Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Neither A Borrower...

I'm not sure if you've been following what's happened since Karli Kloss wore a Native American head-dress in the recent Victoria's Secret show (ick). If you haven't, you can catch up here on Jezebel.

It's not very surprising that the response from some people to this backlash has been, as one commenter I just read put it, "get over it". The world that knows about Victoria's Secret, and No Doubt videos is one where there is a dominant culture. I wish Victoria's Secret, and No Doubt, and everyone else could learn that these things are hurtful and offensive without having to do them or read about them, but I'm really glad there has since been discussion and explanation of why cultural appropriation isn't okay.

It isn't always easy to know what "counts" as cutural appropriation, and in spite of being really annoyed by tourists asking if we sell "Maori costumes" (one particularly ignorant woman explaining it was for halloween), I remember seeing the picture of Charlotte Kemp Muhl a few years ago in a Native American head-dress and thinking she looked cool (and probably thinking at the time that viewing it as 'art' made it okay). So I thought this conversation on Rookie, Something Borrowed, was a really good read, and a good way to think about what is acceptable, and what is cultural appropriation, particularly in terms of fashion.

I've since been thinking, uncomfortably, about some of the things sold at my work. I've long been uncomfortable with selling pounamu; a taonga, which has gone up in price so much that it's only really accessible to people with the money to buy it, which includes well-meaning but confused visitors who call the pieces Healing Stones, and kids who have lived here their whole lives without showing any interest in Maori culture but need a piece to wear on the national embarrassment that is the Waitangi Day pub crawl when they get to London (and mispronounce pounamu, Waitangi, and pretty much every other Maori word. Including Maori). But there are motifs that have been "borrowed" from Maori art, and I feel a bit funny about some of these too...

Sunbeam, I wish we could do a shift together to talk this out!


  1. I wish too! We had some pretty great convos. :)

    Man, that Rookie convo is a really good read. I became obsessed with the chola style when I was in LA and also with 90s Gwen as result; reading this however has forced me to realize some things! I never agree with non-indigenous wearing the feather headdress for 'fun' - and so I should remember to carry that same discernment over to other appropriations in pop/dominant culture.

    Eric got funny about me buying the Kachina dolls, he wanted to make sure that I knew exactly what they meant. I can understand why. The idea that you're giving people money in exchange for their crafts is a feeling of good-doing, in the same way as shopping at Trade Aid or Pauanesia. At the same time the artists are often indigenous themselves so you feel it's 'okay'.

    I feel like it's a very fine line between being able to talk and be open about different cultures, and dickheads who use those symbols as gimmicks on halloween or partying. On the one hand, pop/dominant culture has been built on the notion that white is where it's at, and so it took white girls like Gwen to slowly un-do that.

    I did some papers about black feminism at uni, and I discovered that one of the reasons the feminist movement came to a standstill was that women of indigenous or African-American descent felt they had different political agendas than those of the Pakeha women. I don't blame them! There is an added amount of historical pain and grievances for women of colour than non-colour.

    Man, can you join Twitter? Haha. I know it doesn't seem like that sort of place, but it really can be depending on which circles you choose to be in. I use it for speaking my mind and connecting with like-minded people, and we discuss some pretty great things.

    1. Is it worth joining if I don't have a smartphone? I even feel behind when i check in with pinterest at the end of the day since I'm away from the laptop all day!

      I get the indigenous/African American feminist differences too... The whole thing with Advance Pasifika has made me think about how a movement needs to be so narrow and specific so everyone is included, but then different histories (not to mention beliefs) mean there are lots of other things that need to be addressed. What kind of compromise did they come to? I might need to do some research.

      I'm going to keep thinking about this. I never want to be a dick to someone who is trying to be accepting and inclusive if they end up being a bit misguided... and I know I've been that misguided person plenty of times!

  2. It's hard telling the dickheads what they need to hear without quivering and going bright red in anger! How about practising some go-to lines like "We don't make fun of other cultures here, try the Made in China store down the road" etc. haha

    You can use twitter from your computer! That's what I dooo. Oh you're on Pinterest, what's your user name?

    Maybe within a movement there could be sub-categories, like Pasifika Atheists or something, and whoever identifies with the sub-category can join, you can join however many you like. Then the groups get together regularly to discuss ideas and hang out. And then once in a while the entire movement of people get together so each sub-group can get up and do a demonstration of things they've discussed together and to teach the wider movement some things about themselves. HAHA so nerdy, I would like to nominate myself as chairperson of course

    1. Haha, I second your nomination! I think that's a great idea. It's not very good, but I know I usually need to feel like I agree with someone on a point before I can take seriously what they have to say on something I don't agree with, so I think the sub-groups and sharing is a great idea. Pasifika Atheists is awesome, maybe I could start the sub-group and wait for a bigger group to join. Which reminds me, there may be one! I need to email you!

      I will definitely use that line, accompanied by the new deadpan expression I've begun to utilise. It really throws people, and makes a big chicken like me feel very empowered.

      I'm on there as Dorothy Huxtable, but I haven't spent very much time on it yet, so I'm not very interesting, and I still don't entirely get it - I just wanted to start collecting images with Samantha for Charlotte's wedding. I tried to find you; what's your name? xoxo