SP: Sharing vs. Taking
“Ah, Locke! Welcome back from your mission in Japan. I say, what is that your wearing? You haven’t gone native have you?”
Captain Locke cocked his head at the Administrator, unsure for a moment of what she meant. Then he remembered, he wore the new haori he’d purchased in Tokyo.
“This? No, it's a Japanese coat. They’ve mixed styles, and my guide told me it went well with my outfit.”
“Hmm. Well tell me how it went? Did you advance the Republic of Texas’ interests over there?”
You got your Chocolate in my Peanut Butter
At the recent Comicpalooza in Houston, I came across a vendor selling Japanese garb and bought a haori to go with my outfit.. They worked with sellers in Japan to sell here in the United States. Told me quite a lot of the history from the Meiji period when Japanese and Victorian styles mixed. The history on that is quite complicated and for the time, those clothing pieces didn’t hold extra significance. In our time, there’s some concern over who should wear garb from other cultures.
I don’t have an answer on this, but I felt it worth taking the time to research and share what I find.
What is Cultural Appropriation?
It can feel pedantic to talk about definitions, but knowing how I’m using the term might reduce jumping to conclusions. As I understand it, Cultural Appropriation is about taking an aspect of somebody else’s culture and using it for their own benefit. In an obvious case, parading around in a Native American headdress when you aren’t of that culture. A less obvious example I heard in an interview with somebody who makes languages for movies and fiction. When asked if he thought of using obscure real languages, he pointed out how that would be cultural appropriation.
What About the Melting Pot
The other side of the fence is that cultures spread and mingle as they meet others. The science adage ‘The act of observation changes the observed.” I’ll raise you one by pointing out, the act of observing changes the observer. Sharing aspects of other cultures is part of how we learn to accept those cultures. It’s a slow process, but it leads to new understandings and new culture.
Are Minnesotans also Scandinavians?
About half of my DNA is Swedish. I’m told my grandparents on my father’s side had quite the accent. Never met them. I’ve eaten Lefse. However, I didn’t grow up on tales of Thor, though. Until I found the eddas, I had to read Marvel comics for that. Many Minnesotans are descendants of Scandinavia. The largest group to give their lives at Gettysburg are Minnesotans for the cause of the Union, fighting against slavery, tracing that effort all the way back to Dred Scott and the Supreme Court. On the other hand, Minnesota is responsible for atrocities against the Lakota.
I’m telling you this, because as you read the links on both sides of the Kimono debate, that there’s a difference between Japan, Japanese, Japanese Americans and America and Americans. The situation is even muddier than whether Minnesotans are awesome, terrible or if Stan Lee appropriated our Norse Gods or whether we even own them.
Both Sides of the Kimono
I’ve found a few articles I think are written with tact and reason for their position, without calling names.
What I see
I’ve met George Takei and respect the work he has done speaking out against the Japanese Internment during World War Two. I understand that to the author of the last article, the treatment and racism her family experienced raise the significance of Japanese cultural items like Kimono for her. To people living in Japan, it’s just clothes and they want other cultures to wear them. Remember when I summed up Minnesota’s good and bad history? Japan is in the same bucket. As much as I appreciate Japanese culture and history, they were total monsters during the war. Including never apologizing for the Rape of Nanking.
I think a distinction between Japanese American and Japanese exists. They have a shared starting point, but history and world events forked off at WW2.
Is There a Line?
Obviously, I want to wear my new garment. For me, such an item isn’t just about looking cool. I make sure to learn the history and be able to explain the context (or lack thereof). Much as the people who sold it to me did. That’s different than wearing a kimono for a prom dress and not knowing a dang thing about it. Different from making disrespectful poses in it. Does that mean I get a pass? Again, I don’t have an answer.
I think some things are taboo. The Native American headdress has specific ceremonial meaning and not just any Native can wear one. It has to be earned. Having earned my blackbelt in Ish In Ryu, I’ve taught students to care for their gi, belt and weapons with respect. Which is the other part of these items in western culture. Teaching their origin, usage, and significance.
So Who’s Owns it?
Here’s a not safe for work video that resets everybody’s place relative to history.
So, according to it, I didn’t:
Fight and die at Gettysburg
Massacre any Lakota
Win the Superbowl
I don’t own Thor or Odin. I can be upset about the racist Canadians using my ancestral culture to further their brand of hate. But really, I’m angry that there’s Canadians being bigots. That’s the real problem that needs solving. What I see happening with the phrase Cultural Appropriation is bullying against somebody not of the same culture which is an act of bigotry itself.
What's at stake is love. If two people of different cultures can fall in love, are they not also falling in love with each other's culture. Can somebody fall in love with a culture? Hopefully not in a creepy way, but yes. Those articles I linked are about people who love cultures. If it's a healthy love, it includes respect. We need to foster more of that, not less.
“And that’s why I took an Apache chief with me to Japan.”
The Administrator looked Locke over again. “So you let him explain why westerners could mess up Emperor Meiji’s country and that resulted in a new treaty with the Republic of Texas?”
“Something like that. Look, I’m just glad we signed and kept our treaties with them. I can’t imagine the mess of history we could have had if we stuck to how the United States did things.”
She stood up and came around her desk, “So you’re outfit was part of showing we could fit in?”
“Yep. There’s amazing things we can share in trade. This piece I’m wearing is everyday clothing to them, but honestly, over here, it holds more meaning to me. Gonna have to save it for special occasions.”
“Alright then, Captain. Thank you for your report.”