Hey (white) Girl Do Your Thang

There is a big discussion going on over at BlogHer right now, tackling the complex issues of race, culture, identity… things that aren’t easy to unravel.

Which happens to be going on as I pulled my daughter from her suburban ballet class…and added her to a suburban hip-hop class.

Yup. My soon-to-be five-year old is shaking it to Tina Turner and Beyonce.

But considering this discussion at BlogHer…I’m torn. My daughter is having fun, my daughter is learning dance and generally oblivious to any cultural issues that may surround what’s going on. But Mom is well aware she’s the little white girl emulating black culture. There is positive and negative here. The positive in her being exposed to it, and the negative being the dilution of that culture.

It’s not lost on me that little white girls in the suburbs are taking hip-hop, and the ramifications there of. It’s not lost on me that while acceptance and mainstream can aid in race issues, they can also harm and make things worse.

No, this isn’t step and this isn’t a pow wow…but it’s food for thought.


  1. I don’t understand this logic. If I were to follow it in reverse, my little Irish kid would have resented the amazing dancing of her Asian competitors in Irish Dance. She didn’t. They made her a better dancer. The point of dance, first and foremost, should be joy. If hiphop makes Hala happy, the goal is met. If that moves to the arena of competitive dance, may the best dancer win, regardless of skin color, race, or culture. But even in competitive arenas, it’s about the joy of dancing, first and foremost.
    .-= Karoli´s last blog ..Guest post on Crooks and Liars =-.

  2. As I said. Just food for thought. After the entire Zeta step discussion I have mixed feelings on this. There are points to be made all around. In the end…I totally think this is for the greater good…but I think if I’m insensitive to the ramifications, I’m just being ignorant.

  3. Maybe you are being too sensitive! I know of plenty of white people who are ISKON followers, who practice yoga and who have learnt classical Indian music and dance. Do I resent it? No way….I am flattered!!
    .-= Roshni´s last blog ..Mamoni =-.

  4. Yes, I AM overly sensitive! For sure. Because of the very interested discussion that went on.

  5. Honestly? That whole discussion hit me as “yeah, not getting into this.”

    I sometimes tire of living in an country that hyphenates it’s citizens.

    .-= Lucretia M Pruitt´s last blog ..Living Life Out Loud =-.

  6. I read this at the wrong moment, so let me apologize in advance. You see, I just was referring back to Tom Peters Re-Imagine! and when I read Peters it makes me rant (I want you to notice that with extreme self-control I did not capitalize RANT!) Enough exposition.

    I listened to you on Saturday in Reno (I’m the guy with the Rotary problem) and while I enjoyed your discussion and generally like you for your mind, I have to respectfully disagree. I have a four year old boy and my greatest hope is that he can focus on the ‘right now’. Culture is history and while it’s good to remember the past as we figure out the present, the past shouldn’t limit what we can be tomorrow.

    Culture divides people and that is never a good thing. Culture says this defines us separate from you and you can never be one of us. I live in Nevada where only 14% of the residents are native and they love to claim they are somehow better than everyone else because they are a native. It is BS and I don’t listen to it.

    Finally, culture is arbitrary and temporary. It is defined by someone who says from 1782 to 1853 we were from this part of the world and our people did dances this way and we ate this food, etc. Who were you before 1782? Why isn’t that important?

    We are more than the sum of our parents, grandparents, etc. and dang it, our children should be more than we are. Let her dance and have fun. She and her friends have a great new culture to make.
    .-= Paul Kiser´s last blog ..Fortnight: Chapters 1 & 2 =-.

  7. Many years ago, on an internet not far from here, I got embroiled (embroiled is a very good word for it, too) in numerous, *spirited* debates on the subject of race and culture. Being … less old, and quite naive at the time, I was put in my place more than once – sometimes gently and patiently, and sometimes by people who were already sick to death of white people claiming to be “color-blind” and all that blah blah blah, and let me have it. I had to do a lot of thinking, re-thinking, and re-re-thinking.

    I will be blunt: the people who are tired of the issue of race coming up, and who think everyone is much too sensitive and should just put it all behind us and move on, are for the most part white people who think they have behaved well and deserve to be considered the “good white people”, as opposed to all those screeching racists out there. Also, saying you’re color-blind is an insult … and untrue.

    So no matter how tiring all this sensitivity may seem to some, it’s way too early in the course of understanding the complexities of race and culture in society to be done with it.

