Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cultural Conversations

The following is a conversation between myself and a friend discussing an article cited below. It deals with the culture behind clothing, and whether it is wrong for Western women to wear the sari, a dress native to India.

R: stumbled across this while researching for a client launching a clothing line featuring caftans and other eastern-inspired fashions.

Which blogger (if either) do you agree with, and why?

W: I think there's a nuanced difference in following the trend, and trying to become a trendsetter. The trendsetter draws attention to themselves - not the culture they are imitating (not emulating). There is no deeper meaning behind jeans and a T-shirt. So when folks from other countries wear it, it means nothing. The followers do it because there's a dominant culture and, generally speaking, it's the right culture to follow in their eyes. Let's face it, you're not offending anyone by identifying with Western Culture. Conversely, if you identify with anything even remotely non-Christian in this country, you might as well say you're Muslim and that's a big no-no right now. (I don't even think they are Muslim in that country, I think they are Hindu. But that's besides the point.)

How many of the posers know about the AIDs epidemic in India? So here is what happens. Men are away from their family months at a time, working. The men see prostitutes frequently during this time. However the men won't buy or use condoms at all. Why won't they wear them, even though they're aware of AIDS? Its something like: if they use it, then they admit to cheating. Something like that. Anyway... they bring the disease home. 

Also, there's a large epidemic of rape where the thought is that these women were asking for it. Apparently unorganized gang rape is a thing. For some reason the woman is still at fault. There was the case of this one young lady who was coming home from the bar with her friend, a guy mind you. They were riding the bus. She had on a skirt. A bunch of guys beat the guy up and raped her on the bus. She was "unfit" to be married which meant that her family disowned her. They said it was her fault. Yep: there is a reason why they wear those garments. [note: referring to the sari]

You put all of those things together and no wonder they aren't feeling the need to wear it. It may remind them of the violation. Can anyone sit here and say yeah I am wearing that particular garment to join the struggle? Or are you a hipster that REALLY wants to strike up a conversation about what they're wearing. When it becomes a trend it loses all value. Sort of like tees and jeans. But does anyone want their culture to become a trend? Look up Slim Jesus... please, this guy is ridiculous. This is what happens when your culture becomes appropriated and broken down to be consumed by the masses. Eventually no one will remember why women wore it in the first place. They will only know that the DKNY red and blue version is half-off, the day after Thanksgiving.

I guess it all comes down to why? What is your why? If your why is valid, go for it. But if you're confused as to why anyone would pose the question in the first place you should lock yourself in a closet. Why? Well that's a great question...

R: "Let's face it, you're not offending anyone by identifying with Western Culture" This is true in the USA - exceptions being anyone who strongly identifies with or works to preserve their native culture, and frowns upon those within said culture who more or less forsake it for Western culture, or any alien culture. Western culture is an odd bird in and of itself; its the culture that isn't a culture. Its young, naïve, and basically borrows elements from virtually every other culture it comes in contact with, like a blob or a borg.

You make some clear strong points. It certainly all comes down to the why behind the choice. Why? Because personally I can't fault a young Hindi woman living in America who decides to not wear saris, because there's less of a practical need to do so. I mean rape is still a possibility here, or anywhere, but nowhere near as much of a threat as in India, and without the protection of law enforcement to boot. And this leads into another point: cultural customs - including fashions - are ultimately functional.

Even if as outsiders we don't get it - and in some cases, even those within the culture who don't remember the original reasons why their people do/use certain things - there are very specific reasons why people wear what they wear, sari as an example. So if you remove the reason for wearing it, why should someone be pressured or criticized for not continuing to wear it? Is it an automatic knock on tradition when this happens, or should we consider the context, on a case-by-case basis?

W: You are right. It's the Borg. "Resistance is Futile" is what they always say. America's funny. We assimilate and then forget where we got it from. Thus we lose all respect for other cultures. We twist it. We name our football teams after Native Americans (Red Skins) but in the most derogatory fashion possible. Then when its called into question, you know what we say? Its our tradition. I guess we do traditionally make others feel like dirt. The same goes for the confederate flag but that's another story completely.

You summed it up perfectly. "Ultimately functional". That gave me a moment right there. Its like the customs as Black folks with the foods we eat. There is a reason why some folks grew up on Chitterlings. Its literally the cheapest part on a pig (or whatever animal that is). Its the only part we could afford, and in some cases it was thrown away and we collected what we could. I remember my mother saying that a lot of times they just couldn't afford meat. My father said the only reason why him and his siblings ate meat was because my grandmother worked in a diner and they would let her get the leftovers.

But some traditions are best understood and not practiced. You know where you came from and you also know why you left it.

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