The Red Kimono


IMG_0368Without giving away too much of my book, The Red Kimono, there is a part in the story where Mama hands Sachi her red kimono. It is Mama’s offering of acceptance and forgiveness. That’s how, for me, a red kimono came to symbolize acceptance and forgiveness. And so, that is what I call this blog. In so much of our past and present, the world could use more of both.

Posted in Uncategorized

Mind Your Own Business


I thought about using the more polite title, “Live and Let Live” for this post, but “Mind Your Own Business” is much more reflective of how I felt this morning after reading the National Review article titled “Boston’s Kimonos of Oppression.” Originally, this article stated:

…Japanese-American activists raised a ruckus, some claiming that the painting itself was racist (in the 1870s a fad for Japanese things swept through Europe), others that dressing museumgoers in a kimono was cultural appropriation/imperialism/fetishism/“exotification”/Orientalism, while still others called for (you guessed it) “a conversation” about race and identity.

However, after comments and letters of complaint, National Review changed “Japanese American activists” to “Asian American activists,” much more accurate. To the best of my knowledge only one of the “activists” was of Japanese descent.

This protest has been frustrating to me on many levels, and National Review’s error exacerbates that frustration. My head is so full of comments on the dozen different directions taken by the protesters that it would require a separate blog post, which by now, I’m pretty sure I won’t write.

But the foundation of my complaints is this: The group of activists (initially, primarily Asian American) began their protests calling it racist for a non-Japanese to wear a kimono. Though the protesters now disclaim this, here’s a photo of one of the signs from the protest:

SAYF5

They maintained this stance regardless of what many Japanese and Japanese Americans expressed as a desire to share the kimono experience. The Japan Times reported:

But the reaction to the exhibition from Japan — where the decline in popularity of the kimono as a form of dress is a national concern — was one of puzzlement and sadness. Many Japanese commentators expressed regret that fewer people would get to experience wearing a kimono.

In fact, until only a few days ago, the activists titled their protest “Stand Against Yellow Face.” That Tumblr page has been deleted, and now they post under “Decolonize Our Museums.”

This “rebranding” explains why I feel as though those trying to reason with the protesters are following them down a rabbit hole. I believe some of their concerns are legitimate, but they are all over the place, and most have nothing to do with the act of sharing of a kimono.

I’ve yet to read a reasonable explanation for why the protesters chose to latch on to Kimono Wednesdays. In fact, in my opinion, when they accuse the museum of cultural appropriation, I believe they should look in the mirror. For Asian Americans to claim it is racist for non-Japanese to wear a kimono when the Japanese themselves encourage it, is in essence, a kind of cultural appropriation:

Cultural appropriation may eventually lead to the imitating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices.~~Wikipedia

These activists, whether Asian American or not, are not “the face” of Japanese or Japanese Americans, though the error by the National Review proves that many see it that way. When the majority of Japanese/Japanese Americans want the kimono experience shared, what right did this group of protesters have to cry “racism?”

The reaction by the Museum of Fine Arts to the protesters’ calls of cultural appropriation–that is, to no longer allow people to try on the kimono–took away an opportunity for cultural appreciation.

I feel strongly about what happened as a result of a relative few protesters and the tsunami of reaction it’s caused. But with comments, claims and causes ranging from perpetuating violence against black and brown bodies, to the atomic bomb and militarization of Japan, to GamerGate and sexism in video games, to white supremacy, blah, blah, blah, I’m going to do my best to take a step back.

After all, this began with the sharing of a kimono. I think I’ll mind my own business and get back to my sequel–a story of sharing our cultural differences.

# # #

Other links of interest:

Myths and Facts about Kimono Wednesdays (One of the most concise and informative blogs on this issue.)

Kimono Wednesdays: Was Interactive Art Really “Yellowface” Orientalism?

MFA’s Kimono Controversy Should Spark Deeper Conversation

Outrage Over a Red Kimono?

Underneath the “Orientalist” Kimono

 

Posted in Current Events, Discussion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Magical Red Kimono


My mother's red kimono.

My mother’s red kimono.

This morning, while giving my children’s story, The Magical Red Kimono, a final read-through before submitting to a publisher, I read a blog comment from my friend, Alice White. In her comment, she mentioned the scene in The Red Kimono where Sachi teaches her black friend, Jubie, to dance in her mother’s red kimono.

When I wrote this scene, I certainly did not intend Jubie dancing in Sachi’s mama’s red kimono to be any form of cultural appropriation, though, according to the Metropolitan Fine Arts Museum’s “Kimono Wednesdays” protesters, it would be.

I wrote the scene, imagining my own mother’s red kimono and remembering my childhood in California, the afternoons when my black friends who lived across the street came over and danced with my sisters and I.

In fact, I created The Magical Red Kimono around it, because we can learn a lot from children who are not so afraid of stepping over the line of political correctness, and not so easily offended. It’s important to share our cultures with each other in a way that brings us closer. Instead, we often cling so protectively it puts distance between us.

As my friend, Koji Kanamoto commented on my blog post, Outrage Over a Red Kimono, “Racism exists in one’s soul, not in a kimono.” How can we change a soul, if we do not share?

EXCERPT from The Magical Red Kimono:

Sachi watched Jubie dance and wondered if there was something magic about the red kimono. How else could her friend—her friend who wasn’t Japanese—look as if she’d danced bon-odori a hundred times before? With each graceful step, the long, silken sleeves  of the red kimono floated like kites in the summer breeze.

It didn’t matter that Jubie’s dark skin was a different color from the Japanese people who would be at Obon. Her dance was as lovely as anybody’s Sachi had seen. Surely Mama would be proud. Still, worry lingered like green beans on her dinner plate.

Just then, she noticed the way Jubie held her tongue—half hanging out of her mouth and wiggling up and down with every step she took. Jubie always did that when she was concentrating, and Sachi couldn’t help but laugh.

Jubie stopped dancing. Hands on her hips, she glared at Sachi. “You laughing at me?” she asked. “Because if you are, just wait until I teach you the Boogie Woogie. Now that’ll be something to laugh about.”

Other links of interest:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwoSYWIgV9Y&index=1&list=LLTRH0m_J9yJyiZ4Wfpv4aoA

http://readysetkimono.com/2015/07/10/protests-at-the-boston-museum-of-fine-arts/

http://observer.com/2015/07/mfa-boston-cancels-kimono-dress-up-after-allegations-of-racism/

Posted in Current Events, Discussion, Excerpt, Family History | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Outrage Over a Red Kimono?


I’ve been following a discussion on Facebook about the outrage over an event called “Kimono Wednesdays” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the more I read about it, the more infuriated I get.

Claude_Monet-Madame_Monet_en_costume_japonais

Through the month of July, the museum invited guests to try on a replica of the kimono that appears in Claude Monet’s 1876 painting titled “La Japonaise.” They were also invited to have pictures taken. Some people were offended and considered the event racist. (See Angry Asian Man’s post, “Get Your Geisha On at the Museum of Fine Arts.“)

Here’s a Facebook comment that appeared on MFA’s Facebook page about the event:

This is honestly one of the most vilely racist things I’ve ever seen. White folks wanting to play dress up and feel Japanese? Please, don’t. Japan isn’t your mystical fantasy playground for you to go galavanting around in a dead Frenchman’s orientalist vision of Japan.

A group called “Stand Against Yellow-Face” organized protests against what it called “appropriation and orientalism.”

I’ve taken a few excerpts from Wikipedia:

Appropriation
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture. Cultural appropriation may eventually lead to the imitating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices. As oppressed peoples’ cultures are imitated by the dominant culture, observers may begin to falsely associate certain cultural practices with the imitating culture, and not with the people who originated them.

Orientalism
Since the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978, much academic discourse has begun to use the term “Orientalism” to refer to a general patronizing Western attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies. In Said’s analysis, the West essentializes these societies as static and undeveloped—thereby fabricating a view of Oriental culture that can be studied, depicted, and reproduced. Implicit in this fabrication, writes Said, is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and superior.

In my very humble opinion, what a stretch!

  • A museum visitor trying on a kimono is hardly an “adoption of a cultural element.”
  • I seriously doubt we’re even close to the threat of the “imitating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices,” nor was that the intent.
  • To my knowledge, there is no threat of Japan’s cultural practices being stolen by the “dominant culture.”
  • I don’t believe in any way that MFA intended “Kimono Wednesdays” to be patronizing, nor do they see Japan or its culture as “static and undeveloped.”

As a result of this relatively small group of protesters, the museum ended “Kimono Wednesdays.”

This event provided a means for museum visitors to enjoy a bit of Japanese culture as well as to learn about “La Japonaise” and the era in which it was painted. It was not patronizing or a mockery, and certainly was not racist.

As I wrote in my post titled “Prejudice vs. Racism,” for us to continue to carelessly cry “racist” is to water down the heinous nature of real racism. In no way did this event show prejudice and certainly not racism:

rac•ism [rey-siz-uh m]
–noun
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

Museum visitors were not trying on this kimono because of hatred for the Japanese culture, but because of curiosity, attraction, even affection for it.

