More on “cultural appropriation” of the Chinese dress

Yesterday I reported on the fracas about a Caucasian woman from Utah, Keziah Daum, who wore a qipao (also called a “cheongsam”), a form-fitting Chinese-style dress, to her senior prom. She found the dress in a vintage clothing store and admired it. For this gross breach of propriety, she was called out by many people for “cultural appropriation.” First, here’s the dress on Ms. Daum:

The qipao is a special dress, one invented in Shanghai in the 1920s and worn by socialites of the upper class. Further, I didn’t think of the possibility that its form-fitting nature may actually have been influenced by Western styles, which becomes more plausible if you read about its origins and alterations (from Wikipedia):

The original qipao was wide and loose. It covered most of the woman’s body, revealing only the head, hands, and the tips of the toes. The baggy nature of the clothing also served to conceal the figure of the wearer regardless of age. With time, though, the qipao were tailored to become more form fitting and revealing.

The modern version, which is now recognized popularly in China as the “standard” qipao, was first developed in Shanghai in the 1920s, partly under the influence of Beijing styles. The streamlined and body-hugging cut of the modern cheongsam was popularized by the socialite and one-time First Lady of China Madame Wellington Koo. Voted several times by Vogue into its lists of the world’s best-dressed women, Madame Wellington Koo was much admired for her adaptations of the traditional Manchu fashion, which she wore with lace trousers and jade necklaces. Cheongsam dresses at the time had been decorously slit a few inches up the sides, but Madame Koo slashed hers to the knee, ‘with lace pantelettes just visible to the ankle’. Unlike other Asian socialites, Madame Koo also insisted on local Chinese silks, which she thought were of superior quality.

People eagerly sought a more modernized style of dress and transformed the old qipao to suit their tastes. Slender and form fitting with a high cut, it had great differences from the traditional qipao. It was high-class courtesans and celebrities in the city that would make these redesigned tight fitting qipao popular at that time. In Shanghai it was first known as zansae or “long dress” (長衫—Mandarin Chinese: chángshān; Shanghainese: zansae; Cantonese: chèuhngsāam), and it is this name that survives in English as the “cheongsam”.

If you click the link on Madame Wellington Koo above, you’ll learn that she served as China’s nominal first lady for a year, but was also an international socialite, living in Paris and New York.  (Her Chinese name was Oei Hui-lan, 黃蕙蘭.) She also frequently wore Western clothes (see photo below), but I suppose nobody accused her of cultural appropriation. Well, that wasn’t in vogue back then (though Ms. Koo was in Vogue as a “style icon”), but my point is that it’s certainly plausible that Koo changed the baggier dress to a form-fitting style because she was influenced by Western dresses. In that case the qipao is itself a form of cultural appropriation that’s been “reverse appropriated.”

US ambassador Averell Harriman (C) greeting people with Mrs. Wellington Koo (L) during a party at the US Embassy in London. January 01, 1946

As for Chinese people wearing jeans, having Western names, and wearing Western suits, a new piece in the Independent explains why that’s okay (click on screenshot):

The author is Eliza Anyangwe, described on YouTube a “Cameroon-born, London-based freelance journalist and founder of The Nzinga Effect.com, a platform to celebrate African women’s stories. She naturalised in Britain but her parents are South African residents, living and working here. She is an example of a phenomena that is called the third culture children, who can’t lay claim to one culture because they are constantly on the move. Eliza joins us in the studio to tell us more about the Third culture Movement.” (my emphasis).  In the video she says that the “third culture” people float between several different cultures, which means they can appropriate elements of any culture. Isn’t that convenient? If I have genes from Ireland, as I might, is it okay if I wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?

As you can tell from Anyangwe’s title, she takes an extreme position—so extreme that she sees wearing a qipao as an element of systemic oppression practiced by whites. But Chinese people wearing suits aren’t oppressing Westerners.  Why? Anywangwe tells us (my emphasis):

Daum does not deserve online abuse, no one does, but the debate her prom pictures have prompted is justified. Cultural appropriation is about power, and to many she’s the embodiment of a system that empowers white people to take whatever they want, go wherever they want and be able to fall back on: “Well, I didn’t mean any harm.”

