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/

This entry was posted in Current Events, Japanese Culture, Prejudice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Outrage Over a Red Kimono?

  1. frog5 says:

    “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.”

    Well Said!

  2. Mustang.Koji says:

    It’s a shame, Jan. Racism exists in one’s soul, not in a kimono.

  3. kathleenmrodgers says:

    Powerful piece, Jan. I had no idea.

  4. Larry Hama says:

    So, going to a dojo and wearing a gi is not okay if you’re not Japanese? And what about dancing in kimono or hapi coat at Obon? Or being a member of a taiko group.

  5. I agree this is not racism. The problem I see is that a world-class art institution failed to educate its visitors about the context and what that kimono is – it’s a kabuki costume! Instead they seem to have treated it simply as mindless cosplay. Fun, but you expect more from MFA.

  6. Virginia Lee Pohlenz says:

    We’ve lost ALL common sense!! Sad–!

  7. Dear Jan,

    What ever happened to “harmony in a world of difference?” I’ve always enjoyed cultural exchange. I hardly think trying on a kimono is usurping Asian culture. It’s so easy to cry “racism” these days. I find it appalling, frightening and frustrating.

    Thank you for taking the time to post.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

  8. Reblogged this on Alice White Author and commented:
    This event was run BY the Japanese and is being protested “on behalf of the Japanese” by NON Japanese people… what on earth is this world coming to?! In Jan Morril’s The Red Kimono, Jubee wears Sashi’s mother’s kimono and performs a Japanese dance, which Sachi has taught her. Does Jubee do this because she is racist? Of course not. She does this to honour Sachi and her culture.
    By the same token, I have copious amounts of Blue Willow china, which I display lovingly in a cabinet bought specifically for the purpose. Am I racist for collecting this china? No, I am not. I just love the Blue Willow design, and even have a few very old pieces made in Japan.

    In my humble opinion, people need to get a grip and stop being offended by so many things that do not concern them.

    Going back to The Red Kimono – a great read, for those interested in REAL history and wonderful storytelling – when Jubee did that, I remember thinking how lovely it as that those two girls from very different backgrounds shared their heritage and culture with each other so openly. Some adults could learn a lot from the open acceptance of the innocent, non-judgemental attitudes of children.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thank you for this reminder, Alice. You’ve inspired me to post an excerpt of that scene. I would love to explain that my intention in writing that scene was to for two cultures to share with others. Thank you again! ❤

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  10. That anyone is offended by something like this is ridiculous. Does it then follow that you can’t have anything in your home that came from another culture, eat food from another culture, etc. I shudder at how easily we are offended at unimportant things, yet not so by things that really matter. In fact, too many people are offended by much too much these days.

    Thanks for posting, Jan.
    janet

    • Jan Morrill says:

      I agree, Janet. Where do you draw the line between appropriation and appreciation? Obviously, it differs by individual, but does that mean we cut off access for all? And if so, that drives us apart, rather than together. It’s maddening how easily offended so many are.

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