Category: A Fulbright Scholar in Cairo (page 1 of 9)

So You’re An Artist Who Wants to Apply to Fulbright

In the past few weeks, several artists have reached out to me looking for advice on the Fulbright application process. It can be daunting. As I am a huge advocate for the program, I thought maybe sharing my tips more broadly may support more people who are on the edge of applying. These come from friends, colleagues and personal experience.

So, if you are interested in applying as an artist, here are ten steps…

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STEP ONE: Decide Your Program

For U.S. Citizens: University Faculty, Staff, Researchers, Artists – ideally with a graduate degree (awards include lecturing grants, research grants, combination lecturing/research, and arts training grants with stipends for tuition or classes)
U.S. Fulbright Scholar – Core Program (2-12 months) *This is the program I did, and with which I have the most information and experience.
Deadline: Monday, August 1, 2016

——————

For U.S. Citizens: Recent graduates, Masters or PhD candidates, Young professionals with <5 yrs experience
U.S. Fulbright Student Program (grant lengths vary, often more than 12 months)
Deadline: Monday, October 11, 2016

——————

For U.S. Citizens: University Faculty, Staff, Researchers, Artists – ideally with a graduate degree
U.S. Fulbright Specialist Program (2-6 weeks)
Rolling Deadline: March 4, May 6, July 8, September 9, or November 4

——————

For Non-U.S. Citizens: Students pursuing Masters degree, research, or professional training (varies per country)
Fulbright Foreign Student Program (grant lengths vary)
Deadline: varies per home country

*P.S. There are more programs to check out, but these are the standards.

In general, know your strengths and unique points as an artist. What do you offer? And what do you want?

 

STEP TWO: Make a Short List of Countries

If you are not a citizen of the United States, your list is simple: you are headed to the USA.

If you are a U.S. citizen, this step can be overwhelming. This is what I suggest. First, think of places where you have some sort of connection but not much experience. Then list what those places offer, either historically or contemporary (what you could learn from them) as well as what their current needs are.

Narrow down to 5-6 countries and then search for those countries in the Fulbright catalogue of awards to see what affiliations are available in your discipline. Read the news from the countries listed. Talk to people there.

After doing those activities, your first-second-third choices should be revealed, as well as initial project ideas.

Remember that if you want to do any sort of research, you usually need at least three years of study in that language. I wasn’t fluent in Arabic, so I had to switch to a lecturing grant and cut all the formal research parts of my proposal.

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STEP THREE: Design Your Project

Go to the country’s Fulbright page and see if you can locate the list of former grantees. Investigate what Fulbrighters have already done (or are currently doing) there.

Go to the university affiliation’s page and see what faculty and curriculum are already in motion there. What gaps or challenges can you gather? What are the strengths of what already exists there? Do they have American guests regularly in your discipline?

The design-thinking process can be your friend here.

Remember, Fulbright loves weird. Be specific and bold.

Think through how your project will have ripple effects back home. How many people will be impacted and in what ways? Describe what you hope to contribute and what you hope to learn from the place you are going. Be clear and enthusiastic about your top choice country. Get advice from current and alumni Fulbrighters. Most cities have a group page on Facebook, Eventbrite or MeetUp.

 

STEP FOUR: Reach Out to Potential Affiliations

Several grants and countries require formal letters of invitation as part of the application package. For those that do not, it is always a good idea to learn from a few contacts there. Introduce yourself and your project proposal.

Also, reach out to the Fulbright staff and current grantees of the country for where you are applying. Their insights could be golden. Ask about security status for the country and how that affects the number of grantees, as well as any lessons learned. Know if the three countries you selected are “Commission Countries” or not. Find out if Fulbright programs are administered by a Binational Fulbright Commission, U.S. Embassy, or another organization such as IIE, World Learning, AMIDEAST, etc.

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STEP FIVE: Tell People. Get Help.

Let someone at Fulbright (usually the regional director for your program) know that you are planning on applying. Send them a draft and let them know how excited you are or if you have had any major struggles or questions. I was mighty happy I did this during my application period, because the program director reached out to me, encouraging me to continue when I had nearly given up. He also let me know that the invitation letter requirement had been waived for Egypt.

Lastly, tell your friends, family and colleagues that you plan to apply. Most Fulbright application packages take 3-6 months to pull together successfully. Make sure you have a support network. If you have only a small pool of proofreaders, consider using a service such as Fiverr.

 

STEP SIX: Apply

Leverage all the thinking and investigating you have done up until this point. Remember that your application package should be complete, clearcohesive and comprehensive. Avoid duplication of information and listing assets without context. Market your strengths and who else will benefit beyond yourself. Address any red flags. Check and double check the instructions. Apply a week or so before the deadline.

 

STEP SEVEN: Be Prepared to Wait

It is a long process. I applied in July 2011. Then on December 28, 2011, I was given the following Christmas present….

“Dear Ms. Lent, It is a pleasure to inform you that the peer review process organized by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) has been completed and that you are among those recommended for a Fulbright Lecturing award in Egypt for the 2012-2013 academic year. Please know that this constitutes only the first phase… Your papers have been forwarded to the Fulbright Commission in Cairo…”

In May 2012, I got the letter of congratulations that I had passed the Egyptian panel and signed my contract.  I had just a few months to get my flights in order, insurance papers, notify my U.S. employer, etc. Pre-departure orientation was in late June  and I left for Cairo in late August 2012.

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STEP EIGHT: Breathe

 

STEP NINE: Apply to Everything Else

No matter the outcome, putting together a Fulbright application is a worthwhile endeavor. Utilize this fine application package you have put together to apply for other exchange programs, awards, grants, networks, residencies, degree programs, volunteer and professional development opportunities. Apply to at least one thing per week. Here are a few of the sites that I check regularly…

U.S. Department of State – Exchange Programs

On the Move

Mladi Info

Alliance of Artists Communities

Peace & Collaborative Development Network

United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

British Council, UN Women, UNHCR, Idealist, Jerome Foundation, A Blade of Grass…

One of my previous blog posts also listed programs and opportunities…

 

STEP TEN: Thank Everyone You Can Think Of

Gratitude is great for business, but more importantly, it is great for your own health (I checked WebMD) as well as for the wellbeing of others and your relationship with them. Make gratitude an integrated part of your practice. Celebrate with your supporters and champions. Do something that they need help with. Listen to them. Be there for them.

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If these ten steps help you in any way, please consider sharing this post.

First Things To Do When Returning to America After Living in Egypt

First Things to Do When Returning to America After Living in Egypt

1. hug parents

2. engulf the fresh air

3. switch into shorts

4. feed transatlantic-travelled cat

5.raise voice

Wearing shorts again.

Wearing shorts again.

I have not written here in a significant chunk of time. I was spending my last days in Egypt consumed with work and transition. I was also living in a little fog of fear. The bombs in Cairo were not scary for us. For me, what was nerve-wracking was the rate Egypt was becoming too seemingly safe and stable at the cost of the rights of the people.

