The Random Writings of Rachel: Why I Wear Saris

Why I Wear Saris





Ya'll may have noticed that occasionally I post pictures of events where I'm wearing a sari. Ya'll may also notice that I, in fact, happen to be Caucasian.

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.

59 comments:

  1. WTF people say that shit to you re: saris and you being white?? IMO, when you embrace different cultures, you are opening your mind to different things and learning about the wonders of other cultures. i LOVE saris. when my friend was getting married, i was so jealous of the gorgeous saris and the beautiful colors!

    so you wear the hell out of those saris, rachel. clothing, traditions, cultural anything should not be defined by skin color. it's ridiculous that people still think this way!

    -kathy | Vodka and Soda

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  2. I think you look beautiful in your saris! :)

    I have always admired the bright colours and designs on items like saris, but as I have no connection to that culture (apart from the occasional friend) I wouldn't feel right wearing them. Also would have no idea how to fold it just right! haha! :)

    I think whatever makes you happy, you should wear it! :)

    Away From The Blue

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  3. Good for you! You look great in them and I always assumed you were had some form of Asian in your blood from your previous posts. If you grew up there to some extent, then you have every right to wear them. And I totally agree if someone gifts you something, you should show it off as a form of gratitude and appreciation. If others have a problem tell them to look the other way and worry about their own opinions and outlook on life versus yours. My friend is from Bangladesh and when I attend her family ceremonies I always wear saris - she dresses me of course but you know what I love them and they're comfy! I don't wear them outside of that because it isn't my culture - but it is your adopted culture so wear them with pride! :) Have a great one Rachel! -Iva

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  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and lovely saris with Visible Monday!

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  5. You're such an example of how people can so quickly draw conclusions based on the color of one's skin. The little I know about your life just proves that skin color does not matter when it comes to the culture(s) you identify with. For instance, my husband is mixed but looks more Hawaiian, but identifies more with his southern American culture...it confuses people when they hear his southern accent, but hey, that's who he is!
    Thanks for writing this post! I love reading your experiences of these kinds of things! :)

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  6. You look gorgeous in these saris. I'm a firm believer in wearing what you love, regardless of others' opinions.

    Lauren
    Fizz and Frosting

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  7. This was such an enjoyable read. I love it when people speak frankly about the driving forces behind their fashion choices. I've always secretly yearned to try wearing a sari, but never have. You're inspired me to become braver on that front and not shy away from the idea of doing so (as a fellow Caucasian lady) nearly as much. Thank you!

    ♥ Jessica

    *PS* You look absolutely gorgeous in all of your saris.

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  8. You look great! And I think you really hit the nail on the head when you say that sticking to what's "ours" culture-wise does nothing to help with issues of race and culture. I think people who say things like this need to educate themselves a bit.

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  9. Absolutely! Who do those people think they are. You wear whatever you want! It makes no sense to me to think that a white girl wearing a sari is a form of racism. Especially since if they spent any time around your or your blog, they would know your background and know how far racism is from your heart. These clothes are beautiful and fit you, your life, and your personality perfectly!

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  10. My dad is Indian. I don't wear saris, but I don't think anyone would say one word to me if I did. We visited his family in India and all my little cousin wanted to do was try on my high heels and 'American' clothes. What, am I going to tell her 'no you're not white you can't'? That's crazy.

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  11. Those are gorgeous! I'm the whitest white girl there is ;) and a huge fan of European culture but I've always longed to wear a Sari. They're simply some of the prettiest outfits I've ever seen.

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  12. You look gorgeous in sari Rachel and you should wear whatever you want to. What other thinks is their business not yours. Happy Monday girl.

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  13. I love your defense on this! So true, how having some ancestry doesn't make one that culture. So often in South Africa it comes up that Europeans need to go back to where they came from (and I can understand this feeling), but the problem is is that we're not our ancestral culture anymore, and embracing and celebrating new cultures in a respectful way that doesn't demean it can only build understanding and community.

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  14. I think you look beautiful in your saris. To be honest, when I first saw you wearing one, I knew you were a fun, funky dresser and just figured it was part of your fun ensemble that is Rachel's wardrobe. Nothing wrong with that!

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  15. I think you look amazing in your saris! I don't see why people would have a problem with you wearing them as long as you're wearing them respectfully, which you obviously do. It's not like you're running through the mud in them or purposely wearing them to piss people off. I think people like to pretend they sit on a higher horse than they really do. I'm glad their opinions haven't changed your mind to wear them--keep on doing your thing, girl!

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  16. I really don't think you should have had to explain yourself and your beautiful collection of clothes to anybody. But this was a great post.

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  17. Well I for one think you look beautiful, and you wearing a sari, to me, means you're honoring. So go and rock them!

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  18. OMG I think you look stunning! I live in an area of my city where we are surrounded by a large Indian Asian community and I love seeing their gorgeous outfits. They always look so colourful and beautiful.

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  19. Sounds to me like you experienced reverse discrimination. I hate how my Caucasian ancestors oppressed other ethnicities. Most of them were probably victims of society and their childhoods. They just didn't know any better but to hate. I don't think it's fair to limit white people from doing things because of the color of their skin, especially when they are honoring another tradition like you.