Yes, the qipao can probably be acquired fairly cheaply anywhere in the world where there’s a Chinese store, and in the same way that jeans are part of US cultural imperialism, there are certainly some in China who would see Daum’s sartorial choice as an extension of Chinese soft power – but whichever way you look at it, it wasn’t “just a dress”.

. . . Of course, it’s not just white people who are capable of appropriation (black people wearing bindis to music festivals has always irked me) – but it is unfair, enraging and a reflection of more deeply rooted inequalities when young people from various ethnic minorities are ridiculed for wearing their traditional dress; when they fight their afro hair into submission or dream of surgery on their eyelids, all so that they fit a white ideal.

Well, there you have it. The adoption of Western clothes by Chinese is the U.S.’s fault—cultural imperialism! But how does that work? Did Levi Strauss force the Chinese to wear their gear? I doubt it. Rather, the Chinese like jeans, either for their comfort or as an appropriation of Western style. Whatever the reason, it’s cultural appropriation—but not to Anyangwe. As the saying goes, “When WE do it, it’s okay!”  Either that or “We were forced to do it by those Western imperialists.”  Her last sentence is simply window-dressing, for the kinds of “black cultural appropriation” she mentions can be imputed to white imperialism.

How ludicrous this is! Are Asians oppressed in the U.S.? And is the qipao an item of clothing ever worn by oppressed Chinese? The answer to both questions is “no.” Anyangwe’s rationale is the same as the rationale for saying that blacks and Hispanics can’t be racist, because racism supposedly equals oppression plus power. To Anyangwe, cultural appropriation equals borrowing plus power. In both cases the “power” part has been added to excuse one group from what they impute to other groups as bigoted behavior. But wearing a qipao is not bigotry—it’s an expression of admiration for a dress style. As Seth Andrews has said, Anyangwe and the other critics of Daum’s dress are practicing “recreational outrage” (something I’ve called “leisure fascism”, but I like Seth’s term better). While some forms of cultural appropriation are worthy of being called out, this isn’t one of them.

For a palliative to the rant of Ms. Anyangwe, read the article below, also in The Independent, by Kassie Draven (click screenshot), who identifies herself as “Samoan, and part German, Dutch and British.”

An excerpt:

The qipao itself was culturally appropriated from Western figure-hugging dress designs as early as the 1920s, and was intended to be a luxurious evening gown. Did Keziah not wear it for its intended purpose? If so, how was she being in any way, shape or form disrespectful?

Personally, I think it’s deeply conservative to tell people what to wear, let alone what they can and can’t enjoy, based on their race or outward appearance. As someone who wants equality for all and for racism to end, I find it worrying to hear people discouraging the mixing and appreciation of other cultures. That mixing is actually the driving force towards acceptance and positive anti-racist change.

No culture is ‘pure’, as in completely removed from influences of other cultures around it. Humans have culturally appropriated ideas from each other since time immemorial. We in the West scoff our Pop Tarts (surely descended from the Cornish pasty? Don’t quote me on that!), use maths (which Arabs developed from the ideas of the ancient Greeks and Indians) and enjoy the comfort of electricity (which many different people from all backgrounds contributed towards harnessing) as we tap away on Twitter, quick to forget that what makes us great isn’t necessarily what makes us different; it’s the things we learn and share among each other despite being different.

In other words, what makes us great is cultural appropriation. To oppose it would be madness.

Indeed! Although, as I’ve said, some acts of “cultural borrowing” are unsavory, in general it’s not only harmless but salubrious. Opposing things like eating ethnic food or wearing ethnic garb is madness, and Anyangwe is truly mad—in both senses of the term. Those senses, of course, tend to go together.

 

 

76 Comments

  1. W.T. Effingham
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile somewhere, not necessarily China, some manufacturers are saying, “Appropriate all you want, we’ll make more “.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      I’d say that American clothing companies, who sub out there mfr. to China and elsewhere, say the same.

  2. Christopher
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I think these “woke” jack@sses are sleepwalking and need to be steered gently back to bed. Maybe after a good night’s sleep and a clear head they could wake up instead of being “woke” and would stop saying such stupid sh!t and maybe mind their own business for a change!

  3. busterggi
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    As I am of Polish heritage I celebrate my undermining of Germanic culture by having frankfurters as often as possible.

    Vengence!

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      The wiener rebellion?

      • rom
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Yeah you can never trust those Austrians.

      • busterggi
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        to establish the Sausage Nation!