My alarm drooped into inanition.

The weather hit a dusty, daily 100-110 degrees.

Life spun me hard.

I took a blog break.

Today is Monday, August 10. I have been back in the States for 6 days. I have spent each of those 6 days in shorts. When the jet lag wore off, the world offered me five events: Jon Stewart’s goodbye, the celebration for the New Suez Canal, first GOP presidential debate, the70th anniversary of the US atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, and the anniversary of the massacre at Rabaa.

Yup, we definitely all have to be a Jon Stewart now. A Bassem Youssef. Vigilant of bullsh*t. A master of satire. Ever increasing our intellect, empathy, and ability to give and take a joke in a complex world.

“Be careful when you blindly follow the masses. Sometimes the m is silent.” – anonymous

The New Suez Canal project was declared as a bright achievement in internal investment and development for Egypt. Many intelligent articles have been written in both critique and support of it. The fervor of the nationalism became awkward during the launch event including accidental Yemeni flags, the Game of Thrones soundtrack, a civilian president back in his publicly-retired military garb, and giant inflatable bears in Tahrir Square.

Photo by Mada Masr

Photo by Mada Masr

A young boy who will never serve in the military because of his childhood cancer had his dream come true, accompanying El Sisi in uniform on a yacht. Egyptians are out seizing the State-sanctioned window of opportunity to gather and party in public. The flag industry boomed once more. Egypt partied strong in its heritage and hopes.

This celebration hit just days before the two-year anniversary of when a thousand plus Egyptian protestors were killed on the streets in the neighborhood ofRabaa by a Sisi-led transitional government/military. The signs in Rabaa were changed last week to now be in honor of the prosecutor who was assassinated this summer. No one is allowed to remember Rabaa.

Supporting the opposition (Muslim Brotherhood) has become a jail sentence and often a death sentence in Egypt. As in the times of Mubarak, the MB is officially declared a terrorist organization and is banned. There is no middle ground. Any support for their rights leads to a label of terrorist. There are bombs and attacks, yes, but there are also mass trials, rushed trials, hundreds sentenced to death in one sweep on the thinnest dust of evidence. Folks are disappearing.

When I had earlier brought up the issue of Blackface on the Cairo Opera stage; I was called racist myself because I did not want Black people depicted onstage, and rumors spread that I was a Muslim Brotherhood supporter because I even dared to question a State-run organization and tried to make them look bad with my unnecessarily accusations and lies. Those closest to me thought it was unsafe to start a petition or a demonstration because the authorities call for the full list of participants and their addresses. While I like to think I am courageous in standing up when I see something wrong, I found that causing a stink, in another country, at this particular time, was simply not worth it.

I know that not everyone killed at Rabaa was a terrorist, and I wish to remember their lives. Rabaa Story is taking on that initiative in a big way. There are also television stations off the State grid with devoted coverage. I hope people tune in and honor the innocent victims to the same degree as people celebrated a canal. My hope is for positive pluralism both there and here.

Back in mid-Michigan, I went to the county fair this weekend.

Saginaw County Fair

Saginaw County Fair

During the tough truck competition, one driver proudly flew a large Conservative flag and was nicknamed the “rebel.” He won and was widely applauded. From my seat in the grandstands, I shouted that this was a disgrace and booed him.

I went home and intentionally turned on Fox News for the first time in my life to see that ridiculous Trumped debate. Now that I am back in America, I am going to enjoy wearing my shorts and raising my voice.

What is Going On in Egypt? For those who only have 5 min.

My name is Shawn and I am a bad ex-pat/foreign resident in Egypt. I do not play the part well. I enjoy long walks alone on urban streets. I do not heed security warnings without some critical thought first on my end. I question things.

I question the use of Blackface on stage. I question rock star treatment of Vladimir Putin. I question the reason to keep Sadat Station closed. Not exactly Rosa Parks, but I refuse to slide to the end of the bench on the Metro because I’m a woman. I am heavily annoyed by the Egyptians that stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the escalators, not stepping to the right so that those who choose to walk can pass by.

There are things I love about Egypt, mostly the Egyptians. I love the grit, the deep culture, and the resolve for social justice. My husband is Egyptian and I am close with my Egyptian in-laws. I have spent 33 months in this country.

Yet my experience is only my own, and the following post claims to be nothing more than my individual understanding.

What is happening in Egypt?

People are continuing to pick up their newspapers from their guy in the morning.

Morning in the neighborhood of Dokki

Morning in the neighborhood of Dokki

There are book fairs, flea markets, motor shows, and Julio Iglesias concerts, mostly for the elites and foreigners. I have yet to see a free public parade or community festival accessible to Egyptians not in the upper classes. There are no more demonstrations either than small protests on campus with deep levels of approval. There is guerrilla art calling for the release of political prisoners or the end to arrests of activists. There are daily bombs targeting police and military, usually attributed to supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (the country’s former administration now widely established as The Terrorists with connections to ISIS). President Sisi and his team are fighting them. The general conception is, You are either with us or against us. When members of the Muslim Brotherhood recently went to visit the U.S. Congress before a big terrorist attack here, the signs went up in Cairo saying that Obama is the world’s biggest supporter and creator of terrorists. None-the-less, I feel safe, actually too safe, like part of a system where I must do what I am told and all will be well.

Then this week, the burned-out building near Tahrir Square that has stood for years in ruins as a symbol of The People toppling the dictatorial Mubarak regime was covered with a massive banner calling for financial investment in national projects.

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Investment is the Key to Egypt’s Future

There was an impressive, grand-scale economic forum in an elite resort beach town over on the Sinai Peninsula this weekend where Egypt signed deals worth $15-$20 billion. Glimmering plans were also just unveiled for a new capital. Take into mind that while I was checking out the jaw-dropping, Dubai-esque plans on the website, I was sitting in an apartment that leaks when it rains, in a building with shoddy electrics, on a street with unwalkable sidewalks, in a neighborhood with open trash piles, in a place where citizens in wheelchairs have to be carried up stairs, in a city with unreliable emergency services management, in a country where the winds of sand settle in every corner and the facade-cleaning can never keep up.

http://thecapitalcairo.com

http://thecapitalcairo.com

In his article, Chasing Mirages in the Desert, Khaled Fahmy wrote, “In a dramatic move, and to showcase its future plans, the government suddenly unveiled a plan to build a new administrative and economic capital of Egypt some fifty kilometers to the east of its millennia-old city, Cairo. We, Cairenes and Egyptians, were not informed, let alone consulted about this move. The Minister of Investment, Ashraf Salman, said that the new city will cost a staggering 500 billion Egyptian pounds (c. 66 billion USD). Imagine what this amount of money could do to alleviate Cairo’s problems, or Egypt’s for that matter.”