    So, Erin, you’re doing the right thing, listening, and being overly sensitive. Being underly sensitive is still a bad thing. Yes, even now. And for a while to come.
    .-= dotlizard´s last blog ..the pharyngeal jaw of a moray eel (illustrated, and demonstrated) =-.

  8. I agree with dotlizard.

    What I have learned at almost 30 is to stop assuming whether something is offensive or not. I don’t think this means that white children shouldn’t dance HipHop, or that a black person shouldn’t dance the Viennese Waltz if that’s where their heart is. I think it means we need to stop believing we don’t live in an incredibly complex, multi-layered world and ask “Is this all right?” or at least think “What is the price, the downside of this?” when we make our decisions, and that we should get better at holding on to what makes us uncomfortable so as not to silence the other side.

    If someone says “You doing my cultural dances doesn’t offend me, it flatters me” then Hurray! So much better. But if someone says “Actually it does bother me, because it feels like a lot of cultural appropriation that has gone on before” then I think we should be able to hear that too and keep holding it in mind even if it makes us uncomfortable.

    I don’t think the right answer is to segregate into Your Culture/My Culture but I think part of the right answer is to keep talking to one another and attempting to find a middle ground.

    I can understand the drive to just want to be a good white person and live in peace and not have to break your brains about the past, why can’t we all just get along, lalalalala. I think we all do the best we can, but I don’t think we should get the right to award ourselves medals for our own open-mindedness. Other people should be the juries and judges of that.

    So, in that way, I don’t think as white people we get the luxury of saying when it is time to move on. I think we do, and should ask things like “So how can we redress things to make things better, or more fair now?” and listen to the answer.

    I fear if we teach our children to just rush out and embrace the world without considering permission or consequences then they will just grab the world in a chokehold in their enthusiastic affection.
    .-= Nina´s last blog ..Interludes =-.

  9. I hear you, Erin. The hip-hop teacher is even white, right? So you need another layer to the experience, I think, the same way the Zetas did with step.

    I think our generation just has to look our kids in the eye and say, “So, that dance you’re doing? It started out this way and here are some YouTube videos of the greatest hip-hop dancers in the world, and when you get older, we’ll watch some movies about hip-hop if you’re still into it so you can learn about how it came to be.” She’ll notice and ask questions the same way my daughter keeps asking why all the ballet words are in French or why all her black friends at school have braids.

    I think pointing out how things started, giving culture its due respect, is a good thing. And then, you know, hip-hop away.
    .-= Rita Arens´s last blog ..This Tattoo Is Fifteen Years Old =-.

  10. Adorable! It matters none. My little chocolate baby took ballet and tap which isn’t considered “black culture”. She will take hip hop as well and maybe even jazz. Don’t be sensitive about it, let your little white girl shake her thang! Drop it like it’s hott and all that whatnot. 🙂
    .-= Keyona´s last blog ..Question Of The Week =-.

  11. I don’t believe there’s a dilution of culture issue here at all. Your little girl’s having fun, getting exercise, listening to music, learning and art form, and being with her friends. Enjoy!
    .-= Striving Bean´s last blog ..Chipotle Bean Enchiladas =-.

  12. My B.A. is in [cultural] anthropology, from a school where the teaching is very modern and reflexive–we think a great deal about where we come from, and how that influences what we are seeing.

    So, I’m mostly with dotlizard, Nina, and Rita–it’s not the white person’s job or right to say when we’ve moved far enough from the past of racism. We can do our best to judge people by the content of their character, and not their outward appearance.

    I think that, since you are a smart and thoughtful mom, you will make sure there are opportunities for your children to learn about respecting people’s cultures and traditions. I think you can avoid “bad cultural appropriation”.

    So, good luck. Let Hala have joy and fun. ;p
    .-= Al_Pal´s last blog ..Sensitivity: I have it. =-.

  13. While we often use the term “urban culture” as a synonym for “black culture” because it sounds more ethnically sensitive, I’m not sure that makes it less accurate. A lot of what we think of (hiphop being a prime example here) as black culture has very little to do with ethnicity and a lot to do with urbanization, socioeconomic status, etc. I, for instance, associate it with my Jr. High and High School years because I went to lower income ‘urban’ schools.

    But to take hiphop as representing anybody’s ethnic, cultural tradition is maybe a little heavy handed. Certainly helping your daughter to appreciate it is no more appropriating black culture than giving her an appreciation of Jazz, Blues, or Rock and Roll.
    .-= Eddie Offermann´s last blog ..Visual Effects Pipeline Projects and Interapplication Communication With Maya =-.

  14. Interesting post. Were did a person have all the information through… 🙂

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