The key to equality and a lasting peace between all peoples can be found in learning as much as you can about them, not propaganda, but the real true facts. When we listen to what others say about a group of people, it is always tainted by some bias. Let the group speak for themselves. It is, in fact, racist to assume that you know all there is to know, or that a person who is not a member of the group can define that group–assign meaning to their lives.
So, too, cultural appropriation can be avoided. Appropriation is a hot new topic on the radar of progress, which a lot white people are struggling with. I have some Mandarin shirts that I loved wearing, and on the outside this is appropriation. Even on the inside, for Chinese people, will see it as a white girl appropriating their culture for fashion. Unlike most, I know the history of the Cheongsam dress from which it is derived.
The cheongsam arrived in China in the 1920s and was a colonial aberration. In other words, it was brought there by whites to define the cultural style of a people. Wrong! It’s actually a Chinese fashion from a very specific area of the nation that has been colonized or appropriated by the rest of the world. Read the legend of its origination and it’s history here. In the 1920s, western culture really grabbed onto this dress. Its lines and subtly is still high trend. I love how my figure looks in one of these dresses, quite flattering to women.
One of my shirts is black with a silver dragon on the front. I adore this shirt, because it makes me think of China and its history and it helps me to talk to others about them and their history. There is still so much to learn, and I cannot wait until I’ve grown comfortable enough in my German lessons to move onto Mandarin. If I ever get a PhD, it will be in Chinese Classical Literature or Art. As one of the oldest civilizations on our planet, the Chinese footprint on the arts and literature is extensive and far reaching. If we look beyond the propaganda that is fed to us daily, instead of finding them a people to be suspicious of, we will find a rich culture with a rich and varied past. If don’t set foot on Chinese soil someday, I am going to explode!
As for the dragon on my shirt, he’s a five toed dragon (Lung), which was strictly forbidden for anyone but the emperor to wear. For me, a white female of the middle class, to wear this dragon should be an honor of great import and not something I wear out to the grocery store. My silver dragon is far more important than that. He’s sacred. My wearing him alone, dishonors that memory. It’d be like wearing Jesus’s Robe to pick up ice cream. Or, Ghandi’s glasses on top of my head because they look cool, but don’t help me see. So on and on.
Another culture that is commonly appropriated is the Native Culture. We are inundated with a lot of images of young white people in sacred head dress, buckskin and other iconic regalia. Like my dragon shirt, most individuals who wear these items are not aware of the level of sacredness behind them. That is appropriation, when you diminish the value of a significant cultural item to every day wear. I have to say, I agree with people when they say, “Our regalia is not ready to wear fashion, please stop.”
I am troubled, now that I have learned a thing or two, to step out of the house with my dragon shirt on. In most cases, my Americanized Chinese friends would tell me I’m being paranoid. However, that doesn’t make it any more right. They want to make sure that I am feeling okay. They may interpret my wearing as a respectful nod to their culture. The fact that they’re Americanized might mean that they’re thinking from the colonial point of view, not the Chinese point of view. Lastly, no one wants to make waves.
Of course, there will be cries of being overly sensitive and the rude name calling for people and epitaphs lobbed at those who think outside themselves. But, are we not adults? Do we not understand that our actions have consequences (good or bad)? Isn’t it time we take responsibility as thinking adults to consider those outside of us? It’s pretty sociopathic, or at least self-absorbed thinking, that dismisses such a discussion as pathetic liberal oversensitivity.
If you’re ready to sit at the grown up table and learn a little more about the people we share this planet with, hop on over to…