Buying Bread in the Morning

Buying Bread in the Morning

During his trip to the forum, Secretary Kerry addressed U.S. and Egyptian business leaders and met with Egyptian President Al-Sisi and other Egyptian officials. Secretary Kerry’s plenary remarks at the #EEDC2015 confirmed the important of Egypt, declared America’s support, and laid out four things Egypt will need to achieve its grandiose vision:

1. Egypt needs to grow sustainably.  

2. Egypt needs to grow openly and accountably.

3. Egypt obviously needs to grow inclusively.

4. Egypt needs to grow transparently.

 

The weather is 75° and sunny.

Own My Legs: Self-Made Newlywed Woman

Transitions are the perfect combination of possibility and anxiety. When you are age 3, they can be terrifying. When you are 13, they can be bitter. When you are 30, they can be cringe-worthy. I know I will face incredible transitions as I age. Transitions are when the world, the day, or a trajectory, is becoming something else.

I should be used to transition by now, but I am thinking no one ever is.

Solo female transitions have their own mighty challenges. I have left good jobs and friendships with the slim window of opportunity to be an artist in the world. I have travelled to live in places where I knew no one. In Thailand, Kenya, Israel/Palestine and Egypt, I went despite new or urgent travel warnings and limited savings. I have twice flown over 8 hours on the trust that an associate waiting at the airport had my ticket for the next leg of the journey.

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Yet, it has always been hard. Just had to pray and leap, with the willingness to sleep in a sleeping bag or a generous friend’s couch. The current transition in my life is the first time it is a shared transition: a husband, a wife, and a special needs kitty all moving in one direction on their own legs. While packed with goodness, there is way too much unknown and undefined for it to be easy. This includes the timing and destination. It is a different kind of transition. When you share your life and have separate careers, you share the transitions.

Last month, I received a post card from a friend. She is a woman. And wow, some women are badass. This simple postcard arrived to our apartment in Cairo from a place in California. In it, I read of how a friend I haven’t spoken to in some time was thinking of me. She is going through her own difficult transition professionally, and she thought of me. She is a treasure and a self-made woman. Her postcard reminded me about the importance of staying on your own legs, especially as a woman. We can “lean in” and lean towards our partners and provide our shoulder in return, but remain on our own legs.

There is someone else I want to speak about quickly for IWD. Our kitty Lamara taught herself to walk despite her Cerebellar Hypoplasia and being found near death at one-week old back in July. She is a self-made kitty. She found her own legs depite constant tremors and spastic coordination.

One of the boldest females I know.

lamara

When it comes to inspiring women with strong voices, you don’t have to look far in Egypt. My in-laws are no exception. If you want to learn more about the women in this country, I suggest for you the following resource. “Who is She in Egypt” is a free database of distinguished Egyptian women experts.  It provides Arabic and English profiles on outstanding Egyptian Women in their particular field. The database aims at raising awareness among the society that there are expert and competent Egyptian women in all fields of life. It is designed to be a reference to organizations, researchers, activists, media practitioners and all the users who want to find an Egyptian woman expert in a particular field. Similar databases were established in Jordan “Who is She in Jordan” and in Lebanon “Who is She in Lebanon.”

Things I am celebrating this International Women’s Day:

  • I am self-made.
  • Our marriage is awesome especially when it is difficult.
  • I am surrounded in this world by amazing females.
  • My work and ideas are worth much compensation.
  • I refuse for my gender to be the base of differential treatment, even when living in the Middle East.

I Have Looked Into the Mouth of Ignorant, Intolerant America: A Duke Story

I went back into the mouth of Ignorant America, and rather than ignore it which was one strategy I could have taken, I addressed some of the hated ignorance head on. I got 3 people who posted anti-Islamic hate speech to realize their closed-mindedness enough to engage in a healthy dialogue, thanking me for the new understanding and thanking each other for our time. Now 3 was not many, but it was indeed my own little breakthrough. Others called me a “liberal/progressive loon” and a “naive prick” who would be sorry when I was raped by a Muslim at knifepoint and the Muslims take over America. They should know I have already been sexually assaulted by a U.S. Naval officer. And my love for my country of the United States of America is founded in its ability to learn, change, grow, combine pride and humility, and embrace. Luckily, I have seen that America and have faith in it.

Here’s the story of this week.

Duke University Student Affairs Religious Life, under the umbrella of Duke University Chapel, supports 21 Christian groups of different denominations including Duke’s founding denomination Methodist, along with Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (with a different Christian calendar) and Lutheran as well as non-denominaton groups and Mormons, 1 Jewish student group, 1 Hindu group, 1 Buddhist Meditation association, and and 1 group for the 700 Muslim students on campus.

According to their site and documents, Duke offers all these student groups…

  • mini grants,
  • space for worship or prayer,
  • space for meetings and events,
  • interreligious education,
  • a space on campus for the artistic expression of the spiritual life,
  • public events and decoration adhering to their policies,
  • and the ability to use the Chapel basement and facilities upon approved request. 

In addition, Christian students are offered…

  • A campus that is laid out in the shape of a Cross,
  • Mission trips abroad,
  • Student jobs with the chapel,
  • A 50-bell carillon, played every weekday at 5:00 p.m. and before and after Sunday worship services and special events,
  • One-on-one counseling,
  • Community Engagement opportunities in Ministry/Service as well as Internships,
  • Chapel Scholars program with funding,
  • Small discernment groups,
  • Undergraduate courses,
  • Comprehensive Sermon and Vespers Archives,
  • On-campus services for weddings, baptisms, and funerals,
  • A residential Christian community,
  • And worship via media outlets including live webcasts on Duke Chapel’s YouTube Channel and DukeStream, live TV broadcasts on Duke Campus IPTV Channel 1-3 and Duke Hospital Cable TV Channel 12, radio broadcasts on WDNC 620 AM LIVE and WPTF-AM 680, cable TV on Channel 18, Durham Community Media and Channel 8, The Peoples Channel. In addition, Sunday and Vespers Service Archives are available online.

The Duke Faith Council, comprised of 10 scholars, fosters and models profound conversations across faith traditions in order to deepen participants’ practice of their own faiths, understanding of other faiths, and relationships across religious and cultural divides, and to facilitate such conversations within the University and beyond. The Faith Council sponsors a number of events throughout the year including interfaith panels and lectures. Past speakers have included award-winning author Stephen ProtheroImam Feisal Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative. Panels have included “Living Faiths: What do religions have to learn from each other?”, and “Religious Responses to 9/11”. The Faith Council also coordinates Duke’s involvement in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

Duke’s Undergraduate Faith Council create opportunities for interfaith engagement among their peers. They plan community service events, dialogue dinners, text studies and public events that will draw participation from students in their own faith traditions and the wider Duke community. Duke’s interfaith engagement is strengthened by partnerships with a number of local and international interfaith organizations.

When it comes to supporting students in strengthening their faiths and interreligious understandings, the university is doing well. This week it was announced that the Duke Muslim Student Association (with a small Center for Muslim Life and a staff of two) would do the 3-minute call-to-prayer every Friday, moderately-amplified from the bell tower in agreement with the Chapel staff and student Religious Life. Duration, content and volume were taken into consideration. “The Muslim call to prayer is a melodious chant that will be appreciated by anyone, regardless of faith, who has an ear for spiritual songs,” said Princeton University Imam & Muslim Life Program Coordinator Sohaib Sultan. The adhan is an invitation to those who believe, not worship or public prayer itself. In addition, Allah is the God of Abraham of of the prophets Moses, Jesus/Isa, Ezekiel and Mohamed. Following the call, the Muslim students would continue to meet in the Chapel basement.

