Oh no not tribal fashion references again!

So the last time I wrote about American Apparel’s use of mock tribal prints and the name, “Afrika” for a line of clothing, it was a little bit controversial. Some folks didn’t understand why putting thin, white models, in faux tribal and animal prints with the title, “Afrika” was racist. So be it.
UPDATE: I think one of our commenters put the argument for why the use of “African” symbolism is problematic and racist best here.
She says,

For people who have not been exposed to critical race theory or the study of colonialism and cultural appropriation, the new Afrika line probably doesn’t look racist to you. The reason it doesn’t look racist to you is because the attractiveness of the line is meant to play on the unconscious attitudes that non-African westerners have about Africa. Here’s a set of association words:
exotic
primitive
tribal
jungle
wild
animalistic
hypersexual
I can go on, but you get the point.


Africa is a continent, not a country. If they called the line “Cameroon”, people would say “what”? Most Americans don’t know anything about africa, and probably couldn’t point out Cameroon on a blank map. “Tribal” is a loaded word, which I could write like ten pages about, especially in relation to the western perception of African societies.

I am choosing to put that quote in here and I think it applies to the below example as well.

This however, is just weird. I like fashion, I won’t lie. But I don’t even think these look good. Galliano states that his starting point was in fact African tribalism. But, I don’t even know where this is categorized. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is appropriation, but I do think it is offensive to make a “tribal figure” the heel of your shoe. Even more so, since it is supposed to represent fertility so the tribal figure is supposed to be an “African” woman. I guess it could also be seen as a play on voodoo. That is kind of wack no?

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53 Comments

  1. -jro-
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    eeehhh…..well at least its not a white model, right? Because then it would be simply outrageous.
    sorry to offend….but I really don’t understand this and the “Afrika” AA thing.

  2. Spider Jerusalem
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I actually think the line is attractive. Especially that first gown. I take your point on the shoes, though.
    As for the previous discussion (I sat it out), I will just say that there are white Africans, though they’re descended from colonists. I’m not saying that at ALL excuses having an all-white show, nor does it excuse anything American Apparel EVER does ever, but I did have some neighbors who were white South Africans and who grew up fighting apartheid and embracing the African side of their surroundings, who were SHOCKED at how anti-white Americans were at African functions (art shows, culture days, etc).

  3. Samhita
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Spider can you expand on this anti-white sentiment?

  4. Danyell
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Idk, I think having any shoe where your weight is supposed on the back of a woman is pretty fuct, whether or not racism is a factor…

  5. Samhita
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    j-ro, I actually think one of our commenters said it best.
    Check it out here: http://www.feministing.com/archives/010929.html#comment-178690
    In fact, I might add that to the original post.

  6. oh_machine
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I actually think the line is pretty… but those heels.
    Oh god, they look painful.

  7. Danyell
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I meant to say “supported”. Sorry!

  8. Halo
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The heels are creepy, and I do think that comment on the “Afrika” thread should be highlighted- it’s a great explanation (which is what I was asking for on that thread, I was one of the heathens that didn’t initially get it)!
    *Hopefully constructive criticism* Your post comes off somewhat condescending to those of us that haven’t studied racism in depth and need a bit more explanation than those that do.
    Not having knowledge doesn’t mean I don’t care, and I would assume that goes for most people. It just means that I am open to be enlightened by those that do understand.

  9. -jro-
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    samhita, that is a very good post and thanks for calling it out. I still disagree though…fashion does this sort of thing to a great variety of cultures and societies. You can find examples of “inspired” clothing lines that mimic Scandinavian culture or Japanese culture or Indian culture- yet no one has highlighted them as offensive.
    I also was really discouraged reading the various comments that found the white model offensive. Many posters said white people shouldn’t wear ethnic type clothing- zebra prints or moccassins or chop sticks in their hair. If anyone ever said something along the lines of “Black people shouldn’t wear clogs or saris or chop sticks in their hair” they would be immediately chastised for it.
    I understand its a touchy subject….and I still don’t get it…I apologize if my views offend people.

  10. Morgan La Fey
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I will never understand high fashion. Is that a sexified nun’s habit?

  11. 76cents
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    ” You can find examples of “inspired” clothing lines that mimic Scandinavian culture or Japanese culture or Indian culture- yet no one has highlighted them as offensive”
    Thank you, I am always unsettled by celtic jewellery on those who don’t always know what it represents.

  12. Spider Jerusalem
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Samhita-
    They would get hateful looks and comments when they wore african print and style clothes, because they were white and blonde. They came back absolutely amazed that people would a) be so brusk and b) assume that someone who is white has no cultural association with African style.

  13. Samhita
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    La Fey-I know, I didn’t want to add to much to this, but I actually immediately thought hijab and then was like, oh hell no, it can’t be. OR a nun’s habit.
    Lawd.

  14. bifemmefatale
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    jro, actually, people have commented on fashion’s other cultural appropriations as offensive. You’re just not looking in the right places. And the old “if Black people did this…” doesn’t work. There is a difference between those in power ripping off the cultures of those they oppress, and oppressed cultures borrowing from each other. (This is not to say that even all POC are conscious about adopting another culture’s fashions–sometimes everyone acts thoughtlessly.) Similarly, if African people adopt Western dress, it’s not appropriation, it’s assimilation–they are adopting the clothes of the powerful so that the powerful will respect them more, hire them, etc.

  15. -jro-
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    bifemme- I get that. Companies that basically steal trends from other cultures to turn a profit suck, undoubtedly. But really- why can’t a white person wear moccasins or other ethnic type clothing? Maybe they find that particular culture fascinating, maybe they even study it, maybe they know a lot about it. I don’t get why anyone would discourage it, tell people they can’t be curious about other cultures…it seems detrimental.
    And maybe some African people adopt Western dress because they like it? Its a possibility…just saying.

  16. -jro-
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    “jro, actually, people have commented on fashion’s other cultural appropriations as offensive. You’re just not looking in the right places.”
    Where are the right places? I’d like to know. And anywhere on this site in particular?

  17. bifemmefatale
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    jro–No one says westerners or white people can’t be curious about other cultures. What *is* bad is adopting a foreign style of dress without an understanding of the culture that dress came from, or doing anything to benefit that culture. For instance, several Indian-American bloggers pointed out, when Madonna was wearing mehndi and Gwen Stefani was sporting bindis, that they themselves would get flack from friends and neighbors for wearing those things to school as a legitimate expression of their background, but when a pretty white girl did it, suddenly it was “cool”, “hip” and trendy.
    Look up “exotification” for the perils of finding a foreign culture fascinating. And btw, I do sympathize with your position, as a white girl who has always loved Indian fashions and decorative arts myself. However, there came a point when it just didn’t feel right for me anymore to wear salwar kameez no matter how cute I thought they were. I realized that if I truly loved that culture, I had to respect it and acknowledge my outsider status. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped renting Bollywood movies, eating curry and naan and dreaming about visiting India some day. Some forms of cultural exchange are less fraught than others.

  18. Spider Jerusalem
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    bifemmefatale-
    The one that really annoys me is the appropriation of East Asian cultures, but my Chinese husband LOVES kimono-and-corsets on white/Latina/Persian girls.
    On the other hand, I remember reading in a British magazine about people who get stupid tattoos to look “exotic” and end up looking the fool. Kids who ask for Japanese or Chinese characters and go around for months not knowing they have “This is an ugly boy” tattooed on their flesh. My favorite was a trend in Texas for men to get Maori chin markings as a sign of virility, when in Maori culture, those tattoos are a sign of female fertility.

  19. bifemmefatale
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  20. Dayna
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Many people wear clothing that represents other cultures and they don’t even know the meaning of it. I do not think that the makers of this clothing line intended anything to be seen as racist.

  21. Dayna
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Many people wear clothing that represents other cultures and they do not even know the meaning behind it. They wear it because that is what is in the stores, on the run ways, and in the magazines. I do not think this designed was thinking of this in a racist way. I just think they were trying to put a new spin on fashion.

  22. stronggirl18
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I think this is a good that we are pointing this out.
    Maybe while we are at it we can also point out how ad agencies and the tv and movie industries here in America are racist in there portrayals of white males. Here are some association words: Moron, inconsequential, morally immature, unintelligent, bad father and husband, cowardly.
    Lest we forget, if it is wrong to portray minorities and women in those ways, then it is also wrong to portray white males that way.

