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:
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.
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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