So what does my graduate seminar about Arab American literature have to do with some old-school travel posters?
Well… My seminar discusses Arab American writers’ journey towards self-actualization and self-identification…this journey is made all the more challenging after generations of orientalist and imperialist thinking that attempted to boil our culture down to the bare minimum, creating stereotypes and feeding into racist hierarchical power structures…
All North African women collect water dressed like that, right?
I decided to include some travel posters from back in the day in my presentation as evidence of orientalist thought and as an example of how the Middle East was defined and in many cases still is…
okay so I get the other images, after all, it was the early 20th century. But what’s THEIR excuse? Apparently Kerri never got the memo that the whole Lawrence in Arabia thing is no longer recommended for good Mideast relations…
“That’s right white folks, this is what we really do”
Orient: Any where east of here…it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same…
Hey! Where did his magic carpet go?
But other images showcase the complexity of oriental imagination existing alongside early Middle Eastern immigrants. Here is a record cover from the 1920’s:
saw an Oriental show and then decided she would go
to Mecca across the sea.…
She stayed there just two years, got full of new ideas,
And now she’s back home again.…
Oh! Oh! Ev’ry one worried so; they think she’s crazy in the dome;
She’s as bold as Theda Bara, Bara’s bare but Becky’s barer,
Since Rebecca came back home.
In Mecca where the nights are hot,
Rebecca got an awful lot of learning.…
Her mother feels so sad. Her brother Moe is mad,
And he keeps on complaining so;
To satisfy his whim, she keeps on calling him,
“Mohammed” instead of Moe.
Interested? Read more here: cited: http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=35055
Not all travel posters depicted stereotypes:
But I think this gets the cake:
Leila Khaled: she’s a G.