Duke's Muslim Student Association Preparing for Eid.

Duke’s Muslim Student Association Preparing for Eid.

Thousands of Americans did not like this, were outraged even. They took to the media and social media with an ignorant and hated outcry. This even reached the Facebook page I administer for Egyptian students interested in studying in the United States. Because I have been abroad for 2.5 years here, I have been away from this sort of American chatter and suddenly felt sick upon reading it. Thousands of vile comments on many different sites, fueled by Franklin Graham. Students and staff who are U.S. veterans claimed that hearing the call-to-prayer would bring back memories of Iraq and Afghanistan and increase PTSD and veteran suicide. Hundred said there should be no Muslims (of any nationality) on U.S. campuses. Some suggested they build a mosque on campus to “keep the Muslims out of God’s house.” They also suggested the Muslim students just use chimes and watches. They spoke to the idea that the U.S. is a CHRISTIAN country, and that OUR children don’t have the right to pray in school and eat at Chick-Fil-A. They equated the call-to-prayer to a promotion of violence. If you want to peak inside the mouth of ignorant, intolerant America to see what I mean, look here.

Bowing down to the pressures and concern of the security threats, Duke University posted this statement:

Duke University has reconsidered a previously announced plan to present a traditional Muslim call-to-prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower, campus officials said Thursday. The call to prayer, or “adhan,” which announces the start of a weekly jummah prayer service that has been held in the Chapel basement for the past several years, will not come from the bell tower on Friday as announced earlier. “Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

Jummah prayers have taken place in the basement of Duke Chapel for many years, and start with the traditional call to prayer chant. Members of the Muslim community will now gather for the call-to-prayer chant on the quadrangle outside the Chapel, a site of frequent interfaith programs and activities, before moving to its regular location for prayers. More than 700 of Duke’s 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students identify as Muslim. “Our Muslim community enriches the university in countless ways,” said Schoenfeld. “We welcome the active expression of their faith tradition, and all others, in ways that are meaningful and visible.”

My heart broke reading that. The director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center had this to say.

I took to social media to face the monster of American ignorance and intolerance, if even just a bit.

March is supposed to be Islamic Awareness Month for Duke University’s Muslim Student Association in coordination with the Islamic Studies Center. I support them and wish them success with the monster they face. They shouldn’t have to face it alone.

Please consider signing the Duke student petition.

Duke's Islamic Studies Center

Duke’s Islamic Studies Center

Drop the Blackface Issue, Doubt Yourself, Say Goodbye to the Special Needs Kitty?

[Warning this is a long post. More of a comprehensive look at something. If you want to skip to the bottom, I will explain about the cat.]

For me, it was a simple and understandable request. Stop it. End the blackface. Why hasn’t anyone in this city addressed this before?

Turns out it can be a dangerous public conversation where a public petition is not the way to go. And it is a surprisingly long, complex inter-personal debate.

For the director point of view, which I respect and promise to hear out,

  • It is not blackface, it is dark makeup used to the correct shade of the character. It adds authenticity. Is any shade darker than one’s own blackface? Where is the line?
  • Blackening singers and dancers is being done by major companies around the world. Even the Metropolitan Opera used it during their live streamed productions last year. According to a UK Fact Sheet, “It has long been a tradition in amateur operatic societies for white performers to ‘black up’ to portray characters from ethnic minorities. This practice is not solely confined to the amateur sector; while it has disappeared in the professional theatre, it continues in professional opera.”
  • The depiction of Africans is done according to the script and the directors’ visions. Without any racist intent.
  • The choreography of the African characters [which I see as offensively cartoonish in at least two examples], is actually authentic. When I countered saying that the movements in no way resembled what I well knew to be dances or East Africa, I was told that I was wrong because I only know modern Africa, not Africa thousands of years ago in the Pharonic period.
  • This is my opinion and some of my claims (that having photos of you in blackface on your social media profiles could damage an artist’s reputation or prevent someone from hiring him or her) are baseless. Performing in blackface is acceptable in the field and a talented artist will always be hired, despite whatever makeup they wore in past productions.
  • There is a need to hold to the original in regards to preservation. Judith Mackrell in The Guardian says, “It’s a slippery slope. Whole chunks of 19th-century choreography have been lost because someone either didn’t rate them or thought they could do better. And those of us who feel queasy may just be too easily shocked. Perhaps we should just accept them as the less lovely face of ballet history?” In Cairo, the renowned director has passed away and it is important to keep his artist vision preserved exactly.
  • There is no problem. I am seeing a problem, where there is absolutely none.

After giving space to those points, I just want to present the Opera with writings and examples covering 5 problem areas and 5 solutions. In addition, there is also a book I have not read yet, but still suggest. “Blackness in Opera” (University of Illinois Press).

 

Problem 1: Many of the scripts are problematic and demand a critical eye and clever adaption.

Oftentimes, the problem is not with the artists or directors. The problem lies in the scripts themselves and the Euro-centric, 19th century context in which the stories and characters were devised. In Dance Magazine, Joseph Carman writes, “You’ve seen them in story ballets and perhaps they’ve made you cringe. The ethnic stereotypes embedded in the plotlines with dated, usually 19th-century attitudes. They’re those non-Caucasian, non-Christian characters far removed from the cultural norms of most of the audience members who are watching. They’re often the troublemakers or the butts of jokes presented in the most sophomoric ways. At best they’re annoyingly quaint, at worst they’re offensively xenophobic.” 

Judith Mackrell in The Guardian says, “In the 19th-century, ballet took a blatantly imperialist line on everything; foreign dance styles, foreign cultures and foreigners themselves were all tourist novelties, to be imported on to the Mariinsky or Bolshoi stages for a few laughs. Logically, we should be no more offended by these blacked-up dancers than by the crazy-eyed fakirs, the pantomime High Brahmin and the sexed-up temple dancers who are also crammed into the ballet. If we find them difficult to stomach, however, what do we want to happen? Great swathes of the cultural canon fail every test of political correctness – like Shakespeare’s Shylock or theAfrica of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. We would resist any attempt to sanitise such works, even if we clash with their world view.”

 

Problem 2: Racial stereotyping is outdated and unattractive.

Gwynn Guilford in The Atlantic states, “This is peculiar behavior for an industry said to be “dying.” When directors preserve cultural cliches simply because they were exotic a century ago, there’s an opportunity cost to those choices: the chance to move audiences anew. The tighter they cling to tradition for tradition’s sake, they more they rob the world’s most powerful art form of its relevance.”

