Sunday, 4 May 2014

Appropriation of ethnic groups for fashion

Hello kittens, today is another 'philosoraptor' post, and this time I'm considering the appropriation of ethnic groups for fashion. Examples include Oriental Goth, the use of bindis/tikkas as fashion items and the recent "Hello Kitty" song and MV by Avril Lavigne.

A number of things encouraged me to write this post. Firstly, as many of you probably know, I am half-Chinese. Although my ability to speak Cantonese and read Chinese is atrocious, and I don't really look very Asian, I nonetheless strongly identify with Chinese heritage. I love roasted milk tea, JRock and Asian fashion, and I see nothing wrong in anybody else (regardless of background) liking it too. Share the love!

I'll note here that this will mean I will be focusing on cultural appropriation of Asia, although Black-American culture suffers similarly.

Secondly, though, because of my background, I have been subject to both conscious and unconscious discrimination, and I've been guilty of a little elitism too. Things like getting hit on by random dudes in the street who think 你好 'Ni hao' and こんにちは 'Konnichiwa' are pick up lines. I have a pet peeve when I'm given a fork instead of chopsticks.

Because of this, I get sensitive around the appropriation of ethnicity. Writing my oriental goth post in particular made me very concerned - is oriental goth a fetishisation of oriental women in particular? I say this because I could not find any oriental goth photos of men (I always try, in my posts, to get as diverse a range of images as possible, with many races and genders) and the photos I could find were mostly of women in skimpy 'costumes' and sexualised poses. Am I being too sensitive? Goth can often be, after all, sexualised.

The last things which pushed me to write this post were various articles on bindis as a fashion statement (1, 2, 3) and the Racism is Not Kawaii post on Parfaitdoll.com about Avril Lavigne's Hello Kitty. I won't post the video here because it's pretty horrific. Essentially, Avril does an amateur job at Japanese street style and I'm strongly reminded of Alison Gold's Chinese Food (the music video, by the way, features women in Japanese clothing, without a hint of a 旗袍 qipao or cheong sam in sight). Again, I will not post it here. It doesn't deserve views.

So what is wrong with all of this?

Point 1: stereotyping. No, throwing random Asian phrases about does not make you attractive/intelligent/amusing/etc. As 'Yellow Fever' points out (although this movie is a satire), an Asian guy going up to a white girl and saying 'hello' in a bad Chinglish accent is not attractive. Avril, singing 'kawaii' does not make you cute, especially not with the robotic Asian ladies behind you.


Chow mein? Wonton soup? That's the whitest Asian stuff available, besides cream cheese wontons. Like hell you love Chinese food. When you learn various ways that a 苦瓜 bitter melon can be tasty, the best part of a steamed fish and the joy of fruit in hot soup, then maybe I'll take you seriously. /rant

Point 2: ignorance. Essentially, insensitive appropriation just displays ignorance, especially when done badly. It's like saying 'wow, I like this house, but all those walls have got to go'. Appropriation can take away fundamentally important aspects.

What I'm trying to as overall is not that we shouldn't appropriate or borrow. By doing so we get some wonderful things, like Lolita and fried icecream. However, make sure you know and understand what the hell you're doing. A good example of this is the use of crosses in gothic culture. Personally, I don't wear them,  but Christianity is much better understood by the Western world, so if you want to go and ironically wear a cross, go for it :) Wearing a bindi, the religious symbol of a group heavily oppressed by Westerners for decades... maybe not such a good idea.

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