Monday, July 11, 2011

Cultural appropriation -- my stance on it.

I was pegged for 'cultural appropriation' very recently over my most recent outfit Southwestern Hespera. I wasn't exactly savvy on the term and it's meaning, only hearing second-hand about the concept from Kathryn one day after some research on some communities on LiveJournal that were related to such a thing. So, what I gathered from the person's comment was that they found it inappropriate to bear an image of two birds with a dreamcatcher nested between them unless I'm native American -- which is exactly what was going on.

I'm not even going to try to mention the fact that I spent most of my life all over the western half of the United States. Instead, I'll use this card in my hand: as it happens, I'm linked to at least one native American on my mother's side, and she claims that I'm related to two other tribes, though with the lack of proof on my end due to the fact that I've never traced my ancestry back on my (estranged) father's side, I'll only boast one relative for now. I'm also more immediately of Spanish and Irish desent, and secondarily German. Tracing far back, I am linked to many more countries such as Russia and France.

However, I find this has nothing to do with fashion. I find it silly that people tell others that what they're wearing is inappropriate because 'it's cultural appropriation'. First of all, it's an assumption -- and those tend to be wrong if you're on the outside looking in -- and secondly, it's putting up walls between cultures and races, which is more detrimental and is also occasionally racist in itself. I am never bothered when I see people who appear to be of, for example, Asian desent wearing the American flag as a piece of clothing, because it's not my place to judge. They could be half-American (my best friend is half-Asian and lived in America temporarily), or could have been born in America, or if not, could simply just enjoy the imagery and what it inspires in them. It's a symbol, and if they're willing to embrace my country's culture, then I'm all for it! America is a melting-pot of mixed cultures and races, and we're not the only country where this happens, so why is it 'culturally inappropriate' for me to wear anything not directly American-based? Hell, if you want to go there, most clothing in America at the moment probably shouldn't be worn by the people here because it was manufactured outside of our country and is imported here, mainly from China.

How about people not of European or American desent wearing the cross or rosary as a fashion item? Are they out of line? I believe not, at least. It's a symbol, and if people get upset by it, then that's their own personal problem, because I have yet to see fashion use it specifically to upset anyone who is Christian, Catholic, or anything related. The woman I met at the Hare Krishna booth at gay pride said she was born and raised in a Christian Scientist household. Her father later on became Hindu, and she eventually followed suit. On that note, how about the British occupation in India? Is someone from say, England allowed to then adopt some of the styles that the people in India wear, or vice versa?

How is trying to separate all of our cultures helping anyone? I understand the want for political correctness, but it's more racist to say 'you shouldn't wear something with an image involving something native American because you're white.' It's defeating the purpose. Besides that, race and culture don't mean exactly the same thing. (Fun fact, calling someone who is of white skin colour 'Caucasian' is actually inaccurate, because there's actually a region in Europe called Caucasus, and in that country, they prefer to not be called 'white'.)

It's all silly and misleading, it causes chasms between cultures and countries, it's practically racist, and it all comes down to clothing anyway. We should be embracing each other and showing acceptance and support for each other's cultures. This exlusion of people and cultures eventually hurts a lot more than it helps. It's a free world, full of free countries. If a person is offended by 'cultural apporpriation', then it's their own personal opinion.

And you know what the world would be like if we practiced this 'politically correct' theory? Anyone not of American desent could not wear denim. Anyone not American or European could not bear a cross or a pendant of the virgin Mary. If you're not Asian, kiss your beloved Asian printed clothes and accessories goodbye, and probably jade jewelery for that matter. If you don't look American or are not from America, don't you dare go near dream catchers, any native American styled clothes or jewelery (unless you're native American, of course!), or American flag printed items. (Doesn't matter how much you love Jeffrey Campbell).

It's not a nice feeling being told what you can and can't wear, is it? All it's based on is what you look like, too. It doesn't matter if it's accurate or not. If it isn't accurate, then you have to unnecessarily defend your cultural and racial background, all to explain why you're wearing a certain piece of clothing. Does that make sense to you?

Don't get me wrong, I can understand where this all stems from, I really can. Still, it's not good enough of a reason to take away someone's right to wear what they want. There are no laws, just people's personal (sometimes closed-minded) opinions. If those people want to just stick to their cultures in terms of fashion, then that's their decision, but they don't have the power to tell everyone else how they should dress, especially since they're only going off of someone's skin colour, which is never right. No one person owns their culture, therefore they don't have much say in who can and can't connect to it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you here, and it does seem like this issue is rife online at the moment, especially considering all the fuss over rosary beads and such. I don't know what to make of it, for the most part, and do question what is so essentially offensive about taking an interest in spiritually invested symbols born of 'another' culture. Regarding the rosary, perhaps it needles folk to consider a potent symbol of their faith being used so...casually - but then there is more to the cross symbol than christianity itself, so a mind can tie itself in knots over it. I had never considered dream catchers, possibly because I was a nineties teenager and the damn things were everywhere over here( i love them also, and especially for their origins). Personally, I feel that such symbols, whether 'rediscovered' via fashion or art serve to create more awareness of their roots, which is actually a positive thing. Why is something so precious that it ought to remain unaccessible? People possibly fear that past injustices against certain cultures may be forgotten or casually dismissed via 'westerners' adopting their symbols as trends. But as you say, what are true westerners anyway? How many of us really know our remote roots? I don't, sadly.
    This also brings up the question of why 'fashion' is so commonly considered synonymous with shallowness and disrespect. Interesting stuff.