I’m reading up on the Memoirs of a Geisha controversy, since I’d neither seen the movie nor read the book, and the more I read about it, the more pissed off I get. Basically it went down like this:
Japanese woman tells white American man about her past life as a geisha. White American man then writes a novel that sells itself as an accurate memoir of Japanese woman’s life, but instead falsifies a number of her life events, misrepresents her trade, and exoticises her culture. He also names her as a source even though she specifically asked him to keep her anonymous. Japanese woman gets death threats. White American man becomes bestselling author.
Then Japanese woman gets fed up and writes her own memoir to set the record straight. Meanwhile, white American man’s book gets adapted into a film that grosses $162 million and wins three Oscars.
This is true, and it actually happens in the first few chapters or something. I remember picking up “Memories of a Geisha” once because I was bored and waiting somewhere, and in the first chapter or prologue he both tells the reader that the woman he’s writing for and about requested anonymity (in the interview she had with him), and then proceeds to reveal her identity to us. And then goes on to portray her and her culture in the most wretched, exotified way possible, which is probably why it does so well, because the white readers love racism. 0 out of 10 stars, would not recommend.
I’ve got to read her book sometime though.
Edit: also see this post.
— Andrea Smith (via reiminister)
The number one thing you can say to piss a Desi off: “When will I be able to wear what I want without getting judged?”
Good question, but I think the correct version is: “When will South Asians be able to wear their own clothes without getting judged?”
In the midst of your white privilege denying pity party, you’re forgetting who’s really suffering — South Asians. For years, we have tried to wear our culture’s clothing and jewelry, but we’ve gotten a lot of shit for it. We’ve been verbally attacked by ignorant, small-minded, American-centric asholes for expressing our identity. When will this stop? Or do you not care? Or can you somehow “relate” to me? Keep in mind being called a hipster is NOT comparable to being called any racial slur. Oh, so I guess that option’s out, which boils down to: YOU DON’T CARE.
Ah, yes, you don’t care how many South Asians are victims of racism just as long as you can wear a cheap little sticker in the middle of your forehead. That’s far more important than the problems we face on a daily basis.
Remember, when someone (especially a South Asian) says you cannot wear a bindi, your feelings aren’t getting hurt — South Asian’s feelings are getting hurt. And underneath your privilege that allows you to shit all over out culture, we have hurt for too long.
So before you send me messages saying, “This is a free country, I’ll wear what I want when I want!!”, realize that I am tired of hurting. I am tired of people ripping apart my culture, and I’m here to call them out.
If I call you out, I’m not trying to take away your freedom of expression — I’m trying to help gain the freedom of expression for South Asians.
But native headdresses and henna are two different things and exist on different levels. Headdresses are a mark of honour and anyone appropriating them is horrible. Henna isn’t necessarily as symbolically important as headdresses are, and my post was on the things that aren’t necessarily held as symbolically important- like henna, or kameez shalwar, and so on. Henna happens to exist in several Black cultures. A lot of PoC cultures have similar (both NOT the same, and don’t mix them up) clothing styles, and sometimes they interlap and such. Just based on cultural similarities, I won’t mind PoC sharing clothing…especially because more often than not they- well, they don’t. Or the power dynamics are different. Like Burmese who go to Singapore, and then adopt Singaporean dresses because there they’re the (lower class) immigrants trying to assimilate. Or Indians into Burma. Those are large immigration movements because of whatever circumstances.
But say, a latina who wears a kameez shalwar because it’s pretty would make me go “huh?” but there is no history is Mexicans oppressing desis, so I don’t really mind. A white people, who’s ancestrally oppressed desi people, wearing kameez shalwar would be wrong because of the political connotation it would hold, that’s a slap in the face to desi people. Because white people have oppressed desi people for their culture, but latin@s have not. See the difference?
White people have this problem where if something beautiful exists, they want to posses it, keep it for themselves, and not allow it for anyone else. The problem with that is that usually that destroys the thing and its beauty to begin with.
I had to say “white people” because it’s a recurring theme I’ve noted with white people. Not PoC, not PoC cultures. Most PoC cultures are quite content with leaving beautiful things as they are- nature, for example is left as is, if you take something from it, you only take what you need, not what you want, and anything you take is given back in some way. It goes elsewhere too- and applies to things like cultural appropriation. When I talk about things like cultural appropriation and then reference white people, it’s because these things are rooted in whiteness.
