Tumblr Q & A: Defending Racism as “Art”

Q: Hello, I was going to write a long, drawn out response to your lady gaga burqa post, but it came down to fundamental perspectives, which we probably don’t share. Lady Gaga’s religion is arguably aesthetics, and she has always referenced “”‘disrespectfully'”” Christianity. I view her wearing a burqa not as rude, but as a way of portraying the beauty of such a garment. NO religion or culture should ever be immune to the hand of an artist.

A: Well I think you are using the words “religion” and “artist” way more liberally than I would ever use them. I agree that Lady GaGa’s “religion” is “arguable” to say the least: she does not worship at a church of aesthetics, there is no history of aesthetics as an institutionalized or organized religion, and there is not a bible of aesthetics outside a cute fashion quip of “this issue of Vogue is my bible.” Furthermore, Lady GaGa is not socially oppressed, institutionally disadvantaged, or racially stigmatized because of her aesthetics “religion.” White feminists don’t try to save Lady GaGa because she is “oppressed” by aesthetics. Even if she has spoken “disrespectfully” of Christianity, this does not then give her the right to appropriate something from Islam. This also does not give her the right to disrespect Islam.

The idea of Lady GaGa as an “artist” making an artistic statement of ‘appreciation’ is giving a pop star in a racist costume an awful lot of credit that I personally think she doesn’t deserve. It takes a shit load of white privilege to see this as something profound and to defend it as something artistic, rather than see it as the racist fashion gimmick it is. Followers: this is a perfect example of where a white opinion doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t think it’s “rude,” or if you think it’s acceptable for an “artist,” Muslim folks are telling us not to do this shit, they don’t appreciate it, and they don’t care what our intentions are. The opinions of the people who are directly affected by cultural appropriation are the only ones that matter.

The argument that religion or culture should not be “immune” to the interpretations and bastardizations of artists is a very old, very European one. This is the attitude Surrealists used when they stole shit from African cultures to inspire their “creativity,” or when Van Gogh painted exact replicas of traditional Japanese prints, or when Gaugin obsessively painted “primitive” Tahitian “natives.” Rousseau spent who knows how many hours imagining what POC in the “jungle” looked like… then painted them. When white folks claim culture and religion are fair game for “artists,” we are essentially saying everything is ours for the taking. The individual “freedom” of a white “artist” does not and should not take precedence over the  objections of POC; when it does, this is white supremacy at work.

—DD

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