Now, because of a relative few protesters, I’m afraid the Japanese American community may be seen as over-sensitive and whiny, unwilling to share the Japanese culture.

Some, however, are standing up against these protesters and have asked the museum to reconsider its decision and are asking for signatures on a letter to MFA Director, Matthew Teitelbaum.

Letter

If you, too, believe this was an over-reaction by “misguided protesters” and would like to have your name added to the letter, click HERE.

It’s a shame to be so consumed with protecting our culture that we’re not willing to share what makes us different. And as in many aspects of our lives, it’s a shame we’re so easily offended.

Other links of interest:

http://readysetkimono.com/2015/07/10/protests-at-the-boston-museum-of-fine-arts/

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-33450391

http://observer.com/2015/07/mfa-boston-cancels-kimono-dress-up-after-allegations-of-racism/

Posted in Current Events, Japanese Culture, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Liberty and Independence


wiesel

Lately I’ve been asking myself why it often seems it’s not okay to express a dissenting opinion. Our disagreements have become offensive to the opposing sides, and the hate and vitriol I see expressed on a range of topics discussed on social media have made me wonder if, with any passionate issue, there is truly an impossible-to-cross chasm between the opposing “sides.”

On most matters, I think the chasm isn’t really so wide. It only appears so because opinions expressed are primarily by those on the outskirts of the issue, often with such slammed-down force that none but other “extremists” have the nerve to express their agreement or dissent.

Typically, I tell myself, “It’s not worth getting involved.” But as uncomfortable as conflict makes me (I run from it like a child runs from a monster in the night) I’m trying change my attitude toward it.

dalai lama

More and more, I see the necessity of disagreement. We must disagree or there is no real dialogue and often no real understanding of the issue or between the “sides,” therefore, no real progress.

gandhi

I’ve thought a lot about Elie Wiesel‘s quote. I believe there is value in disagreeing and that on some issues, we MUST take sides:

Neutrality helps the oppressor: Because it’s safe and to some extent, anonymous, social media often brings out contempt and hostility toward those who express an opposing opinion, regardless of the topic. This past week, I saw it expressed on both sides of issues regarding the Confederate flag and the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage.

In the past, I’ve stayed out of heated discussions on politics, religion–anything that became heated. I simply didn’t want to be sucked into the anger. In other words, I remained publicly neutral, hid from the “monster,” allowed my liberty to be hampered.

So what happens when only those on the periphery “go to battle,” where the fight gets nastier and nastier, a place the media loves to exploit? We begin to believe we’re farther apart than we really might be–we have an enemy–an enemy we don’t have to talk to, an enemy we refuse to understand. And so, we refuse to consider “the other side” in any meaningful way.

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented: Harsh, angry commentary discourages opposition, hampers liberty, which I believe is the goal of those who respond with such condescension. Silence from the “opposition” is empowering.

For expressing my opposing opinion in the last week–and I believe I was respectful–I was called a Kool-Aid drinker and a Sheeple.

Well, let me say I’m a conservative who believes the Confederate flag should be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol, though I also believe every individual should have the right to fly it. That also means every individual has the right to think what they will about it. I also believe every business has the right to sell or not sell it, to display or not display it. Let the market decide the effect of those decisions.

And, I’m a conservative who agreed with the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Following is the opinion of the court:

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

Much of the uproar I read on social media revolves around anger that the church will be forced to perform these marriages.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy addressed this issue explicitly:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

The way I understand it, the SCOTUS ruling recognizes gay marriage as lawful, with all the same rights as a marriage between a man and a woman. Live and let live.

Neither of these opinions falls in line with the Conservative “platform,” so calling me a Kool-Aid drinker or Sheeple doesn’t make much sense.

I have no doubt the passion ugliness will worsen with the upcoming presidential election. I already see it.

cory-booker

As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s encourage independent thinking. Let’s agree to disagree, and do it respectfully. At the very least, taking sides/speaking up/disagreeing makes our world more interesting/encourages discussion/adds checks and balances/moves us toward understanding and compromise/improves the outcome.

At worst, all one has to do is recall the times in history where dissent was discouraged or forbidden.

No more will I “give up my essential liberty” for the sake of “temporary safety.” But to the best of my ability, I’ll disagree with respect.

Happy Independence Day!

(and may all your fireworks be pleasant ones.) :)

flag-fireworks1

Posted in Bullying, Discussion, Hate, History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments