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.
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.
I’ve taken a few excerpts from Wikipedia:
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.
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.”
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]
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.
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: