I never thought that saris and the fact that I'm white should be mutually exclusive, but in the past I have gotten some feedback from people who have stumbled across this blog who find it very offensive to see a white girl wearing clothes of a culture where she does not ethnically belong. I've been told that I ought not to wear saris because of the color of my skin.
I'm going to continue wearing my clothes, but I thought I'd explain a little bit of the "why."
1) My background: Yes, I'm Caucasian. It's totally obvious by this pasty skin of mine. I'm told that I'm a mix of Dutch, Irish, Welsh, and who knows what else. I have also never been to Europe and have no emotional attachment to, really, anything about European culture, whether it be the traditional dishes of the Netherlands or Ireland or whatever their traditional dresses may be.
However, I have spent a significant portion of my life in SE Asia. After living there, I moved back to the US and majored in Mandarin Chinese. I am very, very attached to some of the dishes that I grew up eating which are nearly impossible to find in the USA. Besides that, I'm the kind of girl who naturally loves bright colors and sparkly things, and the saris and salwar khameez and qipao and baju kebaya that I saw my neighbors and friends wearing have always been beautiful to me. To me, these are the clothes of my home. It would be ridiculous for me to claim that the home of my heart is the Netherlands--I've never even been there, though technically that's where I ethnically might belong best.
2) My clothes are gifts: My friends know me. They know I love beautiful clothes. Many of my generous friends have taken to giving me clothes nearly every time they see me, and are happy when they know that I wear and use their clothes. The vast majority of my collection of these outfits, which includes 1 yukata, 1 qipao, 1 baju kebaya, 5 salwar khameez, and 6 saris, have been gifts from people who are very dear to me. I would consider it very disrespectful to accept their gifts and then stash them away in a dark closet, viewing them merely as odd mementos of something "exotic."
No. instead, I choose to view them as a few among the many beautiful options I have when I'm getting dressed for the day. My tunics make oh-so-comfortable and yet pretty options for everyday wear, while my saris are perfect for a dressy party. And the qipao is usually only seen when I'm on a date with Angel--it's a bit scandalous compared to most of what I wear, but I love it!
3) Try telling my Auntie that I'm not her daughter, and see how far you get. Just try it. Attempt to tell her that I shouldn't wear the saris she gives me because I'm not really a part of her family, that I'm a Caucasian outsider. I believe she'll set you straight. She's the one who taught me how to wear a sari when I was a young teen, and took me into the back room to readjust the folds of the sari when it didn't pass her careful inspection the first few times I wore one. It's often said that there's no fury like a mom protecting her children--and I'm blessed to have more than one excellent woman call me "daughter."
I can understand what's behind the concerns of those who say I shouldn't wear a sari because of my skin color. It's true--white people like me have a horrible track record when it comes to the oppression of other races. However, somehow, I don't think limiting folks to wearing only their own ethnicity's clothes and eating only their own culture's food helps the cause of cross-cultural love very much. (What's next? Marrying inside your own culture? Far be it from me!)
Racism is a real problem. The horrific history of oppression by white folks is a real problem. But I don't think I can best help that problem by wearing only blazers and jeans, by sticking to the clothes "appropriate" for the color of my skin. Maybe what I can do to help is speak out about employers who mistreat their domestic workers. Maybe I can learn a couple languages. Maybe I can attend Lunar New Year and Deepavali and Hari Raya parties when I'm invited by dear friends, and invite them to Thanksgiving dinner every November. Maybe I can passionately love both the culture I was born into and the one I adopted later. Maybe I can use cilantro when I cook (I detest the flavor) because to Angel, it's a taste of home.
Somehow, I think I would be more of a threat to good cross-cultural relationships if I subscribed to the "If you ain't Dutch you ain't much" philosophy than if I were a pale-skinned girl wearing a sari my Auntie gave me.
When it comes to what I wear, I choose love, and sometimes, that means a sari.