Hey, guys! It’s been a while. How about a nice little post about the dreaded cultural appropriation. [Insert Twilight Zone theme song.] So, I already wrote a post called The Case FOR Cultural Appropriation about how I don’t think “cultural appropriation” is even a thing, and after a bs controversy on my college campus about some dude having the gall to wear a sombrero at a party, I’ve really hunkered down on the issue. Claims of cultural appropriation officially make no goddamn sense to me. So here’s this shit for me to get pissed off at for your amusement:
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is hosting “Kimono Wednesdays” through July 2015. People are invited to wear a replica uchikake of Monet’s La Japonaise as a way to explore how Japanese culture influenced European art.
I might have actually shilled out the bus fare to go to this event if it had been anywhere near me. It sounds fun. Japanese art has had quite the influence on many Western artists (look at Avatar: The Last Airbender or the myriad woodblock print inspired patterns more prevalent than the fluer-de-lis for more modern examples). Western art has also inspired lots of Japanese art (the thing I immediately think of is the superflat postmodern Japanese art that oftentimes takes after Western-style cartoons–think Hello Kitty). It’s really interesting to see how the two different cultures’ influences can be found in both pop and high art, and I personally love learning about that kind of thing. One of my final projects was a nearly twenty-minute long video of me talking about the Americanization The Ring and how it’s different from the original Japanese film mainly do to cultural localization yet is still inherently a “Japanese” film. It’s fun. I love comparative art. Let me guess though, you’re going to find something wrong with it?
However, La Japonaise represents Orientalist attitudes of the period and donning the uchikake recreates that fetishism with Japanese culture.
Aaaaaaaaaaanddddd here we go. UGH. Okay.
1.) Even if that painting represents racists attitudes of the period, are people just not allowed to appreciate art that is a product of it’s time, and, more importantly, take what was initially a negative message and spin it into something positive? Because that would be what this event was. The painting was made to be racist, well let’s flip that around and use that painting as a way to promote Japanese culture and help people learn more about it. That seems like a pretty good thing to me. It’s like people who make parodies of those old racist comic strips from the 1940s in order to make fun of racism. And all of that is assuming that the original La Japonaise is objectively racist, which I would argue that it isn’t.
2.) I don’t even get that fetishism part. Am I the only one confused by the negative connotation that SJWs give to fetishes? Even if this painting did just fetishize “Japanese-ness,” what’s really wrong with that again? Japan fetishizes “American-ness” all the time in its media, I don’t see anyone freaking out about that. Isn’t it ultimately just having a really rosy view of something and/or just really liking it? I don’t see anything wrong with liking things, and while you could argue that having rose-colored glasses regarding anything, culture included, is naive, but I don’t know why it’s wrong. Plus, don’t the protesters have rose-colored glasses on regarding Japanese culture since they apparently see it as something pure that should not be tainted by your horrible, horrible whiteness?
I don’t get things, guys. Somebody educate me.
Oh, look. A helpful FAQ that will hopefully do just that:
While we have garnered much support from peers and media, there has also been strong pushback from some members of the public with negative comments through social media. The often aggressively defensive tone, boldness and personal attacks are examples of vitriolic Orientalist attitude. By extension, these behaviors are precisely what events like ‘Kimono Wednesdays’ and ‘Flirting with the Exotic’ foster and make acceptable. The MFA is essentially helping to perpetuate these Orientalist perspectives and doing little to eradicate them.
Yeah, I’m sure you’ve gotten lots of support. Sure. Also, people tend to get a bit aggressively defensive when you make baseless assumptions about their personal character by calling them racist, sexist, bigots. Plus, the people complaining about this are people who regularly go to an art museum for fun. They’re not the typical lower burnouts who “need to educate themselves on the issues,” if you get my meaning. And, yes, I’m sure the MFA is doing lots to eradicate racist ideas by kneeling to the shrieking complaints of people who say that innocent museum goers who just want to learn about another culture shouldn’t be allowed to do that based solely on “not being the right race.” Totally promoting racial cohesion there, guys! Before you know it, we’ll all be sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya and wondering how the hell Japanese internment camps were ever even a thing. I still wonder that . . .
a. What’s the big deal?
Orientalism matters because it reinforces racist hierarchies. White supremacy leverages AAPI as model minorities and “good” immigrant populations to further oppress and demean Black and Brown people in America. Orientalist violence is related to aggression against dark-skinned and black bodies. Darker shades of Asian people most certainly bear violence from Orientalist ideology, compounded by anti-black racism.