      • Posted May 3, 2018 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        They are not sausages…!

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes! In this case, revenge is best served hot.

  4. Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Those of us who work closely with students and colleagues from Asia are routinely gifted cultural items (I’ve received qipaos for my daughters, for instance). It is usually rude to refuse the gifts (I have tried many times). I’ve asked cultural-appropriation theorists about this situation, and they invariably say the context justifies it as exchange rather than appropriation. Yet they can’t seem to perceive the contradiction when internet bandwagons pounce without giving the slightest attention to context. This is just feeding the epidemic of outrage addiction.

    • Gareth
      Posted May 4, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      This.
      Used to work in a expensive/exclusive private school in the UK and the Chinese parents were especially generous, as were the Russians. Most of the British parents preferred to act as if you didn’t exist.

  5. Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    You should have a read of the comments on the article. If the Independent has jumped the shark, its readers certainly haven’t.

    I have read about two pages of them and given up trying to find a comment that supports the thesis of the article.

    • Sebastian
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      That’s an interesting phenomenon that I also have noticed: left-leaning, mainstream online news sites when publishing opinions (or opinionated news) on what readers of this site would recognize as “regressive leftist” issues, will encounter very low support in the comments section.
      Is this because the vast majority of people out there actually is able to see through BS better than one would think, or is it that people tend to comment more on articles that they disagree with?

      • Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        I think people are more likely to post on articles with which they disagree, but the normal pattern is for other people who agree with the article to post refutations of the comments, even if they are in the minority.

        However, with articles condemning cultural appropriation, the pattern seems to be that almost nobody supports the article at all. I think that’s because people realise it is a pile of dingos’ kidneys.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 3, 2018 at 1:19 am | Permalink

          “dingos’ kidneys”?

          You stole that from the Aussies, admit it!

          Blatant cultural appropriation…

          cr

          • Posted May 3, 2018 at 5:32 am | Permalink

            Actually, it’s from The Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. I appropriated it from Douglas Adams. It’s the religionists’ response to Oolon Colluphid’s argument that the Babelfish disproves God.

        • Mike
          Posted May 3, 2018 at 8:03 am | Permalink

          I prefer the term bullshit.lol

          • Posted May 4, 2018 at 7:28 am | Permalink

            I was going to write “bollocks” but I toned it down for a family site and also to introduce an H2G2 reference.

      • eric
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        I suspect the papers publish such articles full well knowing most of their readers will disagree with it or see it as over the top.

        People often like to feel intellectually or morally superior to others. Give them a tough article, they may not come back. Give them a crappy article that lets them strut their opinion stuff, and they’ll come back to do it again.

        IOW, this could just be the paper trolling its readers to get more hits.

        • Posted May 4, 2018 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          Well, in a sense it worked. They probably got a lot of some extra traffic from this site.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    The Anyangwe article has one patently false sentence and one very true one from which she draws false conclusions. The latter is deftly parried by the second article by Kassie Draven .

    Anyangwe’s blatantly false sentence. “If school kids were to don copies of that to their prom it would cheapen that culture and separate the garment from the meaning a community gives it. The very people who do that without recognising it, and suggest that the historically oppressed culture from which they are cherry-picking their favourite elements for their own vanity”

    Vanity???? For some high school seniors the prom is an excuse to party hearty, but for others is a fairly revered coming-of-age ceremony just as much as a wedding or a funeral. How does she know Keziah Daum is motivated by vanity without knowing her better? The gratuitous usage of the word “vanity” is the strongest indication that Anyangwe is trigger-happy- shoot first and ask questions later.

    Anyanwe’s true but misleading sentence:
    “but it is unfair, enraging and a reflection of more deeply rooted inequalities when young people from various ethnic minorities are ridiculed for wearing their traditional dress; when they fight their afro hair into submission or dream of surgery on their eyelids, all so that they fit a white ideal.”

    True, but…..as Draven observes,
    “What I’ve seen from the replies to both of Jeremy and Keziah’s tweets is that many diaspora were bullied and ridiculed for being different as they were growing up in Western countries, and felt shamed out of expressing their cultural heritage. I acknowledge their hurt and I completely empathise.

    However, I do not condone them saying that non-Chinese people cannot wear a qipao…..But I don’t use my experiences as an excuse to bar people from enjoying my ancestors’ culture. In fact, I believe that the best way to combat racism and ‘otherness’ is to do the complete opposite.”