White people want to take and take and take and don’t realize that their taking will destroy. You cannot just take something or remove it from the source and not expect it to lose its power. White people take because they want, and they can’t let it be. And that process is destructive.
i want to share two different posts i have made before:
hinduism is not an artifact, it is not an obsolete “religion”, it exists today, it is not a monolith to be defined and represented by a majority who reflect only one of its many constructs of varying philosophies, there exists a wide range of diversity in thought, so many subsets and sects have been born and have also died, yet hinduism is not a fixed relic of the past, stop trying to make it fit categorizations derived from the organization of abrahamic religions
so unlike christianity and islam, that have very diverse demographics when it comes to followers of those faiths, with hinduism, yeah religion doesn’t have a skin color, but with hinduism, it is like 99% poc (like south and southeast asia and then the diasporic communities that exist outside of said regions) and conversion isn’t really a thing in hinduism, like there’s no process, also, it’s a bit tricky to compare hinduism to abrahamic religions cause it has a very different structure, like there are classically six schools of philosophy, one of which is atheistic, but the predominant one today is a sort of monotheistic philosophy that is misconstrued as polytheism and is largely into bhaktism (bhakti yoga as opposed to other forms of yoga, also i hate how in the west the term yoga has become synonymous with hatha yoga)
i’m bringing them up together because i’ve noticed white people who justify wearing the bindi as “how do people know whether you’re hindu or not?” (for being called out on cultural appropriation) and i’ve also come across this community of white female bloggers online who are “practicing hindus” and dress up in saris and bindis and the whole deal
my problem with all of this is that with hinduism, yes there are specific texts that are associated with this “system of beliefs”, but i also know that what makes someone a “true” hindu (i don’t want to get into semantics with people who are going to use “hindu philosophy” to dismiss large communities who identify as “hindu” out of elitism/purism) isn’t dependent on how well versed they are with these texts, as i have come across a lot of people in the states and in india who have not read any such texts (my grandmothers were/are “illiterate” but that doesn’t make either one of them “less hindu”) and so in this attempt to parallel “hinduism” to the abrahamic religions with regard to classification, systemization and organization of texts, religious authority figures, sub-sects, etc., there is this neglect of the importance of oral narratives/traditions that is really fundamental to “hinduism”, and the different cultures throughout india have incorporated “hindu” philosophy and traditions (not “incorporated” per say, but like in the “western” sense there is a division between culture and religion, but that is a harmful simplification, it’s not that one incorporates the other, it’s like a complex integrated form)
now “hinduism” also exists outside of india in countries neighboring india and extending to various south-east asian countries, who have their own unique cultures/traditions with “hinduism” embedded in their communities, that are different than a lot of “cultures” in india, yet with this representation of “hinduism” in “the west”, it’s largely this distorted mixture of like various cultures in india as one monolithic thing, and the pop definitions used to explain cultural/religious significance of things are presented as absolute but it’s inaccurate because these meanings differ across the communities and so do the “names” and “terms” (like i’m punjabi and hindu and there are some things that we celebrate that my telegu hindu friend wouldn’t and there were some things she did that i had never even heard of (like there was no parallel, not a matter of “translating”, etc.), but like it wasn’t just a “cultural” difference, or just a “religious” difference, like i said, it’s a complex integrated form
this monolithic representation of “hinduism” is also problematic in that it doesn’t take into account south-east asian communities AT ALL, there is no representation of their cultural traditions, etc.
so getting back to white women dressing up in saris and bindis and wearing ethnic garments from the different communities/cultures all over india, it’s like playing dress-up with fifty different cultures and combining them and perpetuating this distorted monolithic representation of india and of hinduism, you can’t just arbitrarily grab elements like that and adopt them in an attempt to be a more “genuine hindu”, it doesn’t make sense, these elements do not exist in isolation, they are embedded in so much, when you, a white woman, dresses up in a sari and bindi, why are you picking that over, say, something from cambodia or thailand?
like do you get what i’m getting at?
(as in playing dress up doesn’t make you more authentic, especially when you aren’t even aware of anything i have mentioned above)
That crowd of ‘SJ/race/hivemind/whatever the fuck they call themselves’ bloggers have always been antisemitic shitbags. I remember I got called “a k*ke dick sucker” and “white identifying” for saying that Jews, even in America, can’t assimilate completely into whiteness because of their distinct facial features/last names/dress/etc and that people need to take into account how nazism, the British mandate and the formation of Transjordan and even today, with consistent denial of the recognition of sovereignty of Palestine from the majority of the West helped form the state of Israel before they cast ‘the Jews’ as prime suspects.