Okay. Back up. First you tell me how this event was Orientalist. You are the ones claiming that it is. You can’t just act like everyone already agrees with you and then start from there. The burden of proof is on you. Tell me how this event is racist. You’ve already said multiple times at this point that “It’s racist, and it promotes racism, and racism is bad, and this is racist, it’s racist, guys!” But you’ve yet to actually say why that is. You’ve just been saying it over and over and hoping that the repetition will make people think it’s true. You’ve just said that it’s fetishizing and Orientalist, but okay. Why? What about it makes it those things? Is there another way to do it that wouldn’t make it those things, or is this event just inherently horrible no matter what?
I also love how your answer to people asking you what the big deal is is to go on some totally unrelated diatribe on how, shock of all shocks, racism is bad without even mentioning the painting or the kimono event once. Yeah, you’re totally not just regurgitating tired rhetoric, you’re totally applying logical thought on a case-by-case basis. That was sarcasm. If you couldn’t tell.
b. The Japanese government promotes foreigners to wear and appreciate kimonos. This event happened in Japan. How is this different?
The Japanese government is promoting its own culture in a context where Japanese people do not have a history of being discriminated against in Japan for being Japanese.
So . . . all this event would have had to do to be a-okay in your book would be to get a Japanese person to stand outside the door and give everyone the thumbs up before they went inside? That seems . . . really fucking arbitrary. Also, from my personal experience, Japanese people actually really like it when Americans gush over how cool their stuff is. Japan is one of the world’s leading cultural soft powers for a reason.
c. People in Japan do not agree with the protesters.
We have discovered that there has been much mistranslation of our original writing, which was reduced to, among other things, “no one who is not Japanese can wear a kimono therefore the MFA event is racist.” Some of us have been engaging one-on-one with people in Japan and when we explain our thoughts, they have tended to agree. We are currently translating this letter.
Yeah. I’m sure “they’ve tended to agree.” I’m also sure you’re going to provide some helpful translations of their responses so everyone can see for themselves, wait no. Good thing some of us can read Japanese then. . . wait you’re not even showing us the responses in their original language. Awesome. On another note, that was not a mis-translation. That is what you think. That is why you only ever talk about this event in terms of “white supremacy” and white people putting their grubby little hands over everything. It is very much just a case of “if you’re not X, you can’t do Y.” Stop acting like you’re being mis-quoted, okay? You’re not. It’s not our fault that the translator was straightforward.
d. I’m Asian American, and I think it’s okay. Japanese people should not be used for your political gain.
The model minority myth and Asian complicity with white supremacy are interlinked. Also there is historic discrimination against AAPI as well as other POC when not assimilating into Western norms of culture.
Those goddamn, dirty race traitors, am I right? Any Asian person who disagrees with you is just brainwashed and what they have to say can be thoroughly disregarded, why not?
e. This is appreciation, not appropriation.
The way this programming was framed and curated makes it appropriation, not appreciation.
What? The way it was framed and curated . . . It was literally promoted as “Come on in and appreciate and learn about Japanese culture’s melding with Western culture! Look at the pretty picture, learn more about kimonos!” This is an art museum. Appreciation of the art inside of it is literally the only reason it exist as a place. I don’t even get how a painting can be curated in a racist fashion. What do you people fucking want? This event couldn’t get more “appreciative.”
f. White people putting on the uchikake for a few minutes is not yellow face.
Yes it is, when it is done in order to replicate an Orientalist painting. No matter how it is curated, within such framing it is racist.
Well, seeing as how yellow face literally refers to someone changing their skin tone/facial features to pretend to be Asian, this is objectively not yellow face. Them putting on a Japanese robe doesn’t mean they’re pretending to be Japanese. Seeing as how the event was promoted as “Eastern Art Meets Western Artists,” it was the exact opposite of them pretending to be Japanese since it was explicitly referenced that it was a Western artist’s work as influenced by Eastern art.
Plus, you just said in one of the above points that “the way it was curated” added to the racism. But now you’re saying that it doesn’t matter how it was curated, it’s going to be racist no matter what. So what? Anytime someone not from a place decides to try to replicate art from that place in their work, it’s just going to be racist? Nothing to be done about it? Somebody call up the guy who designed Hello Kitty and tell him that he’s racist for taking inspiration from Western cartoons. While you’re at it, go burn down all the Gothic Lolita stores in Japan because Victorian-style dresses are our thing.
g. Putting on a kimono is not real racism. There are more important problems.
White supremacy is a major problem in the world. This kind of programming fuels and propagates it.