    In this photograph, Michelle Obama is wearing a dress by the Chinese-American designer Derek Lam that is red, chosen because it is the traditional Chinese color for happiness and good fortune. The dress is consciously intended as a blend of Chinese and Western styles and looks way more Chinese than what President Xi Jinping is wearing!!!

    https://img.thedailybeast.com/image/upload/c_crop,d_placeholder_euli9k,h_1439,w_2560,x_0,y_0/dpr_2.0/c_limit,w_740/fl_lossy,q_auto/v1492201577/articles/2014/03/21/michelle-obama-s-china-tour-looks-stella-mccartney-designs-a-maleficent-line-for-kids/140321-mobama-dress-china_gmu0v1

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Trying a different photo.

  7. Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    This just goes to show people can let a particular battle dominate their thinking to the extent that virtually anything triggers their anger. Clearly, it’s an irrational state of mind.

  8. Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Where will this end? Tea police.

    I have about thirty tins of loose leaf tea, some gifted to me by friends from Taiwan, China, and Japan. A blonde hair, blue eyed American male like me should be jailed for such appropriations.

    • barn owl
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Shhh!! They’ll be after coffee next. Then given my heritage, I’ll be left with mead and beer.

  9. barn owl
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Chinese Soft Power would be a good name for a trance/downtempo performer.

    Only if they’re actually Chinese, of course.

  10. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I regret to say that the academic world is, ultimately, responsible for the epidemic of recreational outrage. It is in the ivory towers that whole programs, departments, and workshops are devoted to offense-hunting. The language of the offense-hunters itself reveals what they are doing. Real aggression is so rare in the academy that a microscopic category, the micro-aggression, has been invented to provide employment for offense-hunters, and a hobby for the players of the recreational outrage game. Charges of “cultural appropriation” is just one of the moves in this entertainment.

    • AC Harper
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps we should start calling such people ‘crimeless victims’? They are so busy ‘being offended’ that they rarely analyse if their feelings of offence are justified.

      There’s quite a difference between ‘taking’ offence and someone else deliberately showing a lack of politeness or showing little regard for others.

      Perhaps we should just say “Ah. Diddums.” Over and over.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        That phrase would seem to qualify as a chiasmus, or at least an implied chiasmus.

  11. barn owl
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    It’s only a matter of time before the study and use of other languages are considered to be cultural appropriation and egregious microaggressions.

    • Craw
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Been done. Said, Orientalism.

      • barn owl
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        Oh, yes, forgot about that one.

  12. Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    A “woke” acquaintance of mine just posted an article on social media claiming that white people who aren’t sexually attracted to black people are racist.

    • Martin X
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      That idea has been around for a while. I wonder…are gay men automatically sexist?

  13. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    There is still an enormous amount of racism in the world. Usually, but not always, it’s the dominant culture that practices the most racism. That’s obviously because they’re used to being dominant and having their way.

    Imo, the best way to combat racism is to get to know one another. Mix with people from different cultures. Learn what’s important to them. Some things shouldn’t be appropriated. With most things though, it’s no big deal. It’s not about the culture being borrowed from being grateful. Rather, it’s appreciating the superior aspects of other cultures.

    The problem in the US (and we all have issues to a greater or lesser extent) is the history of race relations. There are things that happened there that are both worse and more recent than most of us have to deal with.

    A small number of examples. Native Americans were all but wiped out in a deliberate genocide that included germ warfare. Slavery was practiced for hundreds of years and people went to war because they wanted to keep it so badly. Even when that was gone, many areas continued to have legal segregation including such things as marriage between blacks and whites being legally forbidden. Groups like the KKK were able to murder people without having to worry about legal consequences.

    That kind of history, with law and government colluding in the racism, is what, imo, has left a lot of damage that will take some time to repair. It’s natural that some will feel a bitterness that will inform their reactions. Saying that wearing a cheongsam to a prom is unforgivable cultural appropriation is completely outrageous. At the same time, I can understand where that reaction is coming from.

    • Bernie
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      See the latest cbc.ca/radio/quirks on diversity training

      • Martin X
        Posted May 3, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        Even a half-hearted Googling shows diversity training doesn’t work. I had to go through such training at a school district I worked for…you’d think that an educational institution would establish the scientific merit of a program before forcing it on their employees.

        It was like a Communist re-education camp.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      I had a relative of the previous generation who, when occasionally evaluating the (un-)likelihood of someone accomplishing a given task/goal, used the phrase “a Chinaman’s chance.”

      It may be possible that she used the phrase simply and solely for its alliterative properties, having heard her ancestors use it, but it surely has historical/cultural antecedents in the U.S. (re: the Chinese Exclusion Laws of the 1920’s).

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        There’s one in New Zealand I used to hear when I was young. I don’t want to repeat it. When a task was being done too slowly, it was said to be done in (name of race)-time.

        While I was still young that was changed to Ministry of Works-time. However, that’s not used anymore either, and young people today wouldn’t understand it. The Ministry of Works was made a lot more efficient from the 1980s onwards, and the phrase is now meaningless.

        Every now and then I still hear an older person using the -time phrase in relation to the particular race. They always think it’s okay to say it when only white people are around, and when you call them out (as I always do), they always insist it’s just a saying and they’re not being racist. Many of them genuinely think they’re not being racist too. They can’t see what’s wrong with saying things like that. They’re the same people who say, “Some of my best friends are ….”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 3, 2018 at 2:41 am | Permalink

          You mean ‘Maori time’ I presume. (I can’t see the point in not-saying-it for three paragraphs).

          Whereas, in my wife’s circles, ‘Island time’ is a phrase used in a wry deprecating fashion all the time. And it really is a thing. It’s an attitude of mind that develops on isolated islands where not a lot happens and events are often delayed by such things as the late arrival of the monthly ship. It has good points as well as bad. Suppose you’re waiting for someone and they’re several hours late. A European would be chewing the scenery after the first half hour. Cook Islanders (and I’ve observed this) will just occupy their waiting time with chatting about – well, the infinite number of things they find to chat about. ‘Plenty time, tomorrow’s another day’. It’s a trait well-adapted to life on small islands, even if it sends clock-obsessed Europeans who have never learned to relax up the wall.

          cr

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted May 3, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

            Island time, in the islands, is a bit different from the way it’s used in NZ.

  14. Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    This is infuriating. A high-school student who was minding her own business and for all any of us know might be an excellent, kind, generous human being, is being bullied by outrage addicts craving attention.

    Who’s behaving badly here?

    • darrelle
      Posted May 3, 2018 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      What you said.

      This Jeremy Lam person behaved just like a grade school aged selfish, spoiled little brat fabricating an incident for the sole purpose of getting attention. Too bad for him he also just happened to have not done his homework and thereby revealed how ignorant he is.

  15. Scote
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    That it! I’m going to use Roman numerals exclusively so I don’t insensitively appropriate Middle Eastern culture. I’m also giving up Algebra.

    • KiwiInOz
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      I’m recasting my failure at maths to be being an early adopter of woke protest against appropriation of 0 and algebra etc.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Is it possible for “woke” to be “appropriated”?

    • Posted May 3, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Cf. _Square One_’s “The Mathematics of Love”, which includes a joke about Phoenicians finding Roman numerals awkward (!).

  16. Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    The entire appropriation idea is foolish in this modern world. The openness of communications, the mobility and intermixing of cultures that has never been seen before on this Earth is unstoppable. Appropriation will, is common. When a solution makes sense, use it. Thinking of a type of dress as a solution is a stretch, but there are only so many ways to cover a body.

    The thoughts behind cultural appropriation are autocratic and at the same time ghettoizing – surely this is the inverse of the regressive Left wants. Why would you isolate a culture from any other? There is only one reason for isolation – control, power. If not, I suggest the “warriors” of justice take up wearing tunics, sari, kilts, pa’u, and toga.

    No, this is mewling of children.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I agree, it is immature. I think it’s partly a naive misfiring of the fairness instinct and partly an attention-seeking virtue grab.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 3, 2018 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Yes, you’ve said it quite well. Appropriation is one of the main tools that empowers human societies to progress. It is the basis of culture. Standing on the shoulders of those that have come before, and all that. There is virtually no group of humans anywhere whose culture doesn’t include a slew of elements from other groups’ cultures.

