Thursday 30 May 2019

The world at culture war

sound track for today, Mojo Juju, Native Tongue

This piece today is 2 parts. The first part is more information presented to support my contention that use of kimono is not an unacceptable cultural appropriation. The second part discusses the much misappropriated label "imperialism".

Part 1

Below are 2 quotes taken from Encyclopedia Britannica

"The Japanese kimono entered the Western wardrobe in the 17thC. The English called the garments “Indian gowns”, probably because the East India Company imported them, but the Dutch more accurately called them “Japanese coats."

Another quote:
“Although the kimono is not of Japanese origin, as is often supposed, its great beauty is attributable to 17th – 18th century Japanese designers, whose decorative styles made it one of the worlds most exquisite garments

Researching the origins of the kimono will reveal it was a Chinese style adopted by the Japanese and gradually evolved by them up to the present day. I don’t describe this as an act of “cultural appropriation” by the Japanese from the Chinese. I see this more as an example of what is happening now with the way Western designers are adopting and adapting the broad concept of kimono and putting their contemporary spin on it.  Japanese people have enthusiastically taken up wearing Western style clothing for over a hundred years and the traditional style kimono only gets worn for special occasions. Japanese makers of traditional kimonos report that their industry is shrinking and there is less and less demand for kimonos going into the future. 

In one of my blogs a few days ago I speculated that if the activists for “use of the description kimono by a western designer to name a design is an unacceptable cultural appropriation” succeed in ring fencing the word and prevent contemporary designers attaching it to their sewing patterns then the long term outcome will be that the word and the thing itself will become a historic artefact. 

But then perhaps the activists feel comfortable with repressing kimono and letting it fall out of use. Perhaps some fashion researcher from the future will one day make a statement like this “its clear that the loose coat styles we call robes were originally referenced from a traditional garment which evolved in Japan. This item of clothing was called a kimono by the Japanese but western designers from the early 21stC didn't make the attribution as such by using kimono in their naming ”

Part 2

This piece is written in an effort to express more succinctly my thoughts on how much “imperial” guilt white women should be owning and making amends for.'

In my opinion the reference to white “imperial” power is bandied around way too loosely by some feminists. Often out of context and with little apparent knowledge of exactly what it refers to. It has become a sort of vague aspersion thrown out there as a part of a great catalogue of attitudes and historic cultural crimes they imply white women should be held responsible for, expected to acknowledge and make amends for.

Imperialism is a policy or ideology that is a driver behind a nation using its militaristic power to forcibly overcome the resistance of another nation and gain control over its resources or territory.  Imperialism hasn’t been confined solely to Great Britain or other European countries. Imperialist expansion has been practised by virtually every dominant culture on Earth and for thousands of years. Most famously the Roman Empire advanced their imperial goals for hundreds of years over Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia.

Another country which has been driven by imperialistic goals is Japan. In a blog a few days ago I described how Japan invaded China in 1931. However Japans imperialistic intentions go back much earlier than that. Japan first invaded Manchuria in 1894, then again in 1931.

Some references:

Japan made an alliance with Nazi Germany and entered the Second World War in 1941. This was an opportunistic alliance to further it's own specific and particular imperialistic goals within Asia and the Pacific. They used the disarray and distraction of other countries in the world at the time who were focusing their militaries and diplomacy on the war in Europe. It suited Nazi Germany to expand the war front to the Pacific and Asia so that the American Army would have to divide its power into separate theatres. Apart from the list of Asian countries I noted a few days ago Japan expanded into the Pacific, capturing or invading Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo and Papua New Guinea. The city of Darwin in Australia was bombed. Japanese submarines entered the harbours of Sydney and Newcastle (a Japanese submarine in Newcastle Harbour containing the remains of its 3 crewman is recognised as a war grave) These Pacific incursions may be less well known to Americans but are more relevant to me because it was my countrymen and women who fought in those battles and thousands lost their lives. Just over my back fence here in Murrurundi lives a 99 year old woman who was a nursing aide in Borneo 1944-45. She remembers the deaths and wounds caused to soldiers and native villagers by Japanese air raids.

The purpose of this information isn’t to polarise people with the simplistic idea that the Japanese are “bad” and should be punished for its aggressions. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s wrong to suggest that only people of English descent had an imperialistic culture, then to extrapolate from that that contemporary white women still adopt that position and are required to make personal amends. Some US feminists will still take the moral high ground to claim white woman have benefited by the vicarious filtering down of privilege....sheesh, not enough time or space here to go into all that...

My point is Japanese people and the people who identify as part of the international diaspora have come from a nation that has no less culpability for Imperialism than what is ascribed to any individual western woman. My own countries, New Zealand where I was born and Australia where I live now and are a citizen of, were threatened by Japanese Imperialistic ambitions and tens of thousands of soldiers died defending their territory from invasion. So when I hear BIPOC identifiers slinging the arrow of “imperialist” they should be careful what nationality they identify as, least they come up egg face.

The islands that make up the nation of Japan haven’t been invaded for thousands of years. Japanese culture is one is the most segregated and unadulterated in modernism. Japan traded with the Asian mainland for thousands of years and with Europeans from the 17th C but Japan has never welcomed or facilitated people of other nationalities to become citizens. Of course there is a level of intermarriage and other reasons that people of other nationalities do come to live in Japan, but this number is absolutely miniscule, utterly negligible compared to the level of multiracial integration that happens in Western countries. The number of people becoming Japanese citizens annually would be in the low 100s.

Japanese culture is not under threat.

So when I hear feminists of Japanese-American heritage bewailing their oppression by Western imperialists I am less than sympathetic…in fact I often feel a sense of indignation that they want to claim an offence and that they have been wronged. I claim BS

And in the final analysis I’m essentially OUTRAGED that these women aren’t examining the whole whos to blame for imperialism issue through the feminist mindset. I’m descending into a bit of a rant here because my arthritic fingers are sore and I’m longing to go to the studio to make some art. So I’m about to discard all sublety, research and sensibly outlining the arguments to just say it like it is. Patriarchal power is our mutual enemy, not other white women. We have been just as colonised, oppressed and owned by our masculinist masters as you have been, just in different ways.

Please, please stop attacking western women who run small pattern design businesses and publicly shaming them into making unwarranted apologies. Stop forcing them to personally own some sort of “guilty appropriation offense” that you have concocted. I maintain that the “offense” has been imagined out of your own subjective issues of identity and conflated into a spurious assertion of cultural appropriation.

I wrap this up today with a link to a speech by an ex-Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating from 1992. 

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