In a country that has recently hosted moralistic movements like #Black Lives Matter and #Me, Too, though I support the essence of each, I’m surprised that there has not been a Mine Only campaign. Between the Chinese qipao Prom dress-wearing white girl of this week and the hoop earring controversy last year (white girl wearing them, again. . .to the consternation of an African American woman), maybe we need a hashtag where we can list all the things that belong to each of us individually.
Today is a great time to wade through this murk. The 5th of May.
Mexicans? Cinco De Mayo belongs to you only. The rest of you Non-Mexicans slurping down margaritas and shrimp tacos be damned. Germans? October fest is yours. Anyone else drinking beer in the month of October, listening to polka, you are insensitive slobs. Again Asians? Ramen/Pho. All those non-Asian college students surviving on the cheap little packets, are you honoring Asian culture or your empty wallet? And those restaurants that are popping up everywhere. How do you dare to pad your bank accounts by feeding non-Koreans?
But food is such an easy cultural target. What about creative works or the clothing and jewelry that caused my hashtag in the first place?
Men? Blue Jeans first covered your hard-working butts. How dare you girls and ladies steal what rightfully belongs to the rough riding male ranch hands or miners. How cute you look does not erase your insensitivity to these hard-working men. Or maybe we should go so far as to say pants in general. . .back into dresses you get, Women.
European Catholic? Lace. It is a primarily a 16th century catholic invention that the Italians, Irish and Scotts perfected. Any woman of another culture, you need to find a less offensive way to be sexy.
African-Americans? Rap. This old argument about white rappers stealing a truly African-American cultural powerhouse might have some relevance here. If so, then Appalachians? Blues. Some old folks of Scots origin argue that their mountain instruments and ditties led to the development of blues, though others say this is not so. I guess, every new musician needs to study the roots of their music before they venture out.
Or Americans? Sneakers (AKA trainers, kicks, awts). Anyone outside the US, you are misappropriating our United States culture. You need to stop. Or if we want to be really particular, white American men only should wear them, since these rubber soled shoes were created and perfected by white men. And since they were created after black men had been utilizing their freedom and their vote in America, we cannot really use the slavery/stolen identity/cultural loss replacement argument here to forego the importance of misappropriation, right? And maybe even basketball that helped popularize those same Chuck Taylors and Converse shoes in the first place. . .created by a white man at a white college. Who cares that some of the greatest athletes in the history of the world who have ruled that sport are not of European descent. Let’s get these cultural thefts cleared up NOW.
As one anonymous Jennie said when quoted repeatedly in the spat of articles about the Chinese Prom dress, while she is Asian, she still would not wear Korean or Japanese dress for they are not her cultures; to do so would be shameful. So African-American women: stop wearing Kangas if you are not Kenyan or forego the Buba or Iro if you are not Nigerian. A quick 23 and Me test will clear it up if you don’t know for sure. Though, in truth, research about traditional African dress are rife with details about tribal wear, not national wear, and the origins of cloth versus skins. So. . .what then? Get it right, People!
Who wore the nose stud first, who wore cuffs around the wrist first, who used silk or silver or turquoise first, who wove linen first, who used eyeliner and lipstick and sandals and. . .and. . .and. . .???
I’m not ignorant. The fact that the Chinese have been so supportive of the Utah teen wearing a beautiful dress of Chinese origin, but a Chinese-American man was the first to reject with such hostility is very telling. The Chinese are the Chinese. They still own their own culture and all its icons, and see themselves as sharing that dress with the Utah girl. Whereas so many Americans who are not primarily of European descent see themselves and their traditions erased in many ways. . .became too “American” by either force or by tough assimilation, (If you want a job, you must dress and speak our way said the white man, never mind that the Scots gave up their kilts and the Russians gave up their kartuz and kosovoratka, as well.) that there is a turn-about-is-fair-play logic.
Why wouldn’t a Chinese-American man think, “If my ancestors had to wear a three piece suit to work here, instead of a Changshan, you white men have actively rejected my culture, so you cannot then later, revel in it or profit from it. It is mine.” Just as the angry woman felt about the hoop earrings: you stole my identity, robbed me of history, you can’t have what’s mine anymore.
And they live in a time where saying so doesn’t get them killed.
But as I pointed out, when does it stop? Is it actually racist to cross cultural lines in clothing and creativity, an act seen by some as similar to black-face wearing vaudevillians? I see racism as the active subjugation of another race, whether through ridicule, laws, unwritten traditions or violence. Is that what I do when I wear kohl eyeliner? Or put on my red leather moccasins?
When do we stop being the African, Ukrainian, Native, Chinese- American and allow ourselves to all be Americans who can embrace all the heritage that blankets our society? When can we see it as gaining and honoring rather than losing or stealing? I like the way Keziah Daum is responding. She loved the dress and felt beautiful in it. She still loves the dress no matter how hostile the opposition. And she is so young that any of the events that led to the hostile backlash are so fathomless to her now.