  17. Laurance
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m painfully conflicted by this. I marked passing my 65th birthday by starting belly dance lessons. I was having a good time. I got good enough that I could perform in our local arts festival. Older women in the audience were heard to remark that it was so good to see a person of my age having such fun dancing and showing that you don’t have to be young and beautiful to dance.

    And then some three or four years ago I read an essay by Randa Jarrar, “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers”.

    https://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

    I kept on dancing, but I was having a hard time. On the one hand human beings learn from each other and spread culture far and wide. Shucks, the Italians wouldn’t be eating spaghetti if Marco Polo hadn’t appropriated noodles from the Chinese, so I’m told…

    And how I love East Indian food! How I love the spices!

    People appropriate things and mix things up to make beautiful hybrids!

    On the other hand, what I think I understood Randa Jarrar to say is that white people are only too happy to help ourselves to other people’s cultures while rejecting and invalidating the people who created the culture.

    I’ve heard Indian People (and there’s a kerfuffle over what terms to use, and whether “Native American” is acceptable) objecting to white people helping themselves to Indian religions and practices. “You stole our land, you decimated us and relegated us to reservations, you forced our children into white schools, and now that you’ve seen how bankrupt your own Christian religion is, you want to take our religion as well…”

    I am undecided. I’ve stopped dancing, partly because I’m conflicted, and partly because I’ve had major knee problems. Now I’m 76, and I’m out of shape and couldn’t dance well right how. Yet dancing again would be healthy exercise.

    What’s irritating me is that we now have snowflakes and Social Justice Warriors and internet trolls and Professional Victims making noise and making it difficult to have a genuinely reasoned examination and discussion about this issue.

    And I would like to hear a careful and thoughtful discussion without a bunch of Victim Credibility Points Collectors messing things up.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see why we need to generalize here. If an individual actually is racist and actually does reject and invalidate people of other cultures, then perhaps that individual can be given the stink eye when helping himself to things offered by other cultures.

      But why should a good, fair-minded global citizen pay a price for the above individual’s assholery? “You stole our land. You decimated us…” No. I did not.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      There’s a difference between ‘taking’ someone’s land, i.e., some variation of depriving another person of use/ownership by theft, confiscation, deceit or even consensual purchase, and ‘taking’ someone’s religion or dress designs, which still leaves the original practitioners with their religion and clothing.

      So, please keep on with your belly dancing and ignore any critics’ bellyaching.

      As in any spirited public debate, language is exaggerated and manipulated by design and carelessness. Jeremy Lam’s original comment claimed, ‘My culture is not your goddam prom dress”, but who apart from Lam implied such an equation?

      Ps, here’s another matter of language and meaning: PCC(E) asks if Asians are oppressed in the US. How should Asian students, needing significantly higher SAT scores for university admission than other ethnic groups, answer that question?

      • Filippo
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        Right, some Asian students are feeling sufficiently oppressed that in the last several weeks they have filed a lawsuit against Harvard.

        I knew a beguiling woman (3/4 Thai, 1/4 Chinese), who was stunningly photographed in a Japanese kimono. (She spoke Japanese as well as Thai and English.) Was some sort of “appropriation” going on there?

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Ms. Jarrar may like or dislike anything, but printing her views in an article shows that she gives them universal importance. And these views are racist. Try replacing “white belly-dancers” with e.g. “black mathematicians”.

    • BJ
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      Every culture is only too happy to take things from other cultures. Every culture has tons of people who demean other cultures. Does Randa Jarrar actually think that Indian people are somehow more tolerant than the white people she hates? Has she ever been to India?!?

      Meanwhile, every organized group of people ever took their land from another. Before Europeans showed up on what is now US soil soil, the Native American tribes constantly warred with each other, taking land and having it taken back again. Of course, we should treat Native Americans far better than we do. But this whole idea of holding white and/or Western nations to standards we hold nobody else, and acting as if they are uniquely intolerant, is absurd.

      None of this should stop you from doing what you love because none of these arguments have any legitimacy.

  18. Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    What a storm in a teacup.

  19. Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, the sins of our forefathers have not remained in the past. We continue to disregard our legal commitments to Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Marshall Islanders,
    and many others. We have a long history of interfering in the politics and economics of other countries for the benefit of American Big Business. In addition to appropriating cultural elements such as food and dress, we need to communicate and learn. I wish we were the “good guys” we purport to be.