After highlighting a few examples of stereotyped characterizations of Muslim/Arab men, Indians, and other examples including black dancers from Dance Theatre of Harlem using “white face,” Mr. Carman clarifies and questions, “’I’m not trying to take political correctness over the top, but one has to wonder if these outdated characterizations, particularly for ticket holders’ first introduction to ballet, are enough to drive them out of the theater permanently. / Our global outlook has changed. With all due respect to classical story ballets—and there are some wonderful works that deserve to stay around for centuries—perhaps ballet and its insidious stereotypes need to change a little, too.” 

Solomon Howard

Solomon Howard

“There is such a legacy… of discrimination and hate based on images and stereotypes of “the Other” that it is difficult for the modern sensibility to get past this theatrical choice. But this is opera, and opera has always been a little … creaky… “In addition to problematic casting issues, blackface is a large thorn in the side of what some people feel is an art form that can’t seem to get with the times. While most other theatrical forms have abandoned blackface, condemning its use as racist, major opera houses all over the world still use it, with some notable exceptions.” This is a quote from a great interview with Soloman Howard, a rising star. His 2014-2015 operatic season is marked by several high profile debuts, most notably, with the Metropolitan Opera as The King in Verdi’s Aida conducted by Marco Armiliato. Additionally, Mr. Howard debuts with the Los Angeles Opera under the baton of Music Director James Conlon as Doctor Grenvil in La traviata and at the Glimmerglass Festival where he performs Banquo in Verdi’s Macbeth and Sarastro in Mozart’s The Magic Flute during the same period.

Topher Campbell of the London-based Talawa black theatre group, said: “It is fundamentally racist to have white actors ‘blacking up’ for black parts. That belongs to the 19th century. We welcome any policy that forces groups to reassess how they portray groups on stage. It is incumbent on all organisations to be aware of the way they portray and give access to and share power with people from ethnic minorities,” he added.

According to The Shakespeare Revue, “The tradition of blackface stretches back more than 100 years, but fell out of favor with the awakening of a national consciousness against racism. Blackface predominantly drew on, played on and perpetuated racist stereotypes and fell out of favour only within the last 20 years.”

Audiences in London reacted to the 2013 tour of the Bloshoi by saying, “I found the rather overt racism implied by the ‘blacking up’ of the young girls dancing with the peacock fans rather distasteful. Also their choreography was completely at odds with the style of the rest of it. Just because it may be a historical reproduction doesn’t make it acceptable to parade it on a world class stage in this day and age. It’s a shame as it’s the only blot on an otherwise very enjoyable evening.”

 

Problem 3: Audiences are pretty savvy, and cultural sophistication and education should be promoted.

“Behind the times or not, I wondered, if they chose a white singer, why put him in blackface? I doubt that there would have been a single audience member who does not know the story of Othello and would have been confused by a white Othello.” – The Shakespeare Review

“When Othello the play is being performed today, it is understood that the actor should be black, not a white man in black face paint,” says Soloman Howard.

Fred Plotkin is a scholar about the use of blackface in Opera. “Of course, blackness (or any other pigmentation) is more than skin-deep. People of all hues, especially in multi-racial societies, develop a self-image and a sense of others based on a whole series of political, religious and personal values. Even the most tolerant, open-minded person incorporates the idea, if not the practice, of racism. Things are getting better, but we still have far to go.”

Audiences know the stories, and we can use educational and engagement strategies such as program notes, blogs, and pre-show talks (working with dramatists and scholars) to spread awareness of the narratives.

 

Problem 4: Casting is difficult; training and support is needed for more opera and ballet artists of different races.

Fred Plotkin explains that “George Shirley, now a distinguished professor of voice at the University of Michigan, was the first African-American tenor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. His first appearance on the Met stage was on April 6, 1961, when he sang “Nessun Dorma” in the Met National Council Finals concert. In October of that year he stepped in for a colleague as Ferrando in Così fan tutee. In the mid 1960s, Shirley was offered the role of Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess, at another theater. He was reluctant to accept the offer, thinking that it would typecast him as that character, “a role I knew I could perform with flair. I did not want to do anything that might make opera houses look at me as other than Pinkerton, Don Ottavio or Tamino. I did not want to give them ideas or reasons to rethink my utility to them.”

“Race is a problem that plagues the opera industry, with singers being pushed to do roles that are beyond their vocal ability merely because of the color of their skin. In an ideal world, people should be hired based on talent and vocal ability. I’m hired to play Italian characters and people other cultures. I’m not Italian. I don’t look like what the librettist would have wanted for the Italian character. But because I have the voice, I can do the job.” Howard also says that many singers are afraid of typecasting, worried that once they sing in an opera like Porgy and Bess, those roles will be the only ones offered them. But singers like Lawrence Brownlee are making headway in America, Howard says.

Plotkin continues, “There is another role that black tenors avoid, and with good reason, composed by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Of Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte, it is said that his heart is as black as his face. In Mozart’s time a white performer would put on blackface and play this grotesque, lustful character who covets Pamina. How literally to present this character is a source of great debate. Watch a scene from a Dutch production that took seriously the original intention that Monostatos be black. Now listen to Monostatos’s aria as presented at Covent Garden, including English translation of the text. Come to your own conclusions.”

“I think that, finally, we might have reached the point where more theaters are hiring black tenors not because of the color of their skin but the content of their singing skills.” – Fred Plotkin

 

Now here of 5 examples of different solutions:

 

1. The Royal Opera House abruptly ended their use of blackface in 2005.

As described here, the lead soprano was blacked up throughout rehearsals but in defiance of the production’s director, they made they change on opening night to a naturally white face. ‘To see a revival of “blacking up” in the opera house in 2005 is just beyond belief,’ wrote Philip Hensher. “The ban on blacking up marks a symbolic shift in an artform that has been the last bastion of a practice otherwise seen as at best quaint, at worst offensive, evoking uncomfortable memories.” writes David Smith.

“We had tried various means to see if there was a way in which we could resolve the issue of whether a white actor should be ‘blacked up’ and decided we should cut it,” Royal Opera House spokesman Christopher Millard said. “It doesn’t work. It’s racially insensitive.”

 

2. Lyric Opera Chicago also declared a strict no-blackface policy.

The Lyric included Otello as part of its 2013-2014 season, and the leadership intentionally decided not to use blackface at all in the production. During one of the panels which took place at The Kennedy Center last fall, Anthony Freud, the general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, said, “Racial prejudice is utterly indefensible, in whatever form it takes, and we as opera companies either believe that or we don’t.”

 

3. The Met uses sensitive levels of race-based makeup on lead characters and presents those characters with complexity and dignity.

Fred Plotkin writes in his excellent series on the topic that, “Makeup, when used sensitively and as part of a larger effort to find human truth in characters rather than using it “at face value,” does have its place. Perhaps the finest performances of the countless Verdi Otellos I have seen were those at the Met and in London that starred Plácido Domingo in the title role and Kiri Te Kanawa as Desdemona. Domingo is a handsome fair-skinned Spaniard and Te Kanawa is a gorgeous New Zealander whose background includes fair-skinned Anglo and dark-skinned Maori. Both are also spectacular singers and truthful actors. The tenor applied dark makeup and a wig while the soprano wore a blonde wig and used a discreet amount of makeup that (under stage illumination) brought light to her face rather than making it lighter.” Mr. Plotkin’s article contains video examples that I highly suggest viewing.