People were even claiming that nazism benefits white Jews because its still a form of white supremacy. That’s when I kinda realized that these people are deeply uneducated and got away from that crowd.
I really have an issue when folks indicate all tumblr SJ as a crowd like this. There are people who really care about righting wrongs, and some of them understand Jew stuff, or try to …aaaaand some of them don’t. There are also assholes who love to shout and hop on what’s “fashionable” and like to feel all ethical and self-righteous about it. Witness - I and a few other tumbro Hebrews called out a girl’s anti-Semitic costume, and lo and behold, out of nowhere, she was getting anon hate and death threats! Not a single person called for her to “be collected,” or anything,but it happened anyway. Other people took advantage. So there is more at play here.
That being said: Tumblr is not a very Jew-friendly place. This place is FULL OF GOYIM just talking over Jews, whitewashing our heritage and telling us what a Jew is and isn’t (never mind our own 4000 year history) and trying to define and box anti-Semitism for us (as if we can’t define our own oppression.) OH, and don’t forget! People appropriating the word and trying to get it to mean something other than just “Jew-hate” or that it only means a specific kind of Jew-hate, or blah blah blah gentiles talking. Always love it when that happens.
And then of course, there’s people who try to hide their anti-Semitism behind their anti-Zionism (as if we can’t tell the difference between race hatred and politics!)
Yeah, I heard of the “Jews had white privilege during the Holocaust” bullshit. Like, that was a genocide because we weren’t considered white! We were dirty Middle Eastern foreigners! (Still are!) I don’t understand what’s so difficult to get. There are European groups that aren’t considered white. They include: Jews (still not considered white in Europe!), Romani, Tats, Saami, etc. Buy a clue, folks!
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 house and stealing your stuff is bad, so, I don’t know if I can accept this freely-given gift.”
Am I missing something?
When people ask this question, I seriously have to wonder if they have a basic sense of what the problem is re: cultural appropriation.
OPENING UP MYSELF TO ANGRY CRITICISM
My question about cultural appropriation is different, and here is an example…
If I study Japanese tradition, culture, and history, and want to wear a kimono (properly chosen for the season, of course) complete with accessories (obi, obidome, etc…) and appropriate hairstyle, all for a costume…is that cultural appropriation?
My guess from the tumblr social justice league is ‘ABSOLUTELY OMG HOW COULD YOU EVER THINK TO DO SUCH A THING’ but I figure I might as well give them a new target to scream at for a few minutes.
Really it comes down to this: why would you do that? What is the motivation? Is it “because you want to?” Cause that’s not a very good reason, you know, for non-spoiled adults?
Consider this: suppose I study US military culture and learn all about it, does that entitle me to wear a US military uniform, complete with medals and other accessories? Or would that be disrespectful?
Now sure, a kimono is not a uniform, but it is formal wear that exists in a particular cultural context, and comes with a lot of cultural weight. Removing it from that context is not a neutral act. It will hurt people, it will make them feel like their culture is just an accessory for other people, it will make them feel insecure about participating in their own cultural practices.
In other words, it will in a small way help enact cultural genocide.
So I ask again, why would you want to do this?
Because if you learn about a culture, what that entitles you to is this: knowledge about that culture. The knowledge is its own benefit, not an entry card. It does not entitle you to counting yourself part of that culture. It does not entitle you to speaking over people from that culture. And it does not entitle you to taking over their cultural practice.
If that’s not reason enough to do the study, don’t do it.
Oho! A bite.
Your analogy is inaccurate. You speak of the kimono accessories as if they are equivalent to medals - they are not. A more accurate equivalent would be house crests on the kimono itself. Otherwise the kimono is just clothing.
Would you have the same level of upset over a Japanese woman wearing a 50’s pinup girl outfit as a costume?
Honestly, a lot of what I hear about cultural appropriation seems to be on the level with “you can’t wear costumes of ANYTHING because OFFENSIVE”. I would never dress as a maiko and walk through the streets of a hanamachi, but there is a business that caters to people who wish to do just that, for Japanese and foreigners alike.
I tend to be bad at understanding what is offensive to other people, partly because I am somewhat difficult to offend. The other part is because I frankly wasn’t exposed to a lot of prejudices growing up that other people saw every single day. So I try to find people to help me understand because ultimately, I do not WANT to offend anyone.
