Author Topic: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"  (Read 10097 times)

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RebeccainGA

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #45 on: August 20, 2013, 12:40:05 PM »
I doubt anyone would be offended by a non-Indian wearing a sari.

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 :(
You'd be surprised what people will say to strangers online that they wouldn't say to them in person.

I have, and wear, salwar suits. I've gotten compliments on them, from culturally Indian people, because they do flatter most body types. However, I know that I wouldn't wear one in wedding or funeral colors, except to a wedding or funeral. If you are being respectful, not wearing them as a costume (wearing bindhi or massive amounts of self tanner/bronzer or henna tattoos all over your hands unless it's an occasion where they are appropriate) then you are just fine. In fact, we had a lady at the office a few months ago in one, and our new programmer (who is from India, and here as a very recent immigrant) told her how much he liked the look, as it made him feel like he could wear his own clothes from home if he wanted.

jaxsue

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #46 on: August 20, 2013, 12:40:29 PM »
I doubt anyone would be offended by a non-Indian wearing a sari.

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 :(

Yeah.  I know a lot of people who would say stuff about privilege/cultural appropriation. But, as I said upthread, I'm from an Indian background and I've not met anyone from my community who would think that at all.  In fact, most are kind of flattered in a way

As I wrote in a PP, I live very close to a town that has a huge Indian population. The main street there is so fun to look at (all Indian-owned businesses catering to that community). The clothes are amazing! One of these days I'm going to go shopping there.  :)

jaxsue

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #47 on: August 20, 2013, 12:42:50 PM »
I was just curious if the fact that Lemur and TeenyWeeny are both British had anything to do with reluctance to wear Indian clothing, as Great Britain ruled India for two centuries until 1948.  Americans don't have that history.

Veering away from sticky topics, I was reminded of the Nehru jacket: http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/nehru-jacket-guide-mao-suit/, which Nehru himself didn't wear but it was based on a long tunic jacket he often did wear.  It was most popular back in the '60's and '70's, but I still see them occasionally today.

Per the bolded: that's true. I might be unusual, in that my family is mainly English Canadian and very UKish, culturally speaking. My cousins were missionaries to India in the 1920s. So I am very aware of the British/India backstory, but many Americans aren't.

RingTailedLemur

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #48 on: August 20, 2013, 12:47:26 PM »
I'm learning a lot from reading this thread, thank you.

Ms_Cellany

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #49 on: August 20, 2013, 12:50:46 PM »
I have a loose, sheer tunic that I wear with loose linen pants; the overall effect is very much like a shalwar kameez. I love it because it's so flattering & comfortable, especially in the nasty Texas summers. My Pakistani, Indian, and Chinese co-workers all love the outfit and I always get lots of compliments.
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Teenyweeny

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #50 on: August 20, 2013, 01:08:51 PM »
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.

That's an interesting question. I guess, for me, it would be about visibility. You (general) can eat noodles in public, and it's usually a) not super obvious and b) over in about ten minutes. Also, you are guaranteed to be using food as it was meant to be used! :)

Clothing is something that is immediately obvious, all the time that you are in public. It's wayyyy more visible. Also, there's a risk that you are wearing the clothes inappropriately. People of 'x' origin have suffered due to that visibility and perception of 'otherness'. To assume such visibility casually, from a place of priviege, can feel hinky to some.

Like I say, I'm on the fence on this one, and tend towards thinking that respectful and appropriate wearing of 'non-costume' items can be OK.



RingTailedLemur

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #51 on: August 20, 2013, 01:09:33 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.

Judah

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #52 on: August 20, 2013, 01:12:46 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?
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RingTailedLemur

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #53 on: August 20, 2013, 01:16:34 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 don't know them all, I couldn't tell you their races.  I take your point about speaking for other people, it is something that irks me too.

I care because I am trying to take a lot of opinions on board before doing something that may or may not be touchy.  I don't know many people from India - maybe half a dozen - and the topic hasn't come up with more than one.  I can ask the others, if it won't offend.

Hmmmmm

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #54 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 #55 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 #56 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 »

Lynn2000

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #57 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 #58 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 #59 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.