 

4. Rotherdam banned blackface on all performances throughout the entire city.

This ban includes school and community groups as well as major venues and companies.

 

5. Balanchine removed the story.

Carman states, “Maybe Balanchine was right: He extracted music from Glazunov’s danceable score and choreographed clever, classically based divertissement-style works (Raymonda Variations, Pas de Dix, Cortège Hongrois) that stayed true to the style while avoiding the poorly drawn characters and the plot’s social land mines.”

 

This process of creating positive change in a positive way has been incredibly challenging. Nightmares. Tears. Anxiety. Fears. But I think that by providing Cairo Opera with these thoughts and materials, I have dropped a good pebble in a bucket and will walk away. Maybe I will ask the directors of the Royal Opera and Lyric Opera to write letters about their choices. But that’s it.

I have been pushed to that great point where you doubt yourself and look critically at your own beliefs, only to come back around to your convictions with greater understanding.

Turns out that as you are looking critically into your convictions, you also question other things. If I am so busy, how can I take care of this special needs kitty that we love? She is not taking to any lesson on being house-trained. We have tried everything and people are fed up. It breaks my heart just thinking of alternatives to her not being here. It is just an ounce of the adoption story. I pray that she can stay with us for a long time.

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Dear Cairo Opera. Regarding Your Use of Blackface.

Dear Cairo Opera Company and Cairo Opera Ballet,

I first became a fan and patron in 2011. While a proud advocate for the arts in the region, especially dance, I have been deeply troubled by a number of things in your productions, ethnocentrically offensive choreography and blackface. I have very close friends in the company and by no mean intend to hurt their reputation. But my letter today is to demand that the use of blackface on your stages come to an end.

Now, I believe you are being unintentionally degrading and I know from experience as a guest educator in your system that you are resistant to change. But you are in position to be the cultural, critically aware, diverse and progressive leaders of the capital and the nation, and even of the region. I expect much of you.

Cairo Opera House (National Cultural Centre), rebuilt in the 1980s after the nineteenth-century original was destroyed by fire in 1971, is the city's principal performing-arts venue.

Cairo Opera House (National Cultural Centre), rebuilt in the 1980s after the nineteenth-century original was destroyed by fire in 1971, is the city’s principal performing-arts venue.

In The Nutcracker, which has ethno-stereotyped tendencies, your annual production last seen on stage the last week of December, goes much too far. When the magic goes bad, as opposed to the lovely harlequin doll painted in white, a scary Black genie figure appears (an Egyptian male in blackface) and frightens the white children at the party. The talented artist who played this role was recently the renowned second-place winner on So You Think You Can Dance – Arabia. He was ashamed enough to delete his Nutcracker photos from social media.

In Aida, the Ethiopian characters, even the Ethiopian slaves played by children, are depicted as goofy and primitive. I have much respect for these children, especially because they are my former students. But I wish dearly that this was not a part of their dance education.

Cast of Aida, Cairo Opera Ballet

Cast of Aida, Cairo Opera Ballet

During The Magic Flute, I know of at least two audience-goers who were outraged. They later wrote on your Facebook wall, “I am sorry to say that we left the show shortly before the break [intermission] tonight because we found it quite racist. The depiction of Africans was racist. They were being presented in a very stereotypical way – as black-skinned, naïve/savage people, jumping around in straw skirts etc. This way of portraying African people has been used in history in order to de-humanize people … I feel it’s not appropriate anymore.”

Cairo Opera. Cast of Magic Flute.

Cairo Opera. Cast of Magic Flute.

Blackface is wrong. I am not the only one in the world to think so.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Dressing Up As Other Races (How Is This Still a Thing?)

Beyond Halloween: What’s Really Scary About Blackface

Why Blackface Isn’t Funny: A Simple Guide for Germans

There are also hundreds of scholarly articles on the subject, specific to operas such as Aida. Here is one.

An Ethiopian Princess’ Journey: Verdi’s Aida Across the Mediterranean (and Beyond)

Now I understand that this is a complex issue. You are probably doing it unintentionally. If it is in your agenda to be offensive and degrading, there is a greater issue of racial and cultural elitism, a superiority complex. Should you be allowed your freedom of speech to make satiric choices? Sure. You have a right to do it, and if done right, using artistic satire is a great way way to shock and educate. I commend it. For example, sometimes I have commended the staff of Charlie Hebdo and sometimes I have condemned their choices. May they rest in peace.

Just like if I am offended but Charlie Hebdo, I do not have to buy it; if I am offended by the back face at Cairo Opera or the “white face” at many companies including Ballet Russe, I do not have to get a ticket. And probably will not do so until the blackface ends. On the other hand, I am an advocate for you and think you can inspire this country and its visitors.

Here are some suggested alternatives for your work as Cairo Opera Company and Cairo Opera Ballet:

1. Hire black Egyptians. Some works demand it. I know it is in in your repertoire, but Porgy and Bess, has a legal provision that black characters be always played by black people. As you are a repertoire company with a need to cast many African roles, it will be great to increasingly grow the diversity of your company.

2. Collaborate with the professional opera and ballet companies in neighboring African countries. These would be spectacular and popular productions. Could you imagine Aida with both Egyptian and Ethiopian artists portraying Egyptians and Ethiopians? I would pay to see that.

3. Show the difference between races/groups/nationalities more creatively. Make uses of clever costuming, thoughtful directing and choreography, lighting, prop and set deign.

4. Use more sensitive makeup. As Fred Plotkin states towards the end of this great article, “Makeup, when used sensitively and as part of a larger effort to find human truth in characters rather than using it “at face value,” does have its place. Perhaps the finest performances of the countless Verdi Otellos I have seen were those at the Met and in London that starred Plácido Domingo in the title role and Kiri Te Kanawa as Desdemona. [video]”

5. Do one last production with blatant racism and offense to different races and religions. Make it so grossly obvious and shocking, that both audience and artists become aware of the problems. Follow each performance with public dialogue and post-show panels or talks.

Thank you for your time this evening. I hope to have this letter translated and delivered to you shortly.

Dancingly and respectively yours,

Shawn Lent

Why We Like Marriage: A Hearted Read in 2.45 Minutes

We dated for a year and a half. Then we got hitched. I always thought I would be with someone 5-15 years before saying the formal “yes.” But this marriage thing just seemed right. But honestly, previously, I did doubt the construct. How good or how difficult would wedlock be? Was it worth it? Well, marriage, I have to tell you, is the bee’s knees. The fella and I just completed our first 365 days of it and it sure proved its worth. 365 days = About once a month this year we had a true “honeymoon” moment when we felt nothing but the love we have for one another. Plus there were the 33 major holidays/birthdays and days of travel/excursion when we fell in love even deeper and realized it, acknowledged it, indulged it. Approximately 4.75 days this year had muttered cursing, tears, exasperated exhales through the nose, as we two addressed issues head-on regarding faith, couches, umbrellas, and Facebook privacy. The other 315 or so days of this first year of marriage were busy with good living both independently and in partnership. I love the fact that, together, we can do so much more good in the world. 365 total, and can’t wait for the next.