This line is very odd in the context of the rest of your post, which sounds very much like it’s trying to cause offense. I’m going to assume that the abrasive tone of the rest is accidental, though, and go with this line, and maybe what I can say will help.
So, first, I agree that my analogy isn’t fully accurate, and needs to be taken loosely — think of it in terms of the emotional response the action would provoke, rather than the specific symbolism, if possible.
Second, you don’t seem to be aware of the power dynamics at play in the cases you mention. I say this because you’re bringing up situations that look on the surface like they may be analogous, but because of the relevant power dynamics, they’re simply not. Let’s use me as an example: I am an extremely sickly person. I have a brother who is much bigger and stronger than I am. If I step on his foot, yeah that sort of sucks and I’ll apologize, but if he steps on my foot, I am in major serious pain and a simple apology won’t suffice, he’ll need to get me medical help. Therefore the situations are not analogous, and just reversing roles for an analogy doesn’t work.
Because cultural appropriation is not about whether people are offended and yell at you. It is about whether you hurt people and participate in making their lives suckier. And you cannot judge the effect of that without looking at relevant power dynamics.
A 50s pinup girl is not a relevant part of white US cultural practice. Even if it’s a modern American person dressing up as a pinup girl, that is a costume. My understanding is that the kimono is not just a costume for the people who would wear it on relevant occasions. So, that’s one difference: it would be turning something that is not a costume into one.
The bigger difference is that if you “dress up as” Japanese in their clothing, you become part of a much larger pattern, one that has been used to sexualize Asian women in general and lead to higher abuse rates for them, among other things. The action has negative force because of the cultural context in which it happens.
That’s why people get angry about cultural appropration, you see. It’s not because we want more things to be angry about. It’s because it’s part of a pattern that causes us actual, serious material harm.
The analogy is also inaccurate because it doesn’t take into account the inequality between a regular Japanese-American citizen, especially a Japanese-American woman, versus a military officer.
The stereotypes of military officers are NOWHERE as insidious or problematic as the stereotypes that the kimono signifies, especially when lifted by white Westerners.
The statement “A kimono is just clothing” is also problematic, because you have voided a clothing of its cultural context, which is exactly what appropriation does: strip the original context from an item / idea, and resignify it, often with what the dominant group wants it to mean.
Reblogging Jha for truth. Apologies for the flaws in the analogy.
finding this article took me less than five minutes. :|
white people and fellow non-desi poc (if the latter are a problem which idk haven’t heard it if they are) have absolutely zero excuses for why they cannot figure this out on their own.
this is a fairly simple concept. :|
[btw i have not read the whole article so idk if there’s anything in there that’s problematic or not]
‘So I am bothered by the fact that “being Indian” is really only hip if you’re not Indian. But more bothersome is the fact that, most likely, none of the more than half a billion Indians living in poverty are benefiting from the commodification of their lifestyles. I guess it’s too bad that they never patented their traditional fashions, their stainless steel bowls, and their terra cotta chai cups, all of which are now for sale at Globus for sums 10-100 times what the same items fetch in India. ’
This is a resource post for all the Good White Person™s out there. You know, the ones who say things like “It’s not my fault I’m white! Don’t generalize white people!”, or “I’m appreciating your culture! You should be proud!”, or “Why do you hate all white people, look I’m a special snowflake who’s not racist give me an award for meeting the minimum requirements for being a decent human being”.
Well, if you are actually interested in understanding racism and how it ties into cultural appropriation, please read instead of endlessly badgering PoCs on tumblr with your cliched, unoriginal arguments and repeating the same questions over and over.
On White Privilege
aka don’t blame me just because I’m white:
- It’s Not My Fault I Was Born White: Basics of White Privilege x
- Racial Divide x
- Endless Examples of White Privilege x
- You Cannot Know What It’s Like To Be A Racial Minority x
- Intersectional Feminism x
- White Privilege Does Not Mean White People Have Perfect Lives x
- White Privilege and White Supremacy: A Presentation x
- You Will Never Experience Racism x
- Understanding White Privilege x
- White Privilege and Double Standards x
- Systematic White Ignorance x
- The Invisibility of White Privilege x
- The Luxury of White Privilege x
- White Privilege: The Harry Potter Analogy x
- Privilege Denial Bingo x
- Privilege and Cost x
- Check Your Privilege 101 x
- Whiteness x
- Whiteness is Not A Culture x
- White Privilege and Racism x
- Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk About Race x
- When White Anti Racists Talk About ~Their Struggle~ x
- White Privilege As A System x
On Reverse Racism
aka you are being racist against white people:
- Are White People Racially Oppressed x
- White People, the new Racial Minority x
- People Don’t Value Pale Skin!! x
- There Is No Such Thing As Reverse Racism x
- Racism vs. Not Racism x
- But White People Are Discriminated Against In Foreign Countries x
- The Myth of Reverse Racism: Why Cracker is Not N**** x
- Satire: A Step Wise Guide on Being Reverse Racist x
- Racism Against White People vs. Racism Against POCs x
On Cultural Appropriation
aka I’m just appreciating your culture:
- The Basics x
- Identifying Appropriation x
- But When We Wear It … x
- Why Can’t I Wear It (Hipster Headdresses) x
- Not Yours x
- If You Take The Bindi x
- White People Do It Better x
- Multiculturalism and Appropriation x
- Cultural Appropriation and Portrayals In Print Media x
- Diminishing the Cultural Significance of the Bindi x
- The Cultural Appropriation Bingo x
- Why We’re Fed Up of Your Responses x
- Identities Are Not Costumes x
- Hinduism And Appropriation x
- Religion and Privilege x
- Bindis Are Cool x
- Exotic India x
- What’s Wrong With Cultural Appropriation x
- Racism, Bindis and Ganesh Tattoos x
- BUT YOU’RE SPEAKING ENGLISH! x
- Cultural Appropriation Trolls x
- Guide to Being An Appropriating Douchefuck x
- New Age ~Culture Mixing~ x
- In case you’re tired of the prose, here’s poetry x
- Why You Shouldn’t Wear A Bindi x
- Appropriating and Sharing x
- Our Culture is A Punchline Until It’s a Trend x
- Homage Or Insult x
- Tattoos and Appropriation x
- Bollywood is Not Synonymous With Indian x
- College Party Costumes and Stereotypes x
- Dotheads x
- Bindis and Racist Humour x
- Hindu Iconography x
- Misuse of Hindu Iconography x
- Your Appreciation Doesn’t Help Us x
Assorted Vials of White Tears and Miscellaneous Antidotes
aka I can’t change that I’m white/not all whites are racist/we are all humans:
- Unoriginal Arguments Refuted x
- Quick Checklist: You Might Be Racist If x
- Your Opinion Isn’t Necessary x
- I’m Not Responsible For My Ancestors x
- The Kumbayah Myth x
- Proud to Be White x
- Good White Person x
- We Don’t Hate White People x
- Brutality of Colonialism And Why You Can’t Tell Us To Forget the Past x
- People Who Claim Not To See Race Are More Likely to Be Racist x
- All Races are Beautiful Said the White Girl x
- Race Blindness Is A Luxury x
- Well, You’re Racist For Calling Me Racist x
- I’ve Read About Its Significance, I Know What It Means
- Angry Because Someone Called You Racist x
- We’re Not All Like That x
- People Only Care About This Trivial Shit On The Internet x
- I Can’t Apologize for Being Born White, It’s Not My Fault x
- Why Can’t You Tell Me What I’m Doing Wrong x
- It’s Easy to Be Color Blind When You’re White x
- A Diagrammatic Guide To White Tears x
- Conversations I’m Sick Of Having With White People x
- Why Do You Hate White People x
- I’m Trying To Be Cultured x
- Sisyphean Conundrum x
- What is Your Problem x
- We Are All Human, We All Bleed Red x
- It’s Just A Bindi x
- How Not To Respond To Accusations of Racism x
- I’m Italian And 0.009% Native American x
- What White People Think Racism Means: A Venn Diagram x
- White Guilt x
- White Pride!!!111!!! x
- I Like *Insert Foreign Country* I Want To Live There x
- You Have So Much Hate, Fighting Fire With Fire Won’t Help x
- BooHoo, Don’t Call Me Racist x
- Not Everything Ended With Your Ancestors x
- The Racist Reaction x
- I Don’t See Why That Is Racist x
- Crummy Apologies x
Okay. I agree. I’ve been socially conditioned not to notice racism and recognize my privilege. What can I do?
I don’t care about this bullshit; you’re making a big deal out of nothing, go home and delete your blog: