Author Topic: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"  (Read 9039 times)

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Millionaire Maria

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #60 on: August 20, 2013, 01:16:58 PM »
However, that doesn't mean that I don't have white privilege. I look white. I am white. I get all of the good things that come with that. If, as part of that, it's problematic for me to wear a sari, then I haven't lost much. I still get to be white. That's a pretty big deal in this world, unfortunately.

In the words of Chris Rock:

"There ain't a white man in this room that would change places with me.  None of you would change places with me.  And l'm rich! That's how good it is to be white. There's a white, one-legged busboy in here right now that won't change places with my black a**. He's going, ''No, man, l don't wanna switch. l wanna ride this white thing out. See where it takes me.''"

But why is it just the sari? Why is it acceptable to eat Indian food but not wear Indian clothing? We eat burritos, bannock, curry, ginger beef, and sushi all the time. We put beautiful paintings on our walls and listen to rap and reggae. What is special about the clothing? What is it specifically about saris and kimonos that make them more culturally significant? We embrace and enjoy so many wonderful, beautiful things from all over the world every single day. I genuinely do not understand why the clothing is the exception.

I love my life and don't particularly want to trade places with someone else. But if I had to, there would be lots of people on my list of candidates who are not white. In fact, I'm pretty sure Oprah Winfrey would be my number one choice  ;D.

I think it applies to things which can be "decorative" - e.g. domestic ornaments, dream catchers, personal accessories (jewellery, hats) as well as clothes.

That would put an awful lot of souvenir shops out of business. I love other cultures and I love multiculturalism. I try to be respectful of other people, but I'm sorry, I'm not going to give up my hand carved Kenyan statue and my Indonesian jewelry because I'm white.
People everywhere enjoy believing in things they know are not true. It spares them the ordeal of thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for what they know. –Brooks Atkinson

Hmmmmm

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #61 on: August 20, 2013, 01:18:01 PM »
I think one benchmark is to look at the clothing item in question and see if the word "exotic" pops into your head. If it does, then maybe you shouldn't wear it because on some level you are characterizing the item as the Other, strange and foreign, and perhaps you like it for that reason*. You (general you) might think, "Well, I don't mean exotic in a bad way!" but trust me, it can be annoying and offensive regardless. People might think they're being complimentary, but speaking as someone who's been on the receiving end of similar "compliments"...no, thanks.

Sort of related - as an Asian girl, a dealbreaker for me where guys are concerned is if he praises my looks as being "exotic." I have way too much experience with non-Asian guys with "yellow fever" and certain phrases are total red flags. I think the same could extend to clothing.

* I've come across white Americans who like taking on other cultures because they're more interesting. According to these people, "We don't have an actual culture the way you do!" Yes, you do, it's just so dominant that it's everywhere around you and you can afford to ignore it because it's the default.

I don't understand why liking something because it is exotic is wrong. I eat exotic foods, I visit exotic places, I watch foreign films, I read about other cultures, I've participated in yoga and belly dancing. No one has ever complained about my participation. The world would  be very boring to me if I wasn't allowed to ever discover things that wasn't already part of my existing culture. As long as I'm wearing the clothing as it was intended and in a respectful manner any different?

I will say this article made the most since on why certain people of Indian decent would feel this way. But I don't buy his entire reasoning. And I've had too many friends of Indian decent take me shopping for saris to think his position is universal.

http://www.ibtimes.com/western-women-should-not-wear-indian-sari-213632

Teenyweeny

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #62 on: August 20, 2013, 01:19:18 PM »
I wish that were true.  I asked about it on Twitter and on Facebook and immediately got a flood of responses telling me it was "cultural appropriation" and what an appalling abuse of my privilege it would be (possibly because I am not just white, but also British).  I asked an Indian friend about it, and she laughed and said it wasn't a problem - in fact she would come shopping with me for something.  When I mentioned that online, I was told that didn't matter, it's still cultural appropriation and therefore wrong :(

Who are the people saying this? Other white people? Why does a white person's opinion about use of Indian/Guatemalan/African cultural items matter more than the opinion of Indian/Guatemalan/African? Nothing irks me more than someone telling me how I should feel or what I should think, and, to me, someone outside of my culture claiming to speak for my culture on cultural matters is worse than someone misappropriating my cultural items.

