Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/BvwCFibBIKw/
I am in a period of huge personal development at the moment. It’s been going on behind the scenes for a while now, but I’ve only just started bringing it into my business arena. Initially I wanted to keep the two separate because I didn’t think it was relevant to my business to share what I’m learning on a personal level. But that’s just not true. Everything I’m reading, researching, responding to – if it has an impact on me, it’s got to have an impact on how I approach my business. And therefore, I have to share it.
I’m not sure what it means for the development of my business, but I do know that inevitably it can’t stay the same - everything that I’m learning is changing my perspectives on things and that is bound to have some influence on how I approach my work.
I just want to say from the get go, that I am a white, straight, able bodied, middle class, cis woman and this means I have a huge amount of privilege.
I don’t start my day putting on my invisible armour, to prepare myself for what might happen, what might be said to me as I wait for the bus, or while I’m at work. I don’t need to worry about bigotry, racial abuse or homophobia directed at me. I don’t need to access food banks or deal with people judging me for the way I dress or the way I look. I don’t have to consider accessibility when I’m travelling anywhere. I can just ‘be’. I have SO much privilege and this is becoming all too obvious to me when I read stories of those who don’t have it.
And I can’t read enough at the moment – it’s like I’m hungry for knowledge and understanding, and it’s making me consider everything. At times I’m finding it overwhelming and depressing but I know that just by sitting back and enjoying my privilege, then nothing changes.
I’ve just started learning about cultural appropriation and what that means. It’s something that (because of my privilege) I’ve never had to think about before. It makes me sad that I’ve never thought about it, and that I’ve actually partaken in it. I wore a Qipao to my Fine Art Degree Show back in 1995 (although I didn’t know that is what it was called – I just liked the style of Chinese dresses at the time) and I’ve painted my face in the style of El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) for Halloween. Again – I didn’t know the correct name and I did it all in the name of fun without any consideration for their culture, heritage or traditions.
But going through all my reading, I know that it’s time to call it out for what it is. BIPOC have been fighting the battle for too long – but it should never be the victim’s responsibility to educate the perpetrator. Just like some (cis) men are starting to speaking out in the #youknowme campaign to stand up for abortion rights, white women need to speak up to amplify the message and be in solidarity with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) which will mean sometimes getting into uncomfortable conversations.
You might ask, what has this to do with my business? Like I said at the beginning – yes this is a personal journey I am going through but also, as a business I support small brands. I help them on their business growth. So if I see a small brand is using cultural appropriation to sell a product, it’s my duty to try to educate them on why it’s not beneficial for them to be doing so.
Now, I know I’m not someone who is personally affected by cultural appropriation, so I might not get it right. So many of us are worried about saying anything to anyone and getting it wrong, so we just don’t say it at all – and this is relevant in so many situations. I remember when my Dad died and there was a friend of mine who just didn’t say anything to me about it, acted as if everything was normal and I was so angry, offended and upset that I cut them out of my life. I found out later on that she just didn’t know what to say and was so worried to upset me that she didn’t say anything at all, but in my view, that wasn’t her decision to make. Saying something is better than staying silent or ignoring it altogether.
I’m writing all of this, because I would like you to join me in my learning journey. I would like you (as people, and as businesses) to be aware of prejudice, cultural appropriation and oppression that surrounds you every single day. I would like you to just open up that wider peripheral vision and see what you notice. And if (when – because you will!) you see anyone profiteering from someone else’s culture or heritage then please do say something. The more of us that do this work – especially white women, the more BIPOC will start to feel supported.
I am in the process of trying to get through to a small business right now about their use of ‘Kimono’ to describe a range of garments that they sell. These garments look nothing like the traditional Kimono and so they are just using the name without any consideration to its heritage – and they are profiting from it. I would like you to read this article by Emi Ito (https://densho.org/my-kimono-is-not-your-couture/) to understand what I mean.
When you read information like this, please do appreciate that it is written by someone who knows more than you. Someone who has lived with racism and oppression and please do consider that more than your own thoughts. In white western culture we have been taught one way only. We are here because of white supremacy and we are the oppressors. So we are not in the right. We do not have the moral high ground here. We have stolen from cultures, and exploited them for our own gain. Please try to absorb this fact – although it was our ancestors who are responsible for this damage, we have benefitted from it so we have to sit and listen to those who have been hurt by us.
The business I’ve emailed 3 times, and commented on twice on Instagram has not responded – I’ve had nothing back from them at all. I’m not too sure what my next steps will be but I’m not going to just give up. It would be the easiest option to, but I know it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. There is a right way of dealing with any kind of complaint raised by a customer, and that is to take the point on board, thank the educator for their work, research and learn what you can do better, and make the changes accordingly. @little_kotos_closet (the instagram account by Emi Ito) has highlighted in her stories some brands who have listened, learnt and changed due to the education they received about cultural appropriation so if you are a brand who has been called out, please do learn from them. I have also linked to those and some other articles in the 'further reading' below. And there is a useful image below on questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re not culturally appropriating when designing your work.
In the meantime I will continue to try and learn what I can do better as a person and a business and I call for you to do the same with me. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
I would like to personally thank Emi Ito for her advice and support on this post.
Image credit: https://densho.org/my-kimono-is-not-your-couture/
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