But all this stuff I do in steampunk? It's just a continuation of stuff that happens outside of steampunk. Dressing up as something from a different culture? Happens every year on a pretty mass scale!
So here are two related but separate links about cultural appropriation during Halloween which I think are extremely pertinent for steampunk:
An Ohio University group called Students Teaching About Racism Society (STARS) has begun a campaign called "We're a Culture, Not a Costume." In it, people of colour hold up pictures of Halloween costumes that depict racist stereotypes of how a costume is supposed to reflect an entire people. Some of the costumes look innocuous enough, like the geisha costume, for which you probably will want to acquaint yourself with the longer history of how geisha costumes are deeply problematic as stand-ins for Asian women.
At Native Appropriations, Adrienne K writes about how she wants to reason with white people into NOT wearing the hypersexualised Indian princess costumes (PocaHotties) or warrior outfits, only to realize that words like those would be wasted anyway. Who the hell wants to be told that what they're doing is wrong?Who wants to be told that their having fun is racist and based on a system of power that allows them to get away with this kind of shit, while ignoring the wishes of the people of colour who says, "don't do it, it hurts"?
I kind of have this conversation all the time with folks, hell, there's a conversation like this happening right now in some other comment thread. These people want to be reasoned with, they want to have a deeply intelligent conversation with rigorous debate before they will be satisfied. As if these things were logical and we're dealing with the pragmatics of material, not with things like empathy and power.
So when people asked me, "why weren't you at [SteamCon III's] Multicultural Brunch?" I said, I don't want to run the risk of raising my blood pressure in seeing [colour]face. It's not worth it. I don't want to hear about the research people have done about their costumes, the history of a suit, the changes it has undergone--not the day after I've been called a racist for simply looking for people like me who are, with or without costume, different from default.
I'm sorry I don't appear to give a shit about what you've done with pieces of cloth when I'm more concerned with what people do to other people. It's not that I don't appreciate these efforts of yours, because I do, and if you're studying the history of my people to create that, perhaps you will also come across the history of my people as people, and come to understand why we are the way we are today through your studies.
p.s. I use the "theory" tag for this type of entry, but really, it's not theory so much as it is real-life. Unfortunately, there's no other way to express such kinds of abstractions that have so much direct impact...