How the fuck is saying “I think Japan is cool! Japanese kimonos, which I fully acknowledge as being Japanese in origin and design, are beautiful articles of clothing! More beautiful than the dresses my ancestors’ culture made!” something that promotes white supremacy? Maybe if they just were totally historically inaccurate and said, “Europe totes invented the kimono, guys, you can tell from it’s authentically European name.” you’d have a point. But this is a case of a museum lauding the artistic merits of Japanese clothing and how it is so artistically valuable that it had an overt effect on Western artistic perceptions and made at least one artist “more Eastern” in his content because it was just that aesthetically good. How is that degrading to Japanese art again?
i. What about Japanese and Asian Americans wearing Western clothing? Isn’t that racist against white people or hypocritical?
Reverse racism claims that there can be oppression against white people and cultures. Here’s an article on reverse racism and why it’s not a valid argument.
Wow. So you’re one of those, huh? I love how you don’t even try to address claims of hypocrisy, you just devalue the very identity of the person calling you a hypocrite and act like that makes their claim less valid. “I think you’re dumb, Bob.” “Well, you’re ugly, Alice.” “Can’t argue with that, I guess you’re not dumb after all!”
j. How can Japan be oppressed? Wasn’t Japan a racist imperialist power, too?
Yes, Japan has a legacy of racism and imperialism. That does not impact the racism Japanese-Americans in the U.S. have experienced (e.g internment camps), and continue to experience by association (e.g. the racist reception of the Japanese women’s soccer team cup loss to the U.S.). The Japanese have not escaped Orientalism (imagine the rhetoric used to justify U.S. internment and atomic bombs during WWII).
No, no, no. You don’t get it, anonymous question-asker. I know we use vague history as a way of talking about how white people have sucked and will always suck. But we can’t use history to talk about how literally everyone else has sucked too. That would be dumb. It derails the conversation. Now, can we please go back to talking about how history proves that white people and only white people are horribly oppressive?
k. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Yes, Japan is the only Axis power that dared to bomb the U.S. However, the Allies were decidedly winning the war when the atomic bombs were being considered. Scientists urged that the bombs not be deployed. The attacks therefore reflect damningly on U.S. foreign policy at best and the choices to justify the target at worst. They did not target Germany. They did not target Russia.
Who the fuck is saying this as a response to a museum canceling an exhibit. And, yes, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and, yes, I’m fairly sure that’s a contributing reason to why America bombed them instead of the other Axis powers (I feel like basic geography and war-time strategy also contributed, but, you know, racism has to be the main thing). I also don’t think that it was right to bomb Japanese civilians with the deadliest bomb ever created. I will talk shit about America’s decision to do that until the cows come home.
That being said, Japan sure has taken advantage of the fact that America’s army is pretty much its army. (For those of you who don’t know: After the war, Japan was forced to de-militarize itself, leaving it unprotected from attack, with America promising as a “Sorry for the whole bombing your civilians thing” gift to use its military to protect Japan if and when Japan found itself in a war. That may or may not still be the case as of this year, since the Japanese government is currently eating itself trying to decide if it wants to renew the aforementioned military contract with America, but that’s how it was up until very recently.) And Japan has essentially been using the backing of the American armed forces as a bluffing point to antagonize the hell out of China for years now because America has to protect them if anything bad happens and they know that China doesn’t want to fight America.
So Japan isn’t 100% some sniveling victim in all of this even though how America ended WWII was, in my opinion, a bad thing. Plus, once again, Japan may not be a military force to be reckoned with anymore, but they’re second only to America in the amount of soft power/culture clout they have.
l. The protesters are not Japanese and not all of them are of Asian descent.
As we wrote earlier, this is a hyphenated-American issue in a context where AAPIs are homogenized. There are Japanese and Japanese-Americans supporting this response.
White supremacy is supported by Orientalism in order to minimize the Asian-American experience, especially when Asian-Americans try to advocate for themselves: when it is convenient, the Asian-American experience is either homogenized or not authentic enough.
Why are you still talking about white supremacy? Oh my GOD. Are the people criticizing you even white? I’m not, by the way, so can I wear a kimono, then, being one of their fellow oppressed POCs and all? You’ve already called some people race traitors, so probably not, but I might as well ask. That’s the thing with obvious hypocrites, you don’t know what they think about anything. And apparently the Asian-American experience is homogeneous seeing as how those aforementioned Asian race traitors’ opinions don’t seem to matter much to you. So much so that you disregard them entirely.
The “Asian-American” experience, to you, extends only to the Asian-Americans who are offended at what you think they should be offended by. The only Asian-American opinion that matters to you is the one that affirms what you already think. The only Asian-American voice that is authentic is the one that doesn’t like white people wearing kimonos. The other voices support white supremacy. So don’t even act like it’s other people trying to silence Asian-Americans. I think you can say whatever you goddamn want.
Also, allyhood is important. Folks with different experiences can and must stand in solidarity where needed. Furthermore, we all stand in solidarity against anti-black and anti-indigenous systemic oppression, because black and indigenous people bear the brunt of the violence fueled by white supremacist iconography and ideology.
What does this have to do with anything?! You’re talking about a museum exhibit of a white woman wearing an Asian dress. Stay on goddamn topic.
m. The protesters don’t represent all Asian-Americans.
We are well aware we do not represent all Asian-Americans nor do we intend to.
But we will shut down entire events that could have been used to educate people and/or just make someone’s life a little less sad and monotonous for a while in the name of “all Asian-Americans.” We will act like the only Asian-American opinion that matters to this discussion is the one that agrees with ours. And we will accuse any Asian-American who disagrees with us as being a supporter of white supremacy. We don’t represent all Asian-Americans . . . just all the true, authentic ones, just the Asian-Americans’ whose opinions are actually worth anything.
n. The protesters are “bad” Asian Americans. They are selfish and just want attention.
Badness, selfishness and attention-grabbing are typical shaming done in Asian cultures against women who are non-conforming. This is specifically misogynist, because of how the public sees us as the visible protesters. This is how stereotypical Asian patriarchal misogyny folds into Orientalism so people in the West can further oppress women, feminine and/or gender queer folk in the Asian-American community.
SJWs are attention whores? I thought all their histrionics were caused by their self-diagnosed bipolar disorders. Huh, who’d a thunk? I feel like the rest of this speaks for itself. You just went on a rant about how not everyone protesting this event is Asian, then one point down you try and fail to connect people calling you attention whores (which you are, by the way) with them being racist toward Asians. And also, they’re sexist, I guess. I don’t even know the genders of the protesters involved. They could all be guys as far as I’m concerned. You’re still attention whores. Oh my God. I can’t even argue with you.
Badness is also part of entitled elite white supremacist patriarchal fantasy that the model minority myth ascribes to. What is bad and what is good helps people in the U.S. assess each others’ desirability. So when members of the Asian-American community speak out, they risk breaking their model minority status, leaving themselves vulnerable to oppressive attacks from both white and Asian-American neighbors.
Someone calling you an obnoxious killjoy when you are being an obnoxious killjoy is not them distressing over you breaking the model minority stereotype. It’s them distressing over you being fucking obnoxious. That’s why the Asian protesters are taken just as seriously (read: not taken seriously at all) as the other protesters are. Or are the non-Asian protesters being treated with staggering levels of respect and understanding by detractors while only the Asian SJWs are being called out for being dumb-asses? That doesn’t seem to be how it worked out. Playing the race card has been denied here.
o. The protesters don’t understand what Orientalism or racism really is.
We cannot possibly have any misunderstanding. We speak from lived experiences of Orientalized racism.
What do you mean “you can’t possibly have any misunderstanding”? Why? Because you’re Asian? You seem like someone who doesn’t like stereotypes, and good for you because you definitely don’t fall into the “Asians are logical, smart, respectable people” stereotype. Way to tear down those misconceptions by being the change you want to see.
Well, I’m black, which I guess means I can never be wrong or have a misunderstanding of anything. I now decide that racism is defined as “a thing that people go into histrionic hysterics over in a counterproductive way to prove that they’re sorry about slavery and which is undeservedly given way too much power as a hammer to beat any and all detractors with.” There. It’s my lived experience, so it’s right, I guess. I look forward to seeing the new definition of racism, as defined by Disorderly Politics, in the next Webster’s Dictionary.
p. The MFA has good intentions. They can’t be racist because racists are bad.
Again, the MFA is defined as good by white elite supremacist standards and benefits from the immediate trust given it. In this framework, if there is any opposition, as an institution it is being bullied. By this ideology, blatant and violent racism is not cultured enough to be good and therefore labeled bad or even evil. Therefore, the MFA cannot be racist.
So, what does an Asian define as good, again? Oh, wait a minute, Asians are not a homogeneous monolith. Unless they are, I guess, because all the Asians who thought that what the MFA was doing was fine/a good thing are totally ignored here. Of course. Now, I hate the Man just as much as anyone else. I don’t think corporations are people, I think our military has committed unpunished war crimes, yadayadayada. But this is a case of an institution being bullied. Blithely denouncing the idea with a condescending tone doesn’t make it not so. The MFA is being bullied. I can tell by this very next sentence:
We have enough work to do to dismantle white supremacy. Don’t contribute to this mess, MFA.
Using rather baseless and defaming assumptions to shame people into doing what you want is blatant manipulation and blatant bullying. You’re essentially calling the people who organized this, went to it, wanted to go to it, and/or defended this as horrible, horrible racists who really need to go sit in a corner and think about what they’ve done. Making people feel bad about benign, harmless acts as a means of controlling what they do to fit your standards is being a bully.
q. The MFA programming is not racist because the dictionary definition doesn’t apply to this situation.
Most dictionaries do not acknowledge the inherent power structure of white supremacy within their definition.
But we’ll make sure to acknowledge the dictionary definition of feminism like that’s all anyone needs to know and scoff at anyone who acts like the dictionary definition isn’t enough to define a specific situation! Oh, don’t look at me like that, you know these people are in the same feminist camp. Also, dictionaries don’t tend to act like a certain group’s theory is fucking correct. It’s why the definition of Hell isn’t “the place all the fags, niggers, and Jews are gonna end up.”
r. I am offended that I am being called racist. The protesters are the true racists for calling people racist.
This is response, called white fragility, is common in discussions about racism. (More about white fragility at this link.) Being called racist can be uncomfortable. However, when brown and black communities are suffering every day due to systemic racialized violence, white people can afford a little discomfort.
Well, I’m black and I’m offended at you calling white people racist. Also, me, I guess. I’m still not sure if other POC are included in the whole “this promotes white supremacy” thing. This article has done a tremendous job of acting like no slightly tan person on the face of the earth was ever interested in attending that event or angered that it was canceled after someone cried racism. It was only the whites. And those poor white people. They don’t have pseudo-intellectual bullshit to fall back on to justify how saying “making people feel bad for no other reason than their race” isn’t racist. That’s something only we coloreds have.
s. If only Asian people are able to present Asian art, then there can be no cultural exchange.
Again, our opposition is not against cultural exchange. However, we do expect Asian folks to be curators and head administrators at institutions of arts and culture, especially involving Asian-related programming, along with responsible curation, so that this kind of egregious oversight never happens again. Representation is important until we no longer have pervasive white fragility.
Well, clearly it is against cultural exchange seeing as how a picture of a woman wearing an article of clothing not from her culture apparently takes things to far. How do you know that the curator wasn’t Asian, by the way? Also, I love this: “We’re not against cultural exchange, we’re just against anyone of different cultures having anything to do with something that isn’t theirs!” Are you an expert in Edo Era wood block printing because you fell in love with Japanese art styles in college? Well, too bad, if you’re not Asian, you clearly don’t have what it takes to work with Asian art! Race segregated curation is responsible curation. Remember that.
I wonder if they’d say the same thing about a Chinese American who works as a head curator on an exhibit of paintings from Victorian England. Is that just unacceptable too? How about if I went and curated that painting? Would it still be racist and an issue with representation then? I can see the protests now: “Kick Out the Black, and Bring in More Yellow.” I’m sure that would happen.
t. I’m not racist. I just really love Japanese culture.
It is great to really love and want to appreciate a culture different from yours. To do that responsibly know the wider impact your actions have in how that culture is both perceived and received by those who have not put in the time to study it. Appreciate the culture by providing knowledge about it. A culture is more than a set of aesthetics. Learn about the background behind the ‘pretty style.’ Be sure also to assess and acknowledge your privileges and the history of power from which you might benefit.
These people must be really fun at parties. “We love that you like a different culture’s art. Just don’t try to actually indulge in a different culture’s art in any way, shape, or form, because that has a vague ‘wider impact’.” How do you know those people never studied Japanese art? It kind of seems like many people would have gone to that event for the express purposes of studying and learning more about Japanese art because going to art exhibits to see the art is how you learn about it.
Just thinking that something is a ‘pretty style’ isn’t wrong, by the way. You don’t have to know everything about everything before indulging in anything. Or are you going to fly on over to Japan and lambaste all the Japanese youths who have taken a liking to hip-hop even though they don’t know everything about the struggle of African Americans? Hell, how about all the Japanese youths who love K-Pop without acknowledging how racist Japan has been to its Korean neighbors? Not going to address that though, are you?
I’d put a picture of me wearing my kimono (given to me by a Japanese person in Japan, by the way) flipping you off, but I don’t want the internet to know my face. For shame.
Edit: My face is on here now (yay. . .), so here is me in my kimono. I’m not flipping anyone off in this picture because, believe it or not, I’m a pleasant person. Just imagine it being the case.
This is stupid. It’s nothing but authoritarian-minded, entitled idiots self-appointing themselves as moral arbitrators, using shame and offense as a way to make people do what they want them to do. So, since I actually know Japanese (at this point I’m not sure that the writer of this FAQ who cares so deeply about Japan does), why don’t you go and translate this, from me to you?
ばか . . .