And now for the reasons some of my friends love marriage:

2 years. We have never stopped talking. Married to my best friend. He makes the mundane an adventure. I’d rather stay home than go out because there is no one else is rather spend time with. He doesn’t care that I hide romance novels behind the bed.

2.5 years. Feels settled and stable. I like that.

3 years. It’s strange, but I love the freedom of being married. I am more free to be myself than when I was single. I feel more emancipated as a woman. I can take on the world.

Will be 8 years in 10 days. What isn’t there to like? Married life is amazing if you have found your soulmate/best friend.

10 years. We are best friends who can have terrible fights and know it’s ok! We have fun in small moments unique to us. And we are “family” in every sense of the word.

10.5 years. Knowing that no matter what happens we have each other. We challenge each other and support each other in every way. We finish each other’s sentences and yet after knowing him for over 13 years, I found out tonight that he also likes cotton candy!

11 years. Laughter; at ourselves and with each other! Encouragement; of each other as individuals and as a team reaching for our agreed upon goals. Growth; individually and together through constant communication which really looks more like daydreaming about the future. I tell others all the time that marriage is work. It’s not hard work, it’s just constant work. And learn early on that you can agree to disagree, then arguments aren’t really arguments.

11 1/2 years. 2 kids. We balance each other, provide strength to each other, love each other unconditionally. We are able to laugh at our mistakes. We use each other’s strengths to find solutions instead of focusing on the problem. We don’t argue, we discuss when we are in disagreement. Are there things that drive us crazy about the other? Of course. But we are able to look past those things because we both realize that they are small in the scheme of things. We are united in our belief of what is most important-the health and happiness of our family. We are both willing to make sacrifices when needed-both for the other, and for the family.

Will be 13 years this August. Comfortable, accepting, frustrating, liberating, everything wrapped up into one package. There will always be bad times but he can make me laugh more than anyone!

13 years this past October. What is the best? Being able to spend everyday either with my best friend, or at least get to talk to him. He knows how to make me laugh, how to comfort, how to just be there when needed.

14 years come May. I love the partnership, the companionship, the us against the world mentality.

15 years. That the only constant is everything changes but so long as you are committed to each other there is nothing you can’t handle together. And that whole unconditional love thing that you discover with the kids.

20 years in October 2015. I like the snuggling in bed at night.

39 years. The minute I meet him I knew I was going to marry him. We have worked together every day, we have spent more time together than most married couples. (farmers). Knowing someone is there when you need them, someone to play with, someone to cry with. I’m not saying there haven’t been days I would like some alone time or angry with him, they were few and far between. We are now entering a new phase, retirement, it should be interesting.

Laughter. For 41 years we have been best friends and been there for all the ups and downs. My family pulled me up from the dark times in my life.

My mom and dad on their wedding day 41 years ago.

My mom and dad on their wedding day 41 years ago.

Is Your ‘Nutcracker’ a Wee Bit Racist?

I recently found out that I am not in the interracial marriage I thought I was in.

My fantastic husband is Arab, Middle-Eastern, from the continent of Africa. But according to the common racial classifications, he is White. We check the same box. Physical anthropologists and cultural anthropologists may disagree. Is race mostly a social construct? It doesn’t matter much in my husband and I’s lives, but the realization that we classified as the same was surprising to me. As many people are taking a close look at how Arab people are treated in Western countries and stereotyped in media, I guess it based on something other than race. Because we are officially both White.

Race has been on my mind.

I sit down on our vibrantly-patterned modern couch a couple times a week to watch some television. Everytime I do this, a shocking ad pops up on the screen. The product is Fair & Lovely, a cream to make a person shades fairer, with the connotation that whiter skin equals job opportunity and social advancement. Yuck.

Race has been on my mind.

Even though we get a lot of sun in Cairo, the chances for getting a good tan are nil. Legs and arms are usually covered because this a conservative society. There are rumors about one or two tanning salons but none I have seen. There are no great places near my home for sun bathing. And self-tanners are not on the shelf. Yes, I confess that despite my self-confidence and knowledge, I can’t help finding my pasty white legs pretty gross and envy the Egyptian skin tone.

Race has been on my mind.

I can wear a hoodie and be a critical thinker / advocate, but I will never know what it feels like to be a young Black man in America.

Race has been on my mind.

Many friends of mine are preparing for ‘The Nutcracker’ productions around the world. A friend is evening touring to Malaysia, Midwest USA, and Egypt. It is a bizarre show. Full of fantasy and nightmares, flowers and candy and snowflakes and toys that come to life, Christmas wonders, a man in drag on stilts, and ethnocentric stereotyping or caricature at best. We see it every year around this time around the world.

Act II:

– Spanish (chocolate)

– Arabian (coffee)

– Chinese (tea)

– Russian (not a commodity but the Trepak, a Ukrainian folk dance)

Mostly White dancers, girls and boys, men and  women dressed up as other races. The question of racism in this classic ballet has been asked several times before. Not a new debate. I love Chloe Angyal’s piece on the subject.  So if you are currently directing a Nutcracker, stop for a minute and ask the question, “Is my Nutcracker a wee bit racist?” Here is a quick guideline for checking your Nutcracker.

 

 

 

  1. Does the choreography in Act II bear no relation to the authentic dances of the regions or ethnic groups portrayed?
  2. Is your cast predominantly of one race, ethnicity or religion? Are you ok with that?
  3. Could you reach out and consult with dancers experts in your community? Those who could teach you a bit of…

舞龙

Трепак

الرقص الفولكلوري

and Flamenco?

In producing modern Nutcrackers, can we move past the caricatures and leverage this as an opportunity for peer-learning and cross-cultural engagement in our cities and towns?

01

When I saw the Cairo Opera Ballet, I was shocked to see their Arabian variation performed by a woman who was not Egyptian, not Arab. Cairo is home to The Arab League, by the way. The movements and choreography here were the same as you would see in Peoria, Illinois. Nothing authentically Arabian about it. The director/choreographer is not Egyptian. Ballet in Egypt is a Soviet descendent. “In the late 1950s, Tharwat Okasha, then Minister of Culture, brought to Egypt the most renowned Soviet masters from the Bolshoi Ballet. They started working on developing the talents and skills of young Egyptian people interested in the dance. Okasha established the High Ballet School in 1959, part of the Academy of Arts founded the same year.” explains Ati Metwaly. This High Institute of Ballet is where I did my teaching during the Fulbright Scholar program. I so wish they could innovate an inspiring variation with their local expertise. This would be a service to the world.  Wendy Whelan’s performance in Balanchine’s version is the most Arab-honoring that I have come across. It is mesmerizing. Watch it. I would love for the Cairo Opera Ballet to do something like this, but even deeper.

