Monday, October 21, 2013

Cultural Appropriation?


It’s been awhile has it not? I made another skirt version of B5760. I have come to some serious acceptances…. Pencil skirts and A-line skirts look best on me. So I’m not doing the full skirt trend. I just don’t want to look big as a house. B5760 is my TNT pencil skirt pattern. I have made this pattern so much that I can get it up and running in an hour from start to finish with completely satisfying and predictable results. So I’m not going to review this skirt I’m showing you. But it does bring out questions…..

An African patient came into the office and she had on an “African print” garment that I admired. I will freely admit that I don’t know what to call them. Everyone seems to call them “African Print” so I will too. I admired it because it was beautiful. The next time she came in the office, she gave me an entire outfit; top, shirt to wrap and head wrap. I adore it. Here is the print.

I don’t really have an occasion where “African Print” is the required dress code. When I used to go to church and we would rock these prints on a Sunday in February. But I don’t do church anymore. I suppose I could wear it to a parliament but I don’t like to get that dressed up for them. I tend to wear this outfit for a special occasion (a wedding, presentation, for when I don’t know what to wear but feel like I need to dress up) and sometimes to work.

Another African patient saw me in my AP outfit and she got mad at me. Her exact words were, “I want to fight you. You don’t wear that to work. You wear it to a party or special event!” Well I didn’t know that. And now that I know that, I realize it doesn’t make much difference. I would not wear it to a party because at parties I dance. I’d be worried that the safety pin that was holding the skirt together would fail at the most inopportune time. I’m no longer a Christian so church is out (I see Ghanaian people wearing this type of print to a church in my neighborhood). I suppose I should throw it out?

No I’m not.

I was in African store that sells fabric. I found the fabric that I made this B5760 skirt from on sale. I have wanted to make the skirt I made, and out of this particular print. I have been waiting for it to go on sale. The African woman who was ringing me up asked me if I was from an African country. I said no (just because I’m Black doesn’t make me African). She asked me what I was going to do with the fabric. I said make a skirt. She asked where I was going to wear said skirt. That’s where it stopped for me. I asked her if she was willing to sell me the fabric. She did. We were done.

Here is my question…. Am I appropriating another’s culture by wearing their fabric? I LOOOOOOOVE saris and would love to wear one as Indian women do. But I don’t because I’m not Indian. I see how that is disrespectful. BUT... I would wear a garment made out of sari fabric without thinking about whether it was appropriate or not. I would never wear a Native American headdress, but I would wear their jewelry. I might have worn a burqua before. It wasn’t because I was trying to be modest but because I was trying to prove a point to someone. I like to think I’m culturally sensitive.

My see is it’s about the garment and not the fabric. Fabric is objective where the display is subjective.

How do y’all see that?



Dorothy DotDot said...

You make some really nice outfits. Cute skirt! I was looking on the net at the different fabrics that have been used to make pencil skirts.

Alison Cummins said...

Yes, the whole cultural appropriation thing can be scary.

I think if you wear a traditional dress-up outfit in a very casual way that it could be seen as disrespectful. As if someone from Africa was playing soccer in a Chanel jacket, or casually using the train of a christening gown to mop up baby messes.

Aside from that I think you’re good! If you make it yourself and it’s not a traditional fancy outfit, it doesn’t have the same associations.

Claudine of Adventures in Couture had some similar questions.

Alison Cummins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leigh said...

This is an extremely interesting question. When is admiration interpreted as disrespect? Someone should write their dissertation on the topic!

I used to have a pattern catalogue from a company called Folkwear. Every design was ethnic in origin and I though all were gorgeous. I have a book somewhere called The Folkwear Book of Ethnic Clothing. I love every design in that book. Hmmm. You've got me thinking....

Toni Campbell said...

Your skirt came out beautiful. I love it! I don't think in this instance that it is considered cultural appropriation if you are descendant of that culture. As an African-American who wears some African prints, I've never been made to feel like I was inappropriate in this.

Serenity Love Sincere Peace Earth said...

Africans don't see American Black people as part of their Culture. That's what I have observed and that's what I have been told BY Africans. They see us as American. So.....