ANAHEED: Thank you for pointing out, Jenny, that you can be a “nice person” and be acting in a really racist way. I think it’s really important to stop and check your own racism and privilege. But, staying in my role of devil’s advocate: is all that’s happening when someone wears a bindi or a cheongsam is that someone else gets “offended”? Or does it go beyond/beside offendedness?
Also, I’m uncomfortable saying “you can do this if you are ethnically Indian” (even if you are culturally something else, like American), because then it gets into the very kind of essentialism that racism is made of. Like, is it OK for me to wear native Iraqi Arab garb, even though I have never set foot in Iraq, because my parents are from there? I don’t think so, but a lot of the arguments about this subject reduce it to a matter of “you can wear things from your personal heritage but no one else’s,” which, again, is essentialist and…kind of dumb? And bordering on dangerous? Because then you get into people deciding if someone LOOKS “ethnic” enough to wear “ethnic” signifiers and you start trying to read skin color and…I mean, is that a road we really ever want to go down? That kind (any kind!) of skin-color policing makes me extremely uncomfortable.
JENNY: I also hate the idea of political correctness and the notion that certain things are FORBIDDEN, because it totally misses the point. For me the point is not that “someone is offended,” but that we are re-creating and reinforcing real injustices and histories of oppression. This history of both wanting to be “inspired” by another culture, while giving them hardly any credit, while also putting them down, is fucked up to me. The question of the history and the current state of affairs concerning the relationship of skin color to race and ethnicity is a whole nuther big, big issue, but I will say this: The fact that pale skin denotes “white” is problematic. The fact that brown (unless it’s “tan”!) denotes a person of color is problematic. Some people who are biracial or multiracial grow up identifying very much as a person of color, and others do not at all, and have never been made to feel like one. I don’t know what to say about that and whose responsibility it is to “call it out,” for lack of a better term.
LAIA: I am not really into calling people out for cultural appropriation at all, because I think if we segregate clothes and styles then I don’t know how to be like, “We are all human, but you can’t wear this type of collar.” Where does it stop? I don’t think this is coming from white privilege, because I am not white—but I do come from a country where there really isn’t that much cultural diversity (we are all mixed and that’s it). I apologize in advance for all my opinions in this discussion, because they are unpopular and it’s possible that I’m an asshole, but I love you all very much.
ANAHEED: “Where does it stop” is a good question. I’ve seen people calling other people out for wearing moccasins, or wearing a feather in their hair, and then I’m like, THIS HAS GONE TOO FAR.
SADY: Yeah, but if I were still Catholic, I would probably look askance at somebody wearing a Pope hat or a priest’s collar because it “looked cool.” Those things have specific significance—they’re not just fashion. Moccasins are one thing, but an imitation of religious gear? That’s creepy and disrespectful.
ANAHEED: I don’t know—if someone wants to wear a priest’s collar for “fashion,” is that really hurting anybody? Honestly?
LAIA: As a person raised Catholic I would actually love it if Pope hats caught on ☹
SADY: But maybe it would be different if Americans had this long history of oppressing priests? Like, if we all grew up not knowing what priest collars meant, and disrespecting the people who wore them, and then they became trendy, it wouldn’t just be a problem because it was sacrilegious to some people, it would be a problem because it would be endorsing or embodying a certain ignorance. Anyway, I have spent enough time delineating my made-up Everybody in Brooklyn Wears a Pope Hat culture—maybe the actual world is a place I should come back to now.
LAIA: But if everyone is wearing the stuff couldn’t it be, like, freeing? Is this a really ignorant thought? Why can’t you wear a sari with a jean jacket and sneakers if you think it’s pretty? Does all this extend to specific fabrics? Prints? I think wearing head-to-toe costume is one thing, but I don’t see how it’s a bummer to wear a certain print or shoe just because you’re into it.
JAMIA: Some people consider my locs to be appropriation because I’m not a Rastafarian. I had a bourgeois upbringing and am not being persecuted for my beliefs. I’ve had guys on the streets call me “Hollywood Dreads.” And I totally get it. But I am still rocking my hair how I want to. I think it’s just about checking ourselves and knowing what messages we are sending out–but we have the right to express ourselves freely always.