  20. Harry Corrigan
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    When I hear the words “cultural appropriation”, I want to reach for my sheleighleigh. [And yes, I do have a sheleighleigh; been in the family since before I was born 75 years ago.]

    • Filippo
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Is it made of a U.S. Navy fire hose?

    • Posted May 5, 2018 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      How envious I am! Although one doesn’t often think of a woman with a sheleighleigh, I’ve
      often thought I’d like one for (hopefully) scaring off bullies while in the car or answering the front door to a stranger. Being such a coward, I probably wouldn’t use it but I can imagine…

  21. Lambert
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    All I can say is how dare we discuss this matter in the English language, which is of course a melding of just about every language ever spoken in Europe, and a good few other countries besides. Talk about cultural appropriation!!!

  22. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    It would be extremely difficult, to say the least, to effectively police this matter to the satisfaction of the cultural segregationists.
    There are many large cities in the U.S. who have a thriving ‘China Town’, packed with stores filled with Chinese merchants selling decorations, clothing, candy, and everything else Chinese. The stores are literally packed with Westerners buying — excuse me – appropriating these items. Millions of dollars a year is probably made in this terrible, terrible melting pot of a country.
    I suggest the cultural segregationists take this serious matter up with them.

  23. Vaal
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Who boy, the original offense-meister, Jeremy Lamb who made the tweet castigating this girl, is getting slammed on twitter.

    Aside from the fact everyone is pointing out he’s going on about “his culture” while wearing western clothes has a western name, it turns out he’d bragged on twitter

    “I’m eating tamales with chopsticks, this is why America was founded!”

    And also “appropriated” black language, including using the “n-word.” Plus he tweeted: “Toddlers speaking Chinese are way better than those White english speaking demons.”

    The thing about it isn’t merely the richly ironic hypocrisy. It’s that this was INEVITABLE. Given the fact there is cross-cultural integration and influence everywhere, in most of our lives, when you try and call someone else out to “stay in your box, out of my box” you can plan on it biting you back in the arse.

    So short sighted, in every possible way.

    • Vaal
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      whoops, should have written “Jeremy Lam.”

      And this is ironic because he recently tweeted about how “white people” put “b” at the end of his name.

      Not that he’s being racist singling out white people or anything…

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 3, 2018 at 3:00 am | Permalink

      Bearing in mind that (if one watches the video posted below by scienceismyreligion) Real Chinese People from China (TM) are perfectly happy with anyone wearing qipao so long as they have the figure for it –

      Jeremy Lam himself is guilty of massive cultural appropriation. And what he has appropriated is modern American/western ‘offence culture’. This is not an improvement.

      cr

  24. Posted May 2, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    What actual Chinese people in China think of this:

  25. Roo
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Wait… wasn’t this the plot of “Hairspray”, except 30 years ago the bad guys were Oppressive Conservatives Who Possibly Were On A Brief Road Trip Away From The Town In ‘FootLoose’, Oppressing People In A Horribly Right Wing Oppressive Manner? Remember, the gist was that the bad guys backwardly thought that dancing to black music and doing black dance moves was scandalous for nice white girls, but the heroic liberals knew better and saved the day? And now 30 years later the heroic liberals are on the side of saying white girls mustn’t adopt the stylings of those – gasp – *other* cultures? Argh! Irony much?

    This is the kind of silliness that makes people think the far Left simply isn’t equipped to grapple with serious issues and instead obsesses over weird Ivory Tower nonsense. Not cool. There are so many atrocities going on in the world today, gossiping about a teen girl’s prom dress is just tabloid stupidity (and possibly peral-clutching xenophobia) rebranded.

  26. yazikus
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    is called the third culture children, who can’t lay claim to one culture because they are constantly on the move.

    Well, I certainly did not expect this to come up. Third Culture Kid speaking here: that is not quite how I would define the term. As I have understood it (and lived it) it refers to kids who are raised outside of their passport country, in another country that they do not plan to immigrate to and moves frequently as a non-immigrant spending more time outside their passport country than in. This does indeed lead to a lack of nationalism (in ever TCK I’ve ever met) and a remarkable group of cosmopolitan, diverse and accepting folks. A TCK should be the LAST person to decry the donning of this dress. We know the value of cultures bleeding into one another, of making connections across cultural divides and understanding how national identity is not the most important thing to think about. Hell, every fourth of July I cosplay what I think a patriotic USian would wear. Am I culturally appropriating my own passport culture?