  23. bifemmefatale
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh stronggirl18, who will pity the poor white mens?!? How will they ever overcome their abundance of privilege and the crushing burden of power?
    *cough*splutter*

  24. Blitzgal
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Yawn. Boring troll.

  25. Civchic
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Maybe she didn’t say it exactly right and maybe she was trolling, but I get what stronggirl18 was saying – I was raised to believe that two wrongs don’t make a right.
    In other words – you cannot raise yourself up by standing on the backs of others, even if they had it coming. ;)
    I love saris and wish I could wear them but as a truly homogenous white girl of Scottish descent I feel completely out of my element and offensive to do so. I also have several friends with “Asian” tattoos – that just makes me grit my teeth.

  26. Katie
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    That looks a lot like the Venus of Willendorf. Even if Galliano meant it to be “African”, the statue I’m referencing was found in Austria.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf
    I have a different opinion on the AA ‘Afrika’ line, and this post could have been phrased in a less condescending manner. It’s not my blog, but some people may have not understood the ‘racism’ while others simply do not agree. Holding a different opinion about this is not ignorance of the issues around it.

  27. Blitzgal
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m calling “her” out as a troll because she’s hitting several threads in order to distract from the topic at hand in order to post a hand-wringing “what about the MENZ?” message. The very definition of a troll.

  28. LittlePunk
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I think one of the most offensive aspects of this fashion shoe is the placement of the figure at the heel, not only “supporting her weight” in a very subordinate manner, but touching the ground, which is considered often to be a sign of disrespect. Imagine if another culture made a shoe with the statue of liberty or a “mainstream” religious figure as the heel. I’d imagine it would be met with measurable outcry.

  29. nattles_thing
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The fertility idol shoes are just weird. It’s kind of ironic to see a figure like that one — fat, with breasts and an ass — held up as fashionable when the fashion world idolizes skinny girls.
    I tend to think of fashion as art, which means I’ll give it a lot of slack when it comes to appropriation. As long as it’s not completely disrespectful, I don’t usually have a problem.
    And I still don’t think that wearing leopard print is at all racist.

  30. alixana
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think you have to “oh no” bringing up the topic again – in fact, I think the more examples and explanation you provide, the more people will “get it.” I took many women’s and minority’s studies classes in college, and this is a new topic for me. But I think it’s important to not ridicule or insult people who don’t get it – like Halo mentioned above, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean we’re not open to figuring it out.

  31. Danyell
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Civchic, whether or she “stronggirl18″ made a point, it’s not even relevant to this conversation! No one was attacking men anywhere in this thread. The only reason to keep bringing it up in everything single post is trolling.

  32. marilove
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    stronggirl18 = troll. ignore him. yes, him.

  33. Samhita
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    stronggirl has been banned. I am really sorry folks.

  34. T-Monster
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Oh come on! Stronggirl was hilariously bad at trolling. It was amusing me. The delicate phrasing was priceless, as if we are stupid enough to go “Gee, I never realized white men were so oppressed and rape victims were lying!”
    ::Throws feminist cap to the ground, adds McCain pin to t-shirt::

  35. baddesignhurts
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    the one thing i have to point out is this: generally when someone copies something, it’s because of a perceived lack of their own. i think that applies here. in the past, many artists of dominant cultures have gone to/appropriated from less technologically advanced cultures (think gauguin going to tahiti) because they perceived some level of “realness”, some genuine quality to those cultures that is lacking in their own. i think this is very active in our own culture today; we seem to almost fetishize tribal and ancient cultures, in my opinion, because of the high degree of confusion, upheaval, lack of identity, etc. that characterizes our postmodern condition, with its myriad viewpoints and tensions between faith and science. i can’t find the exact quote right now, but the philosopher cornel west said something about how “we are facing an existential crisis that transcends time and space” in american/western culture, and i think he’s absolutely right….we spend so much time getting advertised at (and AA is ironically one of the worst offenders) that i think they are trying to appeal to consumers through the idea that native/indigenous cultures are simpler but more pure than our own. yes, this gets into “noble savage” territory, but rather than make quick value judgments (i.e., “AA is racist! racist = bad!”), let’s explore what this says about us. the reason this keeps cropping up says less about racism (in my view) than it does about our own sense of isolation and cultural confusion.

