could read more and watch more at The Samosa.

More like this:

Racial humour - is it ever ok?

Fear of a Brown Planet

Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani

Uncle Sameer goes to Frankston

Much ado about burqas


  1. I'll go with h. At first, I thought it was candid camera. In any case, I'd say it was a good social experiment, to see people's reactions.

    Would it make any difference to your answer if I told you that the people who made this are white British non-Muslims? Or would it make any difference to your answer if I told you that the people who made this are British Asian Muslims?

    Are these male or female? :D

    I think the most important would be learning whether this was made by anthropologists/researches or someone who just wanted to have some fun.

  2. I'd go with (h) - I didn't think it was particularly funny; more interesting to watch the passersby than the dancer herself (unless we want to talk about that dancing...but I wouldn't want to be dancist).

    In general, it would matter to me where racialised humour was coming from. Not that it has to be all PC, and not that racial minorities can't do dodgey stuff, but I'd be more comfortable, say, with Margaret Cho saying those things about Asian families/communities and putting on a Chinglish accent than a White chick. Similarly, I think Hung Le's stand-up material only works for him, and wouldn't if the comedian was NOT of Vietnamese descent nor coming from a refugee background.

  3. H)- it's an interesting social experiment, messing with what people expect. I'm pleased that it was a Muslim who did the experiment, though.

  4. I think this brings us to another question: are people allowed to criticize/laugh at other groups? Are we allowed to criticize other groups, laugh at them, or are they off limits for us?

    Form what can I see, it's considered "bad taste" at best, and "utterly racist/homophobic/sexist/insesnsitive" at worst, to criticize or laugh culture that isn't yours. PC says you're not allowed to do that.

    I am not sure what to say here. I hate when people are disrespectful, and I deffinitely hate stereotypes and laughing, disrespectivng and criticizing others without even trying to understand them and their culture.

    On the other hand, I don't think people are allowed to criticize or even laugh at their own group. But in order to laugh and criticize others, you must first laugh at yourself.

    Sadly, 9 times out of 10, people (either in personal life or in their work of art- movies, for example) don't do this. They don't laugh at themselves.

    Now, I might blog about this...

  5. @ Mira and Tseen:

    Your comments hit upon the reason I posted this. If, say, an Asian person tells a joke about Asians, is it ok? What about when a white person tells the same joke? What about someone like me, who is a bit of both?

    I found this video interesting because the identity of the burqa-clad person is not clear. Thus it creates an opportunity for viewers to assume all kinds of things, good and bad.

  6. Well, humor and normas are cultural. I am sorry, but what is considered ok in my culture might not be acceptable in yours and vice versa. There's nothing wrong with it.

    I understand that American (western) standards say I am not allowed to criticize or laugh at X if I'm not X. I get thet. However, I am afraid I can't escape my own cultural standard that says otherwise.

    Generally, I believe people can criticize or laugh at any cutlrue or a group- but first they must be ready to do the same to their own group! This makes a huge difference to me. And when i say laguh at your group, I really mean that- not just applying socially acceptable stereotypes to your group (for example, (white) women love shopping), and then all horrible, bakcward, harmfull stereotypes to others (blacks are violent criminals, Asians are (whatever stereotype about Asians), Arabs are terrorists etc etc. I mean to really laugh at your group and make it look stupid, strange, embarrassing, etc. Only then you're allowed to laugh and criticize my culture.

    (This rule cna be applied on personal level: you can laugh at me, but only if you prove you can laugh at yourself).

  7. ^ That's an interesting way to look at it. I tend to see it more in terms of "laughing with" someone as opposed to "laughing at" them.

    Btw the common stereotypes of Asians are that they are nerdy, have small penises, eat dogs and know kung fu. To name a few.

    Btw, have you read my post about the merits of racial humour? I've added it as a link in this post.

  8. Oh, you're right! My mistake! "Laughing at" is definitely a nasty thing to do, even to yourself. Laughing at somebody shows no respect, and I do think minimum of human respect is needed.

    What I'm saying is, I am not against criticizing, in serious, humorous, satirical, etc. manner, groups and cultures that are not yours. I don't think it's "off limits" by default. But first you must be ready to do the same with your own group. And, of course, to allow me to do the same.

    Of course, it's all ok as long as it's not done in a dehumanizing way. It's irrelevant whether you dehumanize your own, or another group; that's never ok.

    PS-I don't know much about Asian stereotypes, except, yes, the small penis one.

    PPS-I know about that post, and I thought I commented a while ago. I guess not. I'll read it again and post my reply. :)

  9. Too bad, I can't comment in there! I tried several times, but it just doesn't accept my comment.

    I just wanted to say what I wrote here: I don't think racial humor should be off limits by default; still, it should be done with true respect. It's all about the context, like you said.

    PS-As for Tropic Thunder, I personally don't see it as disrespectful, because Robert Downey Jr played a white actor who got a role of an African-American soldier and he (Kirk Lazarus) is doing a blackface. In other words, it's a critique of blackface trend and white actors stealing quality roles from the black people. Of course a white actor should play a character like that; how could you do a blackface with a black actor? Saying it was offensive would mean that we're forbidden to talk about certain things, like blackface, which is counter productive.

  10. @ Mira: I took the liberty of cutting-and-pasteing your comment into the other post. Not sure why it wasn't working for you.