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  20. Wow, I can't believe people would tell you that you shouldn't wear saris! That's crazy! I'm glad that you're standing your ground.

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  21. Ethnically, I am part Native American and part hodge podge of a lot of other things. However, my parents met in Afghanistan and spent a good deal of time there. They named me after a student of theirs. I grew up surrounding by Afghan clothing, food and art work. I can totally understand why you would wear a sari and be attached to a culture that you spent time in. Go for it!

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  22. You are just so dang beautiful! Love those sari's on you, they are beyond gorgeous!!! You should wear them all the time, you look just great in them, those people telling you, you shouldn't they are just lame sauce and probably jealous that they can't wear them as good as you! Haha, hope you have a great day! :)

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  23. First off, I want a sari now! I've always been drawn to Indian culture and know that I have ancestors from India several generations back. Second, I read about cultural misappropriation regarding performers a lot. Gwen Stefani, a musician I love, wore a bindi in the 90s and has obviously made Japanese street style part of her brand. Miley Cyrus (blech, sorry, I just hate her) gets a lot of criticism for trying to "steal" or parody black culture. Katy Perry dressed as a geisha for some performance and was called a racist for it.

    In those cases, I can see why people get mad. They're using someone else's culture as some exotic costume. But your post is really convincing because your saris have sentimental value, and they're a part of your wardrobe, not something you put on to get a rise out of someone or to fetishize an ethnicity. Plus, you look wonderful in them.

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  24. This is such a great post! I live in a very diverse area, so I can't imagine someone looking down on, or feeling offended by, someone's clothing choice (whether it's tied to a culture or not!)

    You really show how deep the culture and beliefs are in your life that are tied to saris. Just the fact that you explained why you wear them shows how conscious you are of cultural oppression. Keep it up, Rachel.. you look great!

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  25. First of all, they look beautiful on you. Second of all, you wear whatever you want! I am sad that critical people forced an explanation.

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  26. I say wear whatever you want! Especially if it means something special to you! That was and is part of your life and they're beautiful!!

    Jessi
    www.haircutandgeneralattitude.com

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  27. BEAUTIFUL! I spent a month in India and happily wore saris while there... and it was very much embraced! I love that you find ways to intersperse them in your wardrobe.

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  28. I've always wanted a sari. They are so beautiful and colorful! Maybe one day! I would have never thought that you were "white". No, seriously! I thought you were of another ethnicity. Anyways, keep wearing your saris :)

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  29. You look beautiful! Don't let anyone stop you - do whatever makes you happy :)

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  30. Wow....I'm surprised you've received such negative feedback! You look stunning and one of my best caucasian friends is a missionary who loves India and thus wears their clothes often - so what? I never would have thought it to be "out of disrespect." Keep rocking the saris - you are stunning! plus you'll obviously get good use of them where you're moving to!

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  31. That's sad that many people disagree with what you were wearing I think these look beautiful on you and I admire you for what you love.

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  32. What a lovely collection of saris! You look gorgeous!
    Here's one of me in a red sari ...

    http://fashionableover50.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/dressing-up/

    ♥ carmen

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  33. This is a beautiful post! I don't think you should ever stop wearing them, especially because you feel close to that culture. I think our generation really needs to do its part in acknowledging past mistakes, but also moving forward and towards the bettering the future.

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  34. Gorgeous saris & you look great in them! When I was in KL, I would just admire all the beautiful saris! I should have bought me one. ;)

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  35. I love that - so beautifully said. That blue one is amazing on you!

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  36. I think it’s wonderful that you wear what makes you happy and feel beautiful. I can’t believe people really care that you wear a sari but aren’t originally from that culture. I loved reading about your thoughts behind it and how much these clothes mean to you. You go girl and keep doing what you’re doing! You are beautiful inside and out:)

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  37. I know you would wear them regardless and I'm glad that you are confident enough to to do, but I'm also glad you have given an explanation to raise more awareness about the need to blend our ethnic cultures and stop being an us vs them type of world. High five for ethnically diverse families and cultures!
    Eva Marie Taylor

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  38. I totally agree with you! I love other cultures and I love learning, but that's the saddest thing. Because I am a white American, I feel embarrassed to ask others about their cultures, their history, their home, their view points. But, I just want to learn.

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  39. I love this post. In my dealings with higher ed, there's a lot of discussion of diversity and we forget (as a society) about "hidden" diversity, such as nationality, birth place, sexuality - or even being a part of a blended family or an interracial relationship.

    Plus, your saris are so colorful and beautiful! I love them!

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  40. Continue to wear your saris. It's look great on you! :-)

    Mo

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  41. Bravo! Honestly, I don't understand the narrow mindedness of some people! You look beautiful in your saris, {my fav is the blue one}, and although you didn't have to justify why you wear them, I love the back story. Interestingly, I was just looking at saris when at Value Village today. Absolutely gorgeous, they are!

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  42. I hate that narrow-minded people bugged you enough to feel pressured to give an explanation but I'm so glad you told your story. Thank you for being