They ask “Is it okay to wear [other culture’s clothes/ornamentation] if you’re invited to an event by people of that culture and they want you to do it?”
Which to me is like asking, “I heard that breaking into your…
I think the important part of that question is the “they want you to do it” part. Because nothing quite screams privilege like saying you know better than someone else, and how your views of what constitutes cultural appropriation has nothing to do with what the people you’re appropriating from say.
For example, when living in Japan I was invited by my Japanese friends to go to an onsen resort for a week. Part of this involved wearing yukata around the resort, mostly because they are a more relaxed form of clothing, and are easy to put on and take off. As it was a public bathing vacation, that’s sort of an important point and would have been really weird if I had just gone around in western-style clothing, particularly around the hot springs.
However, the idea of wearing a yukata completely devoid of that (or any other context) is bizarre. While you are in another country, you play by their cultural rules. As for wearing kimono I would imagine that if you were living in Japan, and were wearing kimonoproperly, understanding the differences between formal and informal kimono I wouldn’t imagine that they would take issue with it.
What would be horridly tasteless is wearing kimono to a Japanese cultural festival or anime convention or something of that ilk, with no real reason to do so, other than its “Japanese”. As if kimono somehow represent Japanese culture as a whole.
And thinking about anime conventions, I’d like to extend the issues of cultural appropriation to Japanese pop culture as well. Somehow, the internet world (including tumblr) inadvertently make the disturbing distinction between “high” and “low” culture. Claiming that it’s only harmful to appropriate elements of “high culture” (in Japan’s case, kimono, tea ceremony, ikebana etc.
Also, “American style” has happened in Japan as a fashion trend. You can find shirts mimicking American university logos, sports apparel and uniforms, all with text in poorly-written English. As I can’t imagine many Americans taking offense to this, this lack of concern of cultural appropriation should be more critically examined as a continuation of cultural “othering” and an unintentional 21st Century imperialism. Until we accept influences from other cultures as being part of legitimate cultural exchange, anyone who wears a kimono outside of Japan is “culturally appropriating” as opposed to engaging in a globalized world. The fact that we have a concept of “culturally appropriating” as opposed to culturally accepting and integrating speaks volumes to what a screwed up, racist world we still live in.
Yeah, though I think in a perfect world we would still have this notion, because we need to be able to conceptualize and talk about harmful things in order to be able to prevent them from happening.
I’d like to ask for clarification re: that last paragraph: are you saying that “American style” in Japan is a form of cultural appropriation, or cultural exchange? And how do you justify comparing it to the appropriation of Japanese cultural artefacts in North America? (Well, justify is a strong word, but I cannot brain atm)
The United States remains a powerful global entity, and its white people travel everywhere with privilege. The stereotypes of white Americans abroad don’t stick enough for them to be institutionally disadvantaged. Compare this to the stereotypes that Japanese Americans face, and how Asian-Americans, like other minorities, are institutionally disadvantaged. The co-opting of Japanese artefacts, resignified by (white) American consumerism into “influences”, results in institutionally detrimental effects for Asian-Americans, the living people.
Cultural exchanges shouldn’t come at the expense of the living people, but it does, and that’s why it’s appropriation, not just exchange.
Sorry, I was not clear - it’s the fact that Americans do not feel victimized by what is on a very basic level the same thing that Americans do to other cultures - they appropriate the aesthetic through objects, etc. without understanding their original context. (Granted, with college shirts and stuff, it’s not remotely offensive anyway, but there’s a lot of religious iconographical appropriation in Japan which gets a bit touchy, which would have been a better example.)
Obviously it’s not read as being the same without the power dynamic, but I still find this to be the ultimate in condescension. Americans have to worry about other cultures being appropriated, but not our own because we’re strong enough to defend others and not be threatened by such things ourselves. It’s a revolting idea, and is patronizing beyond belief.
The problem is that as soon as an element of another culture makes its way to America, it almost immediately becomes fetishized as being a comprehensive representation of that culture, bringing about a whole lot of “othering” that the world could do without. So anything that could be legitimate cultural exchange at first quickly devolves into racism here.
Cultural appropriation is a form of cultural exchange, but a harmful one, much like how imperialism acted as a mode of transmitting cultural ideas from one area of the world to another but with hugely disastrous consequences. These are terrible ways of having cultural exchange, but there are also good ones, which are obviously the ones I would like to see.
Sorry, I don’t really have anything intelligent/constructive to say. This is more of a lament on how screwed up the world is.
I need further clarification here: patronizing towards WHO, exactly? Who is being patronizing towards whom in the plain acknowledgement that white America is a huge proponent for profiting off Other’d cultures, often at the expense of non-white Americans?