    • yazikus
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      And thinking further, I’m brought back to a grade in school where not more than three classmates at a time shared a mothertongue. We all spoke in a blend of all of our languages – were were culturally appropriating something then? I’m as left as they come (or at least, I used to think so), and am sensitive to people who are being assholes about another person’s culture, but this is too far. TCK’s know that we are the world’s children, our identity formed by our shared lack of cultural identity. We built something else. Something upon shared values, friendship, kindness, respect, and sharing.
      Color me offended by that piece.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 3, 2018 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        I wonder if it is more accurate to view it as a multi-cultural identity rather than a lack of a cultural identity?

        I envy people like you. I had a taste of it, living out-of-country for some of the most formative years of my life and I still look at those years as some of the best and most defining.

  27. danstarfish
    Posted May 3, 2018 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    A Hong Kong newspaper is reporting that many Chinese have heard about the controversy and support the girl wearing the dress.

    One comment from article:
    “It is not cultural theft,” another wrote. “It is cultural appreciation and cultural respect.”

    http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2144207/qipao-us-prom-wins-support-china-after-internet-backlash

  28. Posted May 3, 2018 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    Does being ‘naturalised in Britain’ allow her to culturally appropriate British dress? Sorry – this just shows what a lot of crap she is talking. I’d look pretty silly in a ‘Chinese’ dress but this makes me want to wear one!

  29. John Crisp
    Posted May 3, 2018 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I live in Ethiopia, where possibly 70% of the population, particularly the under-20s (in turn a majority), habitually wear clothes with multiple holes and tears. This is because they are either members of the rural subsistence poor or of the urban poor, and cannot afford new clothes. However, there is also a growing affluent urban middle class, and a preferred fashion of the teenage daughters of this class is… you will have guessed it… jeans with strategically placed holes and tears. The question is whether this is class appropriation from Ethiopia, or cultural appropriation from the West? Or perhaps it is not appropriation if a style is borrowed from a group that is not aware that it is a style?

    We get a lot of invitations to weddings, partly because people are very hospitable here, and partly for the slightly embarrassing reason that there is a certain kudos in having a “ferenji” at a wedding, and no doubt partly as well because it is the custom for guests to contribute according to their means to the cost of the wedding… In any case, it is more or less de rigueur for me to wear traditional Ethiopian dress, though very often I may be one of only two or three men wearing it (the women, on the other hand, almost universally appear in full traditional finery). Last weekend, my wife and I were at a wedding in a village in Northern Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border, and the only other man in Ethiopian dress was the father of the bride. There were some 400 people present, and most of them wanted a selfie with me. If those photographs go on social media, I will be in deep shit! I guess that my Ethiopian friends need their consciousness raised, since at present they are woefully unaware of my appropriation of their culture.

    It is all such bollocks. Obviously, if I put on Ethiopian traditional dress and painted my face and hair black, it would be a different matter (though I suspect that most Ethiopians would find it hilarious – colour can be a sensitive issue here, but the sensitivities are mostly interethnic. Because the country has never been colonised, whiteness is associated with wealth, but less with power or authority). it is very odd that the left, which claims to espouse diversity and multiculturalism, seems at the same time to be preaching against cultural “miscegenation” and in favour of cultural purity, in some bizarre mirror version of the nationalist right’s espousal of sexual and cultural purity.

  30. Carly
    Posted May 3, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    (Full disclosure, I haven’t read any comments upon writing this.)

    So, what would Eliza have done if Daum had had any other skin color while wearing the Chinese dress? What if Daum was black or just about any other skin color except Caucasian? That’s just stupid.

  31. Gareth
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    As a third culture kid, I’d like to point out that its not some special sort of club, its simply a term to describe people who spent much of their childhood, especially their formative years, outside their country of origin, and thus subjected to a wider/different range of cultural influences making us appear a bit odd to those who don’t get out much. We’re especially terrifying to people who prefer ‘culture’ to be kept in separate tickboxes.

    Originally coined to describe the children of US servicemen stationed outside the US, its used for pretty much any children of immigrants who spend their childhood living abroad, in just one country or many, and especially if there is a ‘going home’ after it aspect.

    In my case going home sucked, so I moved back to where I grew up.


%d bloggers like this: