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Page 2 in the conversation "Cultural appropriation?" by Traci
Thank you, Ledonna, for taking the time and emotional energy to write such thoughtful responses. I'm so glad you mentioned this: "The message projected by media is that our cultural styles are “too ethnic” when we, ourselves, wear them but are innovative and chic when women of non-color want to play dress up in our culturally inherent styles." And it's not just the media, it's also the workplace.
Traci, thank you for your openess and sensitivity - and for starting this discussion that is so enlightening and thought-provoking.
Like others, I want to come back and read more carefully when time permits. And of course special thanks to Ledonna for your patient and thorough discussion.
As a descendant of slave-owners, the issues of power dynamics and oppression as they relate to the African American community are so front-and-center in my own awareness, that I often forget that they do need to be explicitly pointed out from time to time, especially when the discussion includes participants from outside the U.S.
Meanwhile, I love ikat patterns and have never made any meaningful attempt to learn about their provenance and whether any appropriation issues might attach to my wearing them or using them in my home decor. Seems like I have some work of my own to do. So I thank you again, Traci, for starting the discussion that has brought this to my attention!
Thank you for raising this question, Traci! And thanks to all who have participated in the discussion. As Isabel said I think it's really nice that you brought this topic to the forum and the answers are much more diverse than I would have expected. I've read the responses with great interest. Cultural appropriation is a complex matter. Literature scholar Homi Bhabha, among others, has some insightful writings on the hybridity of culture and how power relations have a multitude of meanings, also in expressions of everyday culture.
Thank you all for an interesting discussion, and Traci and Ledonna in particular for your responses. I've recently written a 50 page paper on cultural appropriation in the arts, and on the basis of my extensive research, I have to agree that the skirt, while beautiful, is not one that I would feel comfortable wearing myself.
It's a complicated issue, though. As Rachylou's examples illustrate -- culture is not a monolith, many of us have hybrid or mixed identities, we are not always what we appear on the surface. To my mind, the real issue is oppression and marginalization and wherever we might be contributing to that, we need to step back and reconsider.
Suz, where could we find a copy of that paper?
Amazing discussion and not one I feel well informed on. It happens in NZ a bit too with Maori designs being appropriated. Also the haka ( war dance) which has been popularised by our famous rugby team the All Blacks who wear a black uniform. Thank you to Ledonna especially for joining in.
Style Fan, could you point me in the direction of the issue with the word boho? I've only used that word for a few years but now use it a lot as I enjoy that style.
Thank you all for your posts, especially Ledonna. It is complex but important.
Suz, you are spot on (as always): "To my mind, the real issue is oppression and marginalization..."
We have this issue in Scandinavia, too, with the indigenous peoples (Sámi and Inuit). Nasty history of oppression. There is no one right or wrong answer, but cultural awareness and sensitivity (by insiders, outsiders and hydbrids) are important for a societys well-being.
Jenni I am not that computer literate so I can't add links to articles that have been written on bohemian. There was an excellent article written by someone who was bohemian about the true meaning of that style. I am trying to remember all of what he said. I use to use that word to mean a certain way of life and a certain type of dressing. His point was for someone who is Bohemian meaning they are from Bohemia they are now seen as "Beatniks", "Hippies" etc. I don't know if I have explained myself.
I just wanted to echo the "thank you's" for asking and discussing this question, I feel like I've learned something today. This forum is awesome.
Here is another story for y'all: My gypsy neighbor was a real gypsy. Flamenco dynasty, starved in Franco Spain gypsy. Polka dots are a gypsy thing. She gave me a polka dot skirt to wear and would say I'd make a good gypsy, which was very nice of her and no doubt had to do with cultural parallels around cleanliness. One day we enjoyed ourselves, having a good laugh about whether or not Minnie Mouse was a gypsy because of her polka dots.
My neighbor, anyways, tho, was totally affronted by those 'gypsy' fashion photoshoots, with the waify girls in sack dresses, tipis, dream catchers, old VW busses and mist. And people naming their dogs and children 'Gypsy.'
But this is where the rubber met the road: when acadmics recorded her father playing guitar and then sold tapes of his music...
Re: boho/bohemian, there's a lot that's been written about the fashion industry's appropriation of gypsy/Romani culture. Here's one blog: https://gypsyindustry.wordpress.com/
And yeah, I have several friends of Romani descent who find this style -- the Free People look -- really disrespectful.