  36. jlw
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    baddesignhurts,
    I think you do have a point. But I don’t think that makes it any better at all, because it’s still about our culture viewing non-western cultures as simpler / less complex … and more primitive. It’s about our fantasy of what these cultures are rather than what they are in reality.

  37. baddesignhurts
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    jlw,
    i think you’re exactly right….it is definitely about a short of cultural shorthand: we have “symbols” that indicate “africanness” in our culture, and those certainly have to do with being “primitive” or “tribal” or whathaveyou. i guess i just don’t think it’s awfully productive to merely identify or enumerate the myriad companies that are playing with essentially elementary symbols. (i mean, i remember being abroad and telling people i met that i lived in arizona. more people that i can count asked me if i was a cowgirl or if i knew how to shoot a six-gun or if i’d ever killed a coyote. i live in phoenix, the fifth-largest city in the country, for god’s sake.)
    i agree that use of symbols in this manner is by its nature simplistic and can be exploitative if the consuming group mistakes the use of those symbols for the intricacy and complexity of people’s real lives, and as we know, africa is a large place with all different kinds of people. yes, AA is most likely ass-ignorant here, not overtly trying to be hurtful, but instead being unthinking and uncritical about its messaging. but i don’t think that’s really ground-breaking news here.
    i’m more interested in what AA *was* thinking about, rather than what they *weren’t* considering (though they have certainly been offensive). and i have the suspicion that the reason they created this product line is (obviously) because they think americans will buy something that evokes, to most people, a foreign culture, and the deeper reason for this is because americans are at heart dissatisfied with their own. to acknowledge this is most certainly not excusing aa’s actions, but instead to explain them. to me, it’s not very interesting to end the discussion with “it’s racist!” it’s much more interesting to explore what gives rise to racism….usually the answers are more complex than any of us think.
    i think much of this essential dissatisfaction with american culture comes from a loss of cohesive identity among the dominant class/ethnic group. that, however, is a much longer discussion.

  38. estevancarlos
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry but at what point can the western world refer to African (or others’) virtues, concepts, tenets, ideas, etc without it coming off as a brand of racism stemming from exoticism? I agree that we as a part of the western world still heavily entrench fetish ideals along side foreign countries, brown skin, African patterns, sexual preference, musical taste… but it’s almost unavoidable even for those who look towards the U.S. with their own fantasies and misconceptions.
    What about the cargo cults of WWII: the islanders who created ritual performances mimicking American military actions under the belief it would bring the magical white man and “cargo” to their islands. This is nothing new. This is nothing that only applies to the white world fetishizing African ideals. Maybe we should encourage further understanding of this phenomenon as opposed to labeling all of it as intrinsically bigoted.

  39. jlw
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    baddesignhurts,
    I do think you bring up some good points, and I totally agree that the discussion should not end with the determination that something is racist. It is interesting to look at the motives and causes behind these ways of thinking. I guess the only other idea I was trying to add is that it is also important to have a discussion about western appropriation of non-western cultures that seeks to make a space for non-western cultures to speak for themselves. In order to do that, we first have to acknowledge where the appropriation is taking place.

  40. ShifterCat
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    On top of everything else, the shoes are hideous. Heels are so small, and so far from the eyesight of anyone but a foot fetishist getting down to lick, that all you’d really see is a lumpy shape.
    OT: augh, can’t something be done about that godawful Bud Light ad?

  41. Lauren
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    “Some folks didn’t understand why putting thin, white models, in faux tribal and animal prints with the title, “Afrika” was racist. So be it.”
    Um, Samhita? The post you’re referencing was animal prints only. Which I still maintain, some people like because they like animals. If you want to keep arguing that liking tiger and leopard prints is always, under all circumstances, racist, go ahead, but don’t misrepresent what the original argument was.

