Thursday, May 20, 2010

Treating monastic robes as party costumes

Native Appropriations, a blog dealing with appropriation of indigenous and especially Native American culture, is reporting on San Francisco's “Bay to Breakers” event:
Bay to Breakers is an annual San Francisco Bay Area tradition, now in its 99th year. Technically it's a 12k race, starting downtown (the bay) and ending at the beach (the breakers). I don't know the exact history, or how it has (d)evolved through the years, but I can tell you it is now one part serious road race, and about 100 parts drunken costumed debauchery.
The big story is that they lost count after taking fifty-some photos of white people covered in feathers and paint and drunkenly war-whooping “playing Indian”. But near the bottom of the article, they add:
Indian costumes were by no means the only form of racist costumes. There were plenty of "Mexicans" in sombreros and mustaches, "Asians" with kimonos and stereotypical rice paddy hats, even some "Tibetan monks" (I have a picture of those):

Notice that we're not just assuming this is drunken costume party behavior; the “nun” in the center of the picture is actually carrying a can of Bud.

Is this a case of well-meaning supporters trying to find a clever way to insert a Free Tibet message in a public event (and screwing it up horribly), or just random party-goers who think they can treat someone else's religion and national struggle as a costume to put on while you party? I'm leaning towards the latter since they don't even get the color or design of the robes right, but with just a picture it's pretty hard to tell.

Even if they were trying to do something good, it's hard for me to tell where the borderline between making a positive statement and doing something offensive gets drawn. Of course they shouldn't be drunk and carrying beer cans, and mixing up the color of their robes (maybe they think TIE-bet is THAI-bet?) but what about other aspects. Would it be okay if these people had really shaved their heads? If they were carrying pictures of Tibetan martyrs? Does whether they have the permission/blessing of a Tibetan community or religious authority change anything?


  1. Pongu, I'd actually vote the former (Supporter) because how many random drunk party goers have a Tibetan flag? Probably some of their friends invited them saying "Hey, we have a bunch of monk costumes" and she thought "Hey! I could totally bring my Tibetan flag!"

  2. It's all costumes.


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