Congratulations are in order for Russian figure skaters and favored Winter Olympics gold medalists Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who managed to make me let out an audible gasp when I saw this photo of them this morning. It takes a lot to shock me in the realm of racial offenses anymore. But yes, your eyes are seeing correctly. These figure skaters painted their faces, affixed leaves to their clothing, which was actually darkened and covered with white paint in decorative, um, "aboriginal" designs and performed to "inauthentic" didgeridoo music, according to the NY Times. The whole debacle prompted Sol Bellear, a member of the New South Wales state Aboriginal Land Council, to tell an Australian paper:
"It’s very offensive. We see it as stealing Aboriginal culture, and it is yet another example of the Aboriginal people of Australia being exploited."
And that seems to be the point that the pair’s defenders don’t get. Sure, they might not have intended to be disrespectful, but there are some things you don’t get to appropriate just because you think it looks cool. And Domnina sure ain’t winning any fans with the quotes she gave to the BBC:
She told the website that her dog Topi, a Yorkshire Terrier, had been instrumental in selecting the music. "When we switched on the music for the original dance, my dog started to race around the room like crazy and we understood that maybe this music is what we need. It was really like this, I’m not lying," she said.
There are some days when I think I can’t be any more shocked by the depth of people’s racial ignorance. And then, along come Oksana and Maxim! Thanks for the tip, Sharon.