  42. tonisjadine
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    I think the real question is when ads that just so happen to include a dismembered female body or less than respectful treatment towards a woman can stop being linked to systematic misogyny. I mean really, maybe it’s just a joke or only the legs fit in the frame. (argh, I’ve failed to control the snark!)
    The problem isn’t the individual instance, it’s the system it springs from and reinforces. Disembodied representations of woman can be part of good work against confining definitions of womanhood (warning: nekkid ladies). Not that I can think of any, but certainly there has been work in the world of fashion that broadened and deepened understanding of Africa in the states. The AA Africa line is not an example of that.
    Designers or individuals can and will take all the inspiration they want from cultures not their own, and the question (to me) is not whether that individual is doing it thoughtfully or respectfully, the question is how their product moves the big cultural needle. If someone accidentally creates something that increases anti-racist sentiment, I don’t care why or how they did it, I just think it’s lovely it’s there.
    The problem with the AA Afrika line is that it reinforces an already present habit of imagining Africa as a monolithic continent defined by animals and minimally contextualized tribes. Mr. Charney’s line of clothing won’t last as long as this perception of Africa, and their Afrika line is one little contribution to that fact.

  43. timothy_nakayama
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    On the other hand, I remember reading in a British magazine about people who get stupid tattoos to look “exotic” and end up looking the fool. Kids who ask for Japanese or Chinese characters and go around for months not knowing they have “This is an ugly boy” tattooed on their flesh.
    I laugh a lot when I see those tattoos. You’d probably never find a Mainland Chinese or Japanese tattooing themselves with Chinese or Japanese style characters.
    I also find it amusing how they’ll be proud to tell you that “This characters means love”, but have no idea how to say it in Chinese or Japanese. When you ask them how they know it means love, they say the tattooist told them that.
    And yes, I have seen tattoos that these people who get them claim to mean one thing, but whoever tattooed them tattooed a different character that meant something totally different. Puerile humour? I suppose.

  44. FrumiousB
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    @ Lauren Author September 30, 2008 11:40 PM
    The original post was about the entire AA line – not just the zebra print top in the picture Samhita chose to go along with her post. Did you look at the AA line? It has many prints which resemble certain African prints. Even the picture Samhita chose shows a model wearing some kind of bottom with a geometric print on it.
    @nobody in particular
    I can no longer agree with the sentiment that referring to Africa rather than individual nations is racist (sometimes expressed as “Africa is not a country.”) Have people ever listened to actual Africans? Africans of many nationalities discuss “Africa” and “African” problems and “African” needs in the collective. I see this in newspaper articles and documentaries examining problems like AIDS, monetary aid, or dumping. The people interviewed are sometimes ordinary citizens, sometimes activists, sometimes heads of state or heads of state agencies. Africa may be comprised of many nations and peoples, but there are many systemic problems which affect the entire continent in a similar manner such that it makes sense to discuss “Africa” rather than Cameroon, Uganda, and all the others. Plus I believe that the people who actually live there are in the thick of things have more of a right to determine how to refer to patch of Earth they live on than a bunch of people overseas do.

  45. puckalish
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Um, Lauren, it wasn’t just animal prints. The picture she posted was of one of the zebra print pieces, but if you took the time to read instead of just to look at the pictures, you’d have seen that…
    tonisjadine, your links didn’t work, could you repost them?
    look, if folks don’t believe that there’s such a thing as negative cultural appropriation, then i don’t know if this is the right place for a 101 on it… and i don’t want to speak for her, but i think that has a lot to do with the perceived tone in Samhita’s posts… she presented an analysis that kind of assumes the reader is familiar with concepts of appropriation and was hit with the assertion that she was “crying wolf.”
    perhaps this intro was a little flip, but i just read it as apprehensive.
    and for all those folks who wonder “when is it appreciation and when is it appropriation?” i suggest you do a little research into the term. there is a wealth of academic and blogged knowledge relating to the issue that you could find really easily.
    this is a pretty cool article i stumbled across one day:
    http://theangryblackwoman.com/2007/05/31/wiscon-31-cultural-appropriation/
    this is about a seminar event, which you can find many more reactions to here:
    http://rilina.livejournal.com/314663.html
    baddesignhurts, i hear what you’re saying, but it raises another issue for me – one of my big issues with appropriation in cases like this and AA is that someone is making a monetary profit off of a disenfranchised group’s intellectual labor. what you point out is that the consumers, too, are filling a gap with the work of other people – without thinking to finding an authentic way to fill that gap and without thinking to actually ally with or understand the people who produced that work (by work, here, i do mean culture, art, etc.)
    and, re: Africa as a unitary entity… certainly, there are problems affecting the continent as a whole and, given the continent’s shared history of colonization, theft of natural resources and humanity, etc., there are a lot of African things about which to talk… however, we’re not talking about Galliano discussing what the South African leadership can do to help with Zimbabwe’s failing economy. we’re talking about AA taking zebra strips and a vague pattern or Galliano taking a fertility symbol that came from somewhere and just calling it “tribal” and “African.” there is something racist about that.
    “the people who actually live there are in the thick of things have more of a right to determine how to refer to patch of Earth they live on than a bunch of people overseas do.” that’s absolutely right… and, while people from various places in Africa recognize there are issues that face the continent as a whole (the same way there is a European Union and an Arab League, etc.), the unique way in which all of Africa is simplified by outsiders is not in the same vein.
    be well…

  46. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    puckalish, certainly! there’s an underlying problem here manifesting as casual, accidental racism. imho, the problem is a lack of connection, faith, safety, trust in one another, genuine morality, so forth and so on, in OUR culture, that leads to fetishization of different cultures that we perceive as having what we lack (whether or not these other cultures actually HAVE those qualities is another point entirely).
    and jlw, certainly we have to acknowledge where racism exists, and provide emotionally/physically safe spaces for those who have been discriminated against to do what they need to do to cope.
    i just think we’re never going to avoid having something similar to this happen again if we don’t acknowledge not just our FAULT, but western culture’s own yearning desires.

  47. Mina
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Danyell commented at September 30, 2008 1:46 PM: “Idk, I think having any shoe where your weight is supposed on the back of a woman is pretty fuct, whether or not racism is a factor…”
    Totally.
    bifemmefatale commented at September 30, 2008 2:27 PM: “There is a difference between those in power ripping off the cultures of those they oppress, and oppressed cultures borrowing from each other.”
    Then there are the ones in the middle. For example, a white Irish-American whose recent ancestors faced the “Irish Need Not Apply” crap when applying for jobs could both watch an Anglo-American open an “Irish Pub” and wear those stupid shoes at the same time. For another example, someone who has white privilege and male privilege but doesn’t have heterosexual privilege studying hard to get a scholarship to move away from a small town with a high rate of gay-bashing could, a couple of semesters later, see some women like how he looks then see some “metrosexual” straight men imitate his style to attract those women…
    -jro- commented at September 30, 2008 2:47 PM: “Where are the right places? I’d like to know. And anywhere on this site in particular?”
    Here are a couple of posts and their comment threads for example:
    http://www.feministing.com/archives/010934.html (Burning Man 2008: The American Dream, Posted by Samhita – September 12, 2008, at 11:58AM, in Analysis , Class , Consumerism)
    http://www.feministing.com/archives/007093.html (Gentrification, Hipsters and “Ghetto Chic.”, Posted by Samhita – May 30, 2007, at 09:30AM, in Analysis , Class , Popular Culture , Racism , Women of Color)
    bifemmefatale commented at September 30, 2008 2:52 PM: “What *is* bad is adopting a foreign style of dress without an understanding of the culture that dress came from, or doing anything to benefit that culture.”
    Especially if one actually knows it’s foreign instead of being, say, a 7-year-old Muslim Indonesian wearing hijab to look like a big girl without an understanding of its origins in Arabic cultures long before Mohammed.
    “Kids who ask for Japanese or Chinese characters and go around for months not knowing they have ‘This is an ugly boy’ tattooed on their flesh. My favorite was a trend in Texas for men to get Maori chin markings as a sign of virility, when in Maori culture, those tattoos are a sign of female fertility.”
    I highly recommend h t t p : / / w w w . hanzismatter . c o m / [spaces added so the spam filter will find only 2 URLs in this comment and not hold the comment until an admin someday has time to approve the comment it through by hand]
    puckalish commented at October 1, 2008 11:23 AM: “what you point out is that the consumers, too, are filling a gap with the work of other people…”
    Technically, isn’t everyone who doesn’t sew or knit filling one of those gaps (the need to wear something at times) with the work of other people?
    puckalish commented at October 1, 2008 11:23 AM: “…without thinking to finding an authentic way to fill that gap and without thinking to actually ally with or understand the people who produced that work…”
    puckalish commented at October 1, 2008 11:23 AM: …or at least pay them fairly. Isn’t there a big difference between buying a shirt from the people who designed and sewed it, and buying a shirt from a company that ripped the design off someone and paid someone else sweatshop wages to sew it (aside from issues of whether or not you’re culturally authentic enough to wear it)?
    puckalish commented at October 1, 2008 11:23 AM: “(by work, here, i do mean culture, art, etc.)”
    Don’t forget technology as well as culture and art! For example, in a response to Samhita’s post about Burning Man (see URL above):
    epona commented at September 15, 2008 10:06 AM: “the keffiyeh or shemaghs you see are merely an article of practicality or functionality. i wear one in the desert. it was designed by desert dwelling peoples to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well as for occasional use in protecting the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand. there is more than enough dust out there to make such a garment a necessity. where is the line between cultural appropriation and utilizing someone’s superior invention for practical purposes?”
    Keffiyeh and shemaghs sure seem like examples of intelligent textile tech to deal with temperature. Likewise, I bet the people who established the long-sleeved-clothing traditions among the Inuit, Lapp, etc. had staying warm in mind too instead of only stuff like “how can we express our pride in our ancestors?”, “how much skin must one cover to be sexually modest?”, “which sleeve length is classy enough to not look lame?”, etc.
    puckalish commented at October 1, 2008 11:23 AM: “we’re talking about AA taking zebra strips and a vague pattern or Galliano taking a fertility symbol that came from somewhere and just calling it ‘tribal’ and ‘African.’ there is something racist about that.”
    Indeed. For starters, imitating a zebra’s stripes is imitating a pattern found in some equine genes, not a pattern any human being designed. Labelling it a product of any African culture is sure seems downright dehumanizing (and pretending all of Africa has one culture adds even more stupidity to the dehumanization). Maybe calling a line of zebra print stuff “Equus” or “Grasslands” or whatever instead of “Afrika” or “Masai” or whatever might make a little more sense?