I truly believe our generation can push for change. We can rename the Washington football team. We can call out the racial and gender issues in Kim’s booty breaking the internet. And we can address the problems inherent in the Nutcracker. Imagine if there were Nutcracker variations for the following. Would we be more quick to update these dances?

– Aborigine

– Jewish

– Hawaiian

– Puerto Rican

– Scandinavian

– African

Speaking of Africa, let’s talk a moment about the opera Aida. When Sophia Loren played Aida in the movie version, she wore black face, as do my colleagues and students here in Cairo every single year. No questions asked. It is how Aida is done and no one sees a problem with it.

Cast of Aida, Cairo Opera Ballet

“Ethiopian slave” characters, Cast of Aida, Cairo Opera Ballet

Some people think these are traditions and not to be changed. For instance, Jon Chaconne says:

This is an interesting point. But I hardly think anyone is going to rewrite The Nutcracker anytime soon (at least I hope not). These pieces are indicative of European attitudes in the 19th Century, largely based upon ignorance. I’m not aware of any major 19th century composers going to Arab lands aside from Verdi for the premier of Aida and Saint-Saens who regularly visited Algeria. Misconceptions of the Arab world have appeared in all sorts of art, graphic and musical. (I was once a Middle Eastern specialist for the US Government and I was once conversant in Arabic and have a masters degree in Middle East Area Studies and History). Pseudo-Arabian themes have appeared in music and opera from before the times of Mozart…/ Aida, The Italian Girl in Algeria, Turandot, Madame Butterfly (which actually explores the theme of racism), The Land of Smiles (absurd though the plot may be.) But no one is going to ban Aida or Turandot. We do not remove from the walls of galleries the 19th century painting of the Impressionist, many of whom were influenced by Chinese and Japanese art shown at these exhibitions, nobody stops playing Debussy’s “La Mer” because some of it “sounds Chinese.” Nor should they rewrite the Nutcracker. Remember the 2nd act of the Nutcracker is a divertissiment. An entertainment for Clara. The fact that the Nutcracker/Cavalier takes her on this journey to exotic lands is precisely the whole point of the act. I should hardly think it racist in the sense of say, a 19th century blackface minstrel show which was far more of a cruel parody than anything in “Arabian” and “Te”.

Around Halloween, “LastWeek Tonight with John Oliver” had a segment on Dressing Up as Other Races:How is This Still a Thing?. A clever, must-see clip if you didn’t catch it before. On the same note I ask, Having Our Children Dance as Racial/Ethnic Caricatures: How is This Still a Thing?

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“Cherokee Maiden” tap dance in Michigan, a technically impressive piece with no authentic Cherokee dancing.

P.S. If you are in Michigan and interested in Cherokee dancing and culture, the contact for the Michigan tribe of the UCN (United Cherokee Nation) is chiefdancingredhawk@theucn.com. 

If This Dancer Was a Police Officer on Duty

If I were a police officer on duty, in any country, I know I would often be scared for my life. I would be worried that my handgun would not be enough, that my head and chest are often exposed. I would try and make myself seem as secure as possible. I would worry for my family if something should happen to me. I would also worry about what my family and I would feel if I were in the situation where I hurt or killed a citizen. I would want as much training and research as possible to not be in that situation.

But I would also be brave.

When I lived in East London September 9, 2001 through to 2003, I was there in a youth worker role. The community is mostly Bengali, Pakistani, Afghani, Indian, Muslim and Sikh. I was the only American around. It is a economically disadvantaged neighborhood on the far East End.

As a youth worker, once, I alone disarmed a young man I knew, getting him to put his large knife down at a heated moment of retaliation as he stormed in a rage down the street. Once, I pulled a 16-year-old from a burning, stolen car as his friends had left him there injured when they ran from the impending police. This was late at night and I was the only person there, locking up the building when I heard the crash and ran outside to help.

Twice, I held young men’s hands and wounds as they bled from knife injuries and waited for the ambulance.

Often, I worked with the police to report the thefts and drug sales these young guys were involved in.

I am 110-115 lbs and 5’1″ and only know what I know.

 

Every day, I trusted these same young men with equipment and musical instruments, with tasks to help me in the community center, and with my own body when playing football with them in the parking lot at night or in a leap during theatre/dance/writing workshops.

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I’m the lady in the tree.

The neighborhood stayed relatively safe and these guys’ lives changed for the better (most eventually married, found jobs, grew more spiritual in their faith). As did mine. I was privileged, that is true, because it was a deep privilege to do this work and be a small part of their lives.

Reunions in 2009.

Reunions in 2009.

Reunion with a colleague in 2009.

Reunion with a colleague in 2009.

We did our jobs barehanded.

There I wasn’t brave. I simply was empathetic, open yet smart, curious and caring. Like my colleagues.

It didn’t matter that I was a White American and these were Muslim South Asian/Arab young men, and this was the aftermath of September 11th. Well, it did matter in one big sense: we trusted one other enough to listen and learn from one another about race and religion and theories on both ends.

In Chicago, the Ceasefire/Violence Interrupters do more than I ever did. They deal with the strong epidemic that is gun crime on our American city streets. Cure Violence is an amazing organization. They also go out unarmed into dangerous situations. In East London, there are no guns, so crime was restricted to knives.

And now I am in Egypt where all police officers on duty are men and are heavily armed with outdated weapons. They have been responsible for some real atrocities, killing thousands in the last few years, arresting and holding in mass without due process. They have shot down friends of friends. They have wounded those closest to me. I have been in the protests here 2011-2013, but when the police showed up it was always time for me to scram. And this week Egypt have put out a statement and video telling the U.S. police to show restraint. The police are not military, they remind us. Laughable.

Side Note: I have had the idea that the police would be much more effective in Egypt if they hired women to be on the beat and were more mixed in background. Same goes for America, come to think of it.

In Egypt, they are following the story of Ferguson. It feels so close to home.

Two pictures: Egypt. Two pictures: America.

Two pictures: Egypt. Two pictures: America.

We here watched the video of the police killing of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis, Missouri after Ferguson, and were brought to tears. This whole thing got me thinking about the training of police officers. I Googled training options in Missouri and found this:

At the Law Enforcement Training Institute, we offer a Class A-certified 600-hour basic training academy that exceeds Missouri’s minimum requirements for peace officer certification. You receive real-life, hands-on training — from how to protect yourself, to how to take notes, to how to conduct an arrest. You learn practical application of law enforcement techniques as well as gain access to certifications not typically provided in other academies’ basic POST-approved courses.”

A peace officer? Not sure if that is intentional or a typo, but I love it.

I have been increasingly horrified by UN Peacekeepers who have been perpetrators in sex trafficking, by the so-called Peace Walls that keep peace by separating peoples for decades, and other harmful peace initiatives. Sometimes peace-related activities truly suck.

But right now, the concept of a peace officer feels so needed.

Just imagine.

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