It's been mentioned a couple of times that it's different if the item is mass produced or if it's purchase in some way benefits people from the garment's country of origin.
In the instance of my skirt, it was bought from a local vendor who is from Senegal and works with people in Senegal to make the skirts that he exports and supports himself by selling. Do any of you think he is in the wrong for selling these items? I'm glad I bought the skirt because it supported a small business owner who is also helping craftsmen back home in Senegal, but I probably won't buy any more of his clothes now that I realize I won't actually wear them. That part feels a bit like missing the forest for the trees.
Thank you for adding that link La Ped. I have read about how Bohemian came to be the word for a certain look and lifestyle. It is very interesting and not at all respectful to the Roma people. I use to see myself as "Bohemian" but now I have started to use other words.Traci I have bought many pieces of jewellery from craftspeople who are First Nations or Navajo but I have started to feel strange wearing them. I need to think and reflect on that more.
Thank you LeDonna and everyone for a very enlightening discussion. I very much agree that the same styles and characteristics when worn by their culture of origin are often seen in unfavourable terms. It isn't until white women adopt the style that it is seen as acceptable... and that is unacceptable.
Still and all, it becomes a question of how far to take things. I think there is a huge difference between cultural appropriation of inherent traits versus clothing/art/objects. Do we never purchase things from native craftspeople because of this issue? Where does that leave the craftspeople? Do we never buy art or sculpture from another culture for fear of offending visitors to our homes? Where does that leave the artists? How much research is each individual expected to do when it isn't clear where a print may be from? There are scores of prints, from Target to Nordstrom to street vendors, and I am pretty sure that most of them originated somewhere I'm not from. But I don't even know how to begin to look it up.
I certainly don't have any solutions to the problem, but paralyzing people with fear that anything printed is off-limits isn't helpful. Encouraging people not to purchase from native artists and craftspeople unless they share that culture could be devastating to people's livelihoods.
Again, there are things that are crystal clear, like the Giuliana Rancic episode. Things like that are blatantly offensive. But a lot of clothing and art treads a pretty fine line, and it is hard to be confident in saying one thing is okay and another is not.
I think I agree quite a bit with Echo. I definitely wouldn't want to offend anyone or lay claim to their heritage/culture but at the same time, can't we all enjoy a richly patterned skirt that happened to come from another country/culture without it having a dark symbolism?
As one would surmise, I think the man is not in the wrong for engaging in a bit of international trade.
Bad would be not paying for the skirt. Bad would be pretending you discovered Senegal. Bad would be liquoring him up and making him sign a contract to give you and yours the skirts exclusively for 3 beads for 100 years. Bad would be going to Senegal and imprisoning people to make these skirts. Traitorously bad would be him helping you do all this.
Well said Rachy. There is often a history behind the items that is pretty ugly. Are we honouring the people who made them and their culture? And are we paying them a fair amount? These are some of the questions I ask myself.
"can't we all enjoy a richly patterned skirt that happened to come from another country/culture without it having a dark symbolism?"
Well, maybe we can if we are privileged (sorry, there's that word) enough that the pattern doesn't have a deeper meaning to us. I try to respect the fact that just because something is not meaningful or painful to me, that doesn't mean that it doesn't cause someone else ill feelings. I appreciate that Traci was sensitive enough to the issue to bring up the questions.
I think that asking the question provides the answer to the question. Some will be hurt and offended while others will not. Someone may confront you, while others will talk behind your back. This discussion makes me glad I'm not into tribal patterns, except tartan. I do admire them from afar, but I just don't want to wear them.
Well, I don't think you can expect people in all corners of the world to understand why you cannot wear that specific skirt ... To me, much of what I have read here, sounds mysteriously complicated.
That said, I do think that if you fear your way of dressing would hurt others' feelings, you should seriously consider wearing something else.
This post has made me appreciate even more than before how priviledged I am to be in an environment where people can wear whatever etnic prints they like. This weekend, I have been attending a Christian convention with more than 5000 people from various ethnic backgrounds, all dressed very nicely and in a happy mix of colours, styles and prints. Only positive and encouraging comments were heard. I look forward to living in a world where this will be the norm everywhere.
I've waffled back and forth on this topic, but Janet's last comment has put a stop to that.
If there is the slightest chance I'm in the "privileged" category, and can't see what the fuss is about, then I'm on dangerously shaky ground in claiming "appreciation" instead of appropriation. Thanks for that dash of cold water, Janet! Buying something isn't the problem, but my attitude sure is...
And I can see that in this case. But again, the bigger issue is for all prints in general. MOST of the prints we see in stores came from somewhere or were inspired by something. At what point does it get too close for comfort? When we purchase at a large retailer, the assumption is often that any print represented is "safe". But that is not the case. On some of the sites recommended here, I've seen prints that never would have occurred to me as ethnic in any way, and yet they are, and some people definitely feel ownership over them.
So I hate to beat a dead horse, but should the average shopper avoid all prints? Should they painstakingly research each item they buy? In the case of Traci's skirt, it is from a craftsperson, so it is easier to see the concern, but translating this to the bigger picture just isn't easy.
Aside from potentially devastating the sales of craftspeople if we fear anything made by someone who doesn't share our heritage, what about the average Target shopper? I've attached some pics below from Target. Again, I am sure they are appropriated from somewhere, but does that mean no one should buy them? In the following link there are a number of prints that, if I saw them in a store, I would assume were random and not associated with any particular group of people. Yet they are aboriginal made by crafstpeople in Australia. http://fabricandart.com/Austra.....brics.html
I am not trying to be difficult here, but if you Google "native ______ fabric prints", you can find almost anything you have ever worn. The skirt Traci posted might be obvious to some people, but the other prints represented in stores? Not clear at all. And to avoid all of them would doom everyone to wearing solid colors for the rest of their lives.
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...Anybody remember when it was a scandal to 'go native'?...
Speaking of appropriation AND appropriateness: For many people, other factors than prints are more important. This point can be illustrated by the two dresses just shown by Echo. I and people in my circles would find the PRINTS beautiful and quite ok. Nevertheless, for most of our activities these dresses would not be appropriate. Why? Because of their STYLE. They are too short and showing too much skin around shoulders and back. When speaking with people from a variety of cultures about serious matters, we wouldn't want to distract them by making them stare at our bodies instead of listen to what we have to say.
Wow, the replies on here were so good, and so thought-provoking! I think Rachylou absolutely summed it up:
"If you're not comfortable, then it wouldn't be authentic and probably a bad choice. So that's the right decision."
I think a 'light touch' of something is fine. For my part, I 'borrow' motifs, particularly Chinese, Spanish and Russian-type embroideries (I am not of Chinese, Spanish, or Russian descent). Vivianne Tam is one of my very favorite designers. I love Mandarin collars on dresses and tops.
Funny thing is, I would not wear any plaid, except Stewart/Stuart, because that is my lineage. I would feel like a poseur in someone else's plaid.
So my answer to your skirt question: if you love that skirt, but aren't comfortable wearing it publicly, wear it at home and enjoy the heck out of it. Or... if you love the textile, consider having it repurposed into beautiful wall art, or throw pillows.
fashionintern -- my apologies, I have not been much on the forum. The paper is not published and does not have much relevance to fashion but it helped me puzzle through some of the same issues as they relate to my own artistic practice.
I truly appreciate the dialogue that goes on here at ylf. A question was asked with honesty and sincerity and a variety of answers were given with I think both honesty and sincerity. Cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation or cultural sensitivity is a delicate balance. When we talk about privilege we talk about perspective. To be aware of your environment to be sensitive to your environment to acknowledge that there may be some backlash to wearing something I think takes a great and sensitive mind. I've read every single comment and did not mean to leave the conversation but baby & life call. But I appreciate the engagement of each perspective that was given.
I appreciate sensitivity but I stand by the fact that anyone can wear a basic print from another culture or country and not need to second guess themselves or feel a fraud or priviledged. I happen to love ethnic prints, I don't feel the need to avoid them because I am possibly not that ethnicity.
* I don't think differing perspectives equates to insensitivity.
Jlpp everyone has an opinion and perspective. I gave mine I also love ethnic prints but I take into account how when and why I wear them. I am sensitive to certain cultural appropriations. Because for years ours as a people were taken. If you feel comfortable then be my guest and wear them. I would not wear a kimono I would not wear a head dress just as much as I would not wear anything else that is massed produced for fashion sake while disrespecting an entire culture. Nor am I the voice of my people a question was asked and I like all of us gave my honest feedback. Be well on your fashion journey.
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