Is it cultural appropriation? Let's unpack with 2000+ years of history, fashion, migration paths, and analysis of power dynamics and capital.
Before we get into it, a couple things:

• Mainstream understanding and critique of cultural appropriation primarily come from white western societies

• Whiteness is a /very/ specific thing

• US settler colonial project and imperialism is a /very/ specific thing
This is to say that I am begging you to pls pls pls w 🍒 cherry on top 🍒 refrain from making false equivalences, which i understand can be tempting.

But *nothing* is like US imperialism. *Nothing* is like the construction of whiteness in the US to create a racial caste system.
I'm making all these preambles bc I see the tendency to superimpose certain language/vocabulary/framework that's specific to a certain context –– like k*ty p*rry in a kimono or cornrows, or w Halloween coming up, 🍞 people in the US wearing other people's culture as costumes ––
It's understandable to to take what we know and apply it elsewhere, but the issue of culture appropriation requires analysis of context and understanding of, at minimum, three things:

• history
• power dynamics
• capital flow
The term "cultural appropriation" is also where our conversations can get stuck, because "culture" is such a nebulous concept.

*What* is culture. *Who* gets to define "culture" for a specific people?
Studying a people and their culture is Anthropology, which came out of the European colonial expansion period. The relo btwn anthropologists and the people they "studied" was inherently lopsided in power.
So, the people calling the shot on "what is culture" for a certain group of people typically are not the people themselves.

In other words the people with less power rarely get to define their own culture in their own terms.
(As an aside this is what happened with the term "spirit animal," which was made up by white settler anthropologists whose work was informed by, and would then be used to prop up colonial ideas and oppression.)…
Furthermore, colonial concepts of culture for colonized people tend to put them in a time freeze. Colonized people's culture is seen as frozen in the past, whereas western culture is accepted as modern, constantly evolving and changing.
We can observe this in food description. An Asian dish is "authentic" if it's "like how grandma made it." Whereas white western chefs can "innovate" and "elevate" a dish from another culture.
All cultures *are* in fact constantly changing and informing and influencing one another.

But, bc the history of the world is the history of power struggle, and domination can come from 1) military, 2) capital, 3) political, and 4) culture....
that's a reason we talk about which culture belongs to whom.

Because for colonized people, our culture might be all we have left, and when we get punished for it, when it gets taken from us, when someone else benefits from it but not us –– it's painful, & we want to fight back.
(Btw, imperialism is the comprehensive & thorough grip over other nations in 4 powers:

🔹 Political – like control of UN etc.
🔹 Military – like control of NATO etc.
🔹 Economic – like control of WB/IMF/WTO etc.
🔹 Cultural – like control of UNESCO, the Oscars, etc.)
In general, several things to consider about cultural appropriation are:

1. A history of oppression btwn the two cultures.

2. The current power dynamics. Who has more power politically, militarily, economically, and culturally?

3. Who will profit?
4. Is it a sacred item?

5. Was there permission from the community?

6. Is there acknowledgement/attribution to the source culture?

7. Do people of the source culture have access to it?

8. If people of the source culture wear/use/do it, would they get punished?
In the US, the convo around cultural appropriation is also a convo about how there's no such thing as "white culture" in what we typically think of as culture.
(To be folded into whiteness, people from very distinct European cultures have had to trade in their languages, their customs, the celebrations & rituals related to the rhythm of the earth & of life, etc.

There *is,* however, white supremacy culture:…)
Whiteness studies scholars have proposed that cultural appropriation from white people in the US happens so much because of this cultural and spiritual void.

If you wanna learn more read Shelly Tochluk's Witnessing Whiteness and Living In the Tension
I need to take a break but I'll be back to unpack more the history of Viet Nam, China, and the áo dài.

In the meantime enjoy my queen Vũ Cát Tường and her cats for Tết
Since this thread got long, a recap:

✦ Pls refrain from applying frameworks/terminology specific to a U.S. white settler colonial state elsewhere

✦ Cultures are constantly changing & influencing one another

✦ Buuuut, one reason for the convo on cultural appropriation is...
... the uneven power dynamics between two cultures causing:

✦ one way flow of capital/clout/coolness

✦ double standards: people from the source culture get punished/persecuted for doing the exact same thing

✦ perpetuates further oppression of people from source culture
An example of this is when k*ty p*rry wears cornrows, she is viewed as "cool," and "edgy," and she /makes/ money with her music video. Whereas, Black people in the U.S. are seen as "unprofessional" wearing their natural hair, are criminalized, and are shut out of employment opps.
The CA convo is hard to have, especially on social media because it is deeply contextual and people occupy different social positions and relations to the cultures in question.

That's why I appreciate scholar Minh-Ha T. Pham's reframing of it as racial plagiarism instead.
She says, "Racial plagiarism highlights the racial relationships and inequalities that are obscured by terms like cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation"
"Racial plagiarism centrally involves & colludes in racial capitalist processes of value extraction in which racialized groups'... knowledge, labor, & cultural heritage are exploited for the benefit of dominant groups & in ways that maintain dominant socioeconomic relationships."
"In practices of racial plagiarism, the authorial power and the capital derived from the copying are not only not shared with the source community, they are denied to them. Extraction and exploitation—not exchange—are at the core of this kind of copying."
"Not only does racial plagiarism seize authorial identity, control, and capital away from the source community... racial plagiarism diminishes the value of the source material itself."
"It is never just about being inspired by but rather improving on an unrefined, unsophisticated, incomplete, and, most crucially, unfashionable racialized form."
"This kind of fashion copying involves gendered and classed processes of racial neutralization or whitening in which what is found 'in the wild' undergoes civilizing processes that bring them within the normative sphere of white feminine beauty, taste, and commercial patterns."
"In acts of racial plagiarism, the look and meaning of whiteness is dynamic whereas racial difference and the sociocultural hierarchy built on it remains fixed."
All of this is to say that I fear calling a Chinese person in China wearing a Viet áo dài "cultural appropriation" dilutes the meaning of a term that's already deeply misunderstood and poorly used –– and worse, puts white racial plagiarism on the same level, which it is not.
And then I hear this as "proof" of "Chinese Imperialism," and all the alarm bells go off for me, because this has been thrown around so casually.

It's unsettling bc it's a way to fluff the US public and manufacture our consent for any potential conflict with China.
Meanwhile, there *is* US imperialism. Nikhil Singh, author of Race and America's Long War calls the U.S. "the world’s last true empire."

I recommend listening to this Scene on Radio episode to learn more, and/or read How To Hide An Empire.…
Back to the issue of Miss China wearing the áo dài to represent China at Miss Earth 2020.

tbh, at first I didn't want to get into this bc I and my comrades are fighting ICE, and my family is suffering from the flood in central VN.
But this topic really blew up, and it's causing a rift, esp. for radical viets.

I thought I would add some perspectives that might be useful.

And, conflicts can be generative. We can have rigorous discussions and have more clarity and understanding.
Tbh, I'm baffled by Miss China's choice to wear the áo dài to represent China.

We could go through all the similarities btwn the áo dài and the cheongsam and the shared origin, and the fact is still that the áo dài is Viet Nam's national outfit.
We could go thru 2000 years of Nanyue (Nam Việt), Ouyue (Âu Việt), and Louyue (Lạc Việt) history, we could point out that there are Kinh people living in China & there are ethnic Chinese people living in VN, and the fact is still that the áo dài is the pride & identity of VN.
So, I can understand why Viet people in VN are protective of it and puzzled or upset by this costume choice for Miss China.

I can also understand why Viets in diaspora are not seeing this as the egregious cultural appropriation or sign of chinese imperialism that some are saying
(And btw, reading comments from VN, there are also many perspectives about this. There is not *one* single opinion that 100 million people share and agree upon.)
I'm gonna speculate on something and I have no way of validating it, so you'll just have to go with me. /If/ Miss U.S. were white and wore the áo dài to perform in some world pageant, I suspect that some of these Viets who are angry now would be amused, and even proud.
There's a restaurant in Seattle called Stateside owned by two Bread guys who went to VN for two weeks and decided they would "elevate" Viet cuisine bc they're already French cuisine chefs. They put hoisin sauce in hoagie rolls and called them bánh mì and charged $$$$
It had "colonial decor" and the New York Times called it restaurant of the year, ofc. A Viet friend brought her parents there for some special occasion & the parents were so happy to eat overpriced subpar Viet food brought by a white waitress bc to them it was a sign "we made it"
Meanwhile I know some Viet people are suspicious when a phở restaurant has a Korean owner, even when the cook is Vietnamese.
Historical geopolitical conflicts in East and Southeast Asia + internalized racial oppression + western Orientalist/ Sinophobic propaganda have created the conditions where Viet people are distrustful of East Asians, especially Chinese people.
And, ngl, when I lived in Viet Nam, I did notice the East/Southeast Asian hierarchy, which is also based on the relo w/ the US.

Singaporean, S. Korean, Japanese, & Taiwanese business men (they're always men) would be treated better than Viet ones, unless they're from the U.S.
Which brings us back to the U.S. and the current barrage of insidious anti-China propaganda here. Everything about China is sinister, even its anti-poverty effort is framed as a government ploy to indoctrinate people to... uh... “thank the Party.”
(Honestly I can do more than thank if someone pulled me out of extreme poverty but xiao zhan why do you live so far away. Shout out to all my em bé in the VC Tinder gc and horn knee hour!)

Viet Nam once again finds itself in the position of being wedged between two superpowers, one hell-bent on making an enemy of the other one.
The story of the current nation state of Viet Nam from the 20th century onward is the story of struggling for sovereignty. I need you to appreciate this.

(And yes there is much more to it given it's a multi-ethnic state.)
That is to say, the collective will of the people of Viet Nam is to resist becoming a vassal state, which VN was for about a thousand years to China.
The U.S.'s interest is not for VN to have self determination, buuut, the U.S. does want to "contain China."

While we were shown Obama eating bún chả cá in Hà Nội w Anthony Bourdain like a regular guy, we were NOT shown the U.S lifting the embargo on lethal military equipment.
Are you perceiving this geopolitical image?

Viet Nam looks at China as sus bc 1. history, 2. proximity, and 3. western anti-China propaganda which no one is immune to
Ok AFK for a little bit bc your chị hai needs to go to the store for some chocolate 🍫
Alright my belly is full of 🍫 and here's another recap:

✦ Minh-Hà T. Phạm's concept of Racial Plagiarism instead of "cultural appropriation"

✦ It's a racial capitalist process of value extraction for the benefit of dominant groups & maintains dominant socioeconomic relo
✦ Racial plagiarism is about extraction & exploitation, not exchange

✦ There's no sharing of power and capital from the copying, the source culture/community is even denied of any benefit
✦ In the hands of the source community, the thing is seen as unrefined, unsophisticated, unprofessional, etc.

✦ In the control of dominant culture, the thing is "improved," "civilized," and "elevated" to be commercialized, sometimes even sold back to the source culture
✦ The convo about culture is really the convo about power.

✦ Viet Nam has a complex relationship w/ China over the last two millennia.

✦ In the last 100 years, VN has struggled for autonomy from multiple foreign powers, and is keen to defend its still-recent sovereignty.
"An empire is a trans-border, culturally legitimized, Center-Periphery structure of unequal exchange." – Johan Galtung

Imperialism is the sum of all 4 interlocking functions of power: 1) Political control by 2) the military to protect 3) the economy for 4) the cultural supremacy
Sovereignty is defined as "the full right and power of a governing body over itself, w/o any interference from outside sources."

VN's struggle is to have this self determination as a socialist state within global US imperialism and China's rising power to challenge US hegemony.
Of the 4 imperial powers – military, political, economic, culture – culture is arguably most visible, and most accessible for public discourse.

If Viet ppl are upset about a Chinese beauty pageant wearing áo dài – a national symbol – ....
... it might be due to the fear of what Antonio Gramsci calls cultural hegemony.

This concept essentially says that for people to consent to the rule of the dominant group, their culture has to spread first. That is fundamental to achieving power.
Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony can be seen through the U.S.'s cultural imperialism via globalized media, Hollywood, Disney, the music industry, white beauty standards, etc.
By the way, I continue to get replies on Chinese imperialism and I invite you to read this thread on the definition of imperialism:
It is verrry late and chị hai has to sleep and I dunno if I'll continue this thread because it is so long already.

But, I recommend reading everything by @minh81 on issues of racial plagiarism & fashion and garment workers' rights. I've learned so much from her 🙏💐
Read Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet and this essay breaking down racial plagiarism as a more useful analytical framework than "cultural appropriation"…
Ok good people of the earth, good night and good morning and good afternoon wherever you are.

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More from @dragonc

13 Nov 19
Some observations on individual actions, corporate media, and systemic oppression👇🏽

Yesterday there was a rally for the Sounders ⚽️ and one for DACA #HomeIsHere within blocks of each other in downtown Seattle.
They're completely different events in completely different spirit. One is celebrating a hometown team winning a championship. The other is to speak truth to power, to expose injustice, and to reaffirm our commitment to each other✊🏽
I was going to fb/tweet something like, “All of you going to the Sounders rally are coming to the DACA one afterwards, right?”

I dreamt there’d be a huge crowd roaring in front of the US District Court in Seattle.
Read 18 tweets

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