In short, if your Indian friends are telling you it's fine, why do care what anonymous white people online think?

I've read a reasonable amount about cultural appropriation, and I can safely say that it isn't just white people talking. The problem is that for any group you are going to find some people who think that people not from 'group' are OK to wear 'group' items, and you'll find other people from 'group' who find that offensive. No one person speaks for the whole of 'group'.

To that end, it's up to each person to work out what they think is reasonable, and how much they are willing to risk possible offence. For me, I'd say I'd rather not wear items that might offend, since I'd rather lose the chance of wearing 'item' than be potentially offensive. Clearly, other people worry less.



blahblahblah

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #63 on: August 20, 2013, 01:21:51 PM »
Quote
The world would  be very boring to me if I wasn't allowed to ever discover things that wasn't already part of my existing culture. 
Except I'm not saying anything close to that, and I find that to be a fairly disingenuous argument. You can discover things that aren't part of your existing culture as much as you want. But if your appreciation of those cultures hinges on how ~strange and foreign they are, then IMO you need to be careful. Appreciate me for who I am as an individual, not because I'm Asian. (<-- what I'd like to say to all the yellow fever boys out there.)

Here's the thing: I don't see myself as exotic. Exotic means foreign, outside of the normal aesthetic. Asian-Americans are saddled with perpetual foreigner syndrome as it is ("Where are you from? No, where are you really from?"). Last week I attended a show that involved audience participation, and at one point the host asked me, "Where are you from?" I said New York. "Before that." I said California. "Well, that doesn't help me at all." He then asked me if I spoke any other languages. My friend and I were the only Asian people in the audience and he asked her what other languages she knew, too. Notably, he didn't ask any of the white audience members that question. For the record, I did like the show, but that exchange did make me feel uncomfortable and hit a sore spot.

Calling me or aspects of my culture "exotic" play right into that. I really don't need to be told that I'm "pretty but not in an all-American way" which is essentially what you are doing when you tell me that I'm exotic... I'm American, I was born and raised in California, and my look is as all-American as the next person's.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2013, 01:32:19 PM by blahblahblah »

Millionaire Maria

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #64 on: August 20, 2013, 01:27:18 PM »
I think one benchmark is to look at the clothing item in question and see if the word "exotic" pops into your head. If it does, then maybe you shouldn't wear it because on some level you are characterizing the item as the Other, strange and foreign, and perhaps you like it for that reason*. You (general you) might think, "Well, I don't mean exotic in a bad way!" but trust me, it can be annoying and offensive regardless. People might think they're being complimentary, but speaking as someone who's been on the receiving end of similar "compliments"...no, thanks.

Sort of related - as an Asian girl, a dealbreaker for me where guys are concerned is if he praises my looks as being "exotic." I have way too much experience with non-Asian guys with "yellow fever" and certain phrases are total red flags. I think the same could extend to clothing.

* I've come across white Americans who like taking on other cultures because they're more interesting. According to these people, "We don't have an actual culture the way you do!" Yes, you do, it's just so dominant that it's everywhere around you and you can afford to ignore it because it's the default.

I don't understand why liking something because it is exotic is wrong. I eat exotic foods, I visit exotic places, I watch foreign films, I read about other cultures, I've participated in yoga and belly dancing. No one has ever complained about my participation. The world would  be very boring to me if I wasn't allowed to ever discover things that wasn't already part of my existing culture. As long as I'm wearing the clothing as it was intended and in a respectful manner any different?

I will say this article made the most since on why certain people of Indian decent would feel this way. But I don't buy his entire reasoning. And I've had too many friends of Indian decent take me shopping for saris to think his position is universal.

http://www.ibtimes.com/western-women-should-not-wear-indian-sari-213632

He lost me the moment he compared a sari to a burqa.
People everywhere enjoy believing in things they know are not true. It spares them the ordeal of thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for what they know. –Brooks Atkinson

Lynn2000

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #65 on: August 20, 2013, 01:28:44 PM »
Really interesting thread! Many good considerations have been raised already. I do think it's important to understand the purpose of the clothing before snapping it up and putting it on--imagine a non-Westerner who shows up at a formal Western occasion in shorts and flip-flops, because shorts and flip-flops are to her "Western" clothing and thus all she needs to know in terms of matching the clothing with the event. I don't know if a Westerner would find her action culturally offensive, but she would definitely be rude in the sense of wearing inappropriate clothing to the formal event. On the other hand, think how many threads we have here debating whether X clothing is appropriate for Y event, just among Western clothing and events. You can learn about and avoid extremes, but there will always be grey areas in the middle where not everyone from a culture will agree.

I live in a multicultural city, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone in a full sari except those who could be ethnically Indian. I think they would get a lot of stares. What I think is interesting about cultural exchange is that it's so dynamic--in thirty years maybe lots of non-Indian people will be wearing saris and it won't seem weird at all. When my parents were young no non-Chinese people ate Chinese food on a regular basis, and now the Chinese place in my hometown is one of their favorite places to eat at.

For me personally, I don't think I would go with a full sari just out and about, but maybe part of one if that's possible, or something like a scarf or shawl made from similar fabric. Sometimes you do have a big culture leap when, say, a famous person wears something and it immediately becomes trendy and then normal for others to wear it; but I think more often it starts small, with jewelry or a bag, then moves up to a blouse or shoes, and eventually it doesn't seem odd for someone to be wearing an entire outfit that didn't originate with their culture, but piece by piece it's moved in. I think it's a really fascinating thing to study.
~Lynn2000

Hmmmmm

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #66 on: August 20, 2013, 01:30:28 PM »
Quote
The world would  be very boring to me if I wasn't allowed to ever discover things that wasn't already part of my existing culture. 
Except I'm not saying anything close to that, and I find that to be a fairly disingenuous argument.

Here's the thing: I don't see myself as exotic. Exotic means foreign, outside of the normal aesthetic. Asians are saddled with perpetual foreigner syndrome as it is ("Where are you from? No, where are you really from?"). Last week I attended a show that involved audience participation, and at one point the host asked me, "Where are you from?" I said New York. "Before that." I said California. "Well, that doesn't help me at all." He then asked me if I spoke any other languages. My friend and I were the only Asian people in the audience and he asked her what other languges she knew, too. Notably, he didn't ask any of the white audience members that question. For the record, I did like the show, but that exchange did make me feel uncomfortable and hit a sore spot.

Calling me or aspects of my culture "exotic" play right into that. I really don't need to be told that I'm "pretty but not in an all-American way" which is essentially what you are doing when you tell me that I'm exotic... I'm American, I was born and raised in California, and my look is as all-American as the next person's.

I understand not wanting to be singled out based on appearance or other factor. I was reacting to this part of your post.
I think one benchmark is to look at the clothing item in question and see if the word "exotic" pops into your head. If it does, then maybe you shouldn't wear it because on some level you are characterizing the item as the Other, strange and foreign, and perhaps you like it for that reason*.

So you are saying if I want to wear it because it looks exotic, I shouldn't.
But if I want to eat it, visit it, are participate in it because it seems exotic, that's OK.

I'm saying I don't understand the difference between wanting to wear something because it's exotic vs participating in any of the other experiences.

LadyL

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #67 on: August 20, 2013, 01:31:04 PM »
I am keenly aware of the benefits I enjoy, because of where, when, and to whom I was born. And I am extremely grateful, daily, to have gotten so lucky. But grateful and guilty are two different things. I don't feel guilty for being lucky. No one should. Almost every person on Earth is luckier than someone else.

My biggest objection to the whole idea of cultural appropriation as a bad thing has absolutely nothing to do with clothing, music, food, or art. It's because I truly believe that it is one of the most effective means of maintaining the "us vs them" mentality.

I don't think anyone here is advocating guilt - just sensitivity. Similar to how a man will struggle to understand the ways women are oppressed in society, as a white person I will never experience the daily microaggressions of being a visible minority. I don't feel guilty for my privilege but it does make me sensitive to the fact that there are hundreds of years of inequality in the history of some groups, and therefore I should take my cues from them about what is appropriate cultural exchange vs. appropriation.

It's not about us vs. them, it's about avoiding assimilation of the two in which a dominant force takes over the signifiers of the less dominant force, diluting its cultural history. The Native war bonnets are the best most recent example in that they have been co-opted by young white people trying to be "hip" which dilutes the spiritual significance of the item. The purpose of the war bonnet then gets told from their perspective (cool accessory to wear to a festival) instead of the group that originated it.

 Whereas stuff like saris, bindis, and henna have always been about adornment and not necessarily spirituality which is why they can be shared freely.

blahblahblah

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #68 on: August 20, 2013, 01:56:35 PM »
Quote
I will never experience the daily microaggressions of being a visible minority. 
Yep, and I think that some people just don't realize how exhausting these microaggressions are to deal with. People might look at my previous example (i.e. my exchange with the host) and think, "Well, what's the big deal?" But these microaggressions happen all the freakin' time. They build up. It's not just some show performer asking me where I'm from and what languages I speak. It's also the Subway employee who greets me with, "Ni hao!" (Dude, I'm not Chinese...and even if I were, I speak English.). It's the person congratulating me on my English. (It's my first language and I effing majored in English, are you kidding me?). It's the person trying to give me well-meaning advice to "be more assertive since you're in America, even if you're used to being submissive and not looking people in the eye because of where you're from." (That was a classic.) It's the person who finds out that I'm Korean and immediately goes, "Oh, I hate kimchi." (Um, okay? Good for you.) It's the person who tells me that she's going to call me by my last name because my first name is too weird to attempt. (Yeah, no. Although I think in this case some white Eastern Europeans and I could bond, lmao.) And in this case, it's people who act as though my culture exists only to spice up their own.

Microaggressions are like "death by a thousand cuts." Well, not death, you know... but the same principle that makes up the idiom applies here. All little things that build up into one huge aggravation.

NyaChan

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #69 on: August 20, 2013, 02:30:51 PM »
Don't want to detract from the very interesting conversation - but thought I'd pop in and note that a bindi can and does have religious significance for some (tends to be less so outside of India, often more of an accessory here in US) so it would be good to be careful before wearing. 

Millionaire Maria

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #70 on: August 20, 2013, 04:08:56 PM »
I am keenly aware of the benefits I enjoy, because of where, when, and to whom I was born. And I am extremely grateful, daily, to have gotten so lucky. But grateful and guilty are two different things. I don't feel guilty for being lucky. No one should. Almost every person on Earth is luckier than someone else.

My biggest objection to the whole idea of cultural appropriation as a bad thing has absolutely nothing to do with clothing, music, food, or art. It's because I truly believe that it is one of the most effective means of maintaining the "us vs them" mentality.

I don't think anyone here is advocating guilt - just sensitivity. Similar to how a man will struggle to understand the ways women are oppressed in society, as a white person I will never experience the daily microaggressions of being a visible minority. I don't feel guilty for my privilege but it does make me sensitive to the fact that there are hundreds of years of inequality in the history of some groups, and therefore I should take my cues from them about what is appropriate cultural exchange vs. appropriation.

It's not about us vs. them, it's about avoiding assimilation of the two in which a dominant force takes over the signifiers of the less dominant force, diluting its cultural history. The Native war bonnets are the best most recent example in that they have been co-opted by young white people trying to be "hip" which dilutes the spiritual significance of the item. The purpose of the war bonnet then gets told from their perspective (cool accessory to wear to a festival) instead of the group that originated it.

 Whereas stuff like saris, bindis, and henna have always been about adornment and not necessarily spirituality which is why they can be shared freely.

I'm a white person and I have experienced this. It was exhausting! I'm glad I don't have to do it every day.
People everywhere enjoy believing in things they know are not true. It spares them the ordeal of thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for what they know. –Brooks Atkinson

Chip2

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #71 on: August 20, 2013, 05:13:52 PM »
It has very much to do with the actual clothing itself. For example, Chinese do wear the qipao, or cheongsam, or variations of it for outings. Indians do wear the sari for outings as well. However, the more elaborate versions of the qipao and sari are reserved for special occasions like weddings and formal dinners. So it is like wearing a nice summer dress versus a ball gown or prom dress - you need to know the occasion and the type of dress that you own. Wearing a prom dress to your office is really like wearing a costume, and you would expect people to raise their eyebrows. Wearing an elaborate sari or qipao will get you a lot of giggles and stares from members of that cultural group. And they would probably assume that you're going out for a party.

Btw, qipao and sari are dresses for nice outings, meeting friends etc. If you're planning to go to the grocery store, you don't wear them. They are not the equivalent of jeans and t-shirt.

Now kilts are a different story. I don't think the Scottish wear kilts everyday for normal activities. So if you wear one, I do think you'd draw lots of attention.

You're absolutely right about kilts. In Scotland they're worn for the same types of events that Americans would wear a tuxedo. However, American culture has redefined the kilt into something that can be worn for any occasion from casual to formal.

I have a pair of kilts that get pulled out on a regular basis, but the kilt and accoutrements I select depend on the occasion, but I always get attention when I wear one. ;)

White Lotus

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #72 on: August 20, 2013, 07:25:11 PM »
Bravo to Blablabla!  You nailed it.

"Yellow fever boys"... I think I have a new name for my husband!  Truly laughing at this one! 

Tea Drinker

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #73 on: August 20, 2013, 07:32:09 PM »
Quote
The world would  be very boring to me if I wasn't allowed to ever discover things that wasn't already part of my existing culture. 
Except I'm not saying anything close to that, and I find that to be a fairly disingenuous argument.

Here's the thing: I don't see myself as exotic. Exotic means foreign, outside of the normal aesthetic. Asians are saddled with perpetual foreigner syndrome as it is ("Where are you from? No, where are you really from?"). Last week I attended a show that involved audience participation, and at one point the host asked me, "Where are you from?" I said New York. "Before that." I said California. "Well, that doesn't help me at all." He then asked me if I spoke any other languages. My friend and I were the only Asian people in the audience and he asked her what other languges she knew, too. Notably, he didn't ask any of the white audience members that question. For the record, I did like the show, but that exchange did make me feel uncomfortable and hit a sore spot.

Calling me or aspects of my culture "exotic" play right into that. I really don't need to be told that I'm "pretty but not in an all-American way" which is essentially what you are doing when you tell me that I'm exotic... I'm American, I was born and raised in California, and my look is as all-American as the next person's.

I understand not wanting to be singled out based on appearance or other factor. I was reacting to this part of your post.
I think one benchmark is to look at the clothing item in question and see if the word "exotic" pops into your head. If it does, then maybe you shouldn't wear it because on some level you are characterizing the item as the Other, strange and foreign, and perhaps you like it for that reason*.

So you are saying if I want to wear it because it looks exotic, I shouldn't.
But if I want to eat it, visit it, are participate in it because it seems exotic, that's OK.

I'm saying I don't understand the difference between wanting to wear something because it's exotic vs participating in any of the other experiences.

I'm not sure what she's saying, but what I'd say is that if the appeal is the exoticism rather than the taste of the specific food, or the way that you think that specific garment looks good on you, you're on shaky ground. If you are eating sushi because you have discovered you really like that kind of rice and the combination of it with raw fish, it's not exoticism, it's lunch. If someone made a big thing about eating sushi when it was a novelty where they live, and sneers at the whole idea now that they can get it pre-made at the local supermarket, they're paying for exoticism, not just fish and rice. The problem is making a fuss: even someone who got bored with sushi when it became ordinary can say "I think I'd rather have a sandwich" without making a fuss about how they were eating Japanese food before it was cool.

I don't think I was exoticizing when I wore an Ecuadoran cotton shirt; I like the way they look on me--I tend to like bits of bright colors--and it's useful to have a light-weight garment that keeps the sun off. ("Was" because the one I had wore out and I haven't found another I like.) I was treating it as part of my wardrobe, to be worn with the same kind of pants that I might wear with another summer-weight shirt. I wasn't making a big deal of "I am dressing like a foreigner"; I did explain once or twice, when asked why I was wearing long sleeves on a hot day, that this garment was designed for exactly the kind of weather and location we were in.
Any advice that requires the use of a time machine may safely be ignored.

nuit93

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #74 on: August 20, 2013, 09:07:01 PM »
I've been finding this thread interesting as well.  I do like looking at the fashions of other cultures-sari fabric is beautiful, even though I never could figure out how to wear it properly.

I do have a few outfits that were inspired by (or in at least one case, ordered directly from) websites that cater to Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women.  Mostly stuff that would not look out of line in the office, but with a more conservative look in mind: loose-fitting pants, long skirts, longer tunic-like tops and high necklines.  I love the look of headscarves but never felt comfortable with the idea of wearing one in public.