  48. Mina
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Oops, sorry! In the part of my previous post that goes
    puckalish commented at October 1, 2008 11:23 AM: …or at least pay them fairly. Isn’t there a big difference between buying a shirt from the people who designed and sewed it, and buying a shirt from a company that ripped the design off someone and paid someone else sweatshop wages to sew it (aside from issues of whether or not you’re culturally authentic enough to wear it)?
    I accidentally copied and pasted the credit to puckalish one too many times. I don’t want to put words in puckalish’s mouth (and typing fingers) since that’s not fair!

  49. nattles_thing
    Posted October 2, 2008 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    @Danyell: Function over symbolism. They wanted something cool to put on the heel, and they went with the statue. I doubt anyone even thought about the fact that the statue is on her feet. I really don’t think that’s a valid argument about whether or not this is racist.
    @FrumiousB: I’m pretty sure SOMEONE on that thread was claiming zebra stripes and leopard print are racist, even if it wasn’t Samhita. I’m too lazy to go and check, but regardless of who was arguing that, it’s still ridiculous.
    Sami could probably have avoided most of that kerfuffle by using a photo of the dress with the African print, rather than the dress with the zebra stripes.

  50. Posted October 2, 2008 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I hope this isn’t too off topic, but there has been a lot of controversy regarding “appropriation” lately in Indonesia. Apparently, it is a fairly common practice for foreign companies to copyright traditional motifs, then threaten local artisans with lawsuits for using them.
    No, I’m serious! My jaw pretty much dropped when I first heard about this too.
    There has been a high profile case filed against a Balinese silversmith for using traditional motifs that have been copyrighted by a foreigner. During the court case it has been revealed that the foreign owned jewelry company has applied for copyright of at least 1,200 designs based on traditional Balinese elements in the United States, and has had at least 600 granted.
    Of course, the foreign company denies any wrongdoing, and insists that they were only trying to copyright the “original” portions of their designs. However, since the finished photographed products contain so many traditional elements, it seems that companies can somehow “inadvertently” copyright traditional motifs, leaving local artisans exposed to lawsuits for practicing traditional crafts.
    There’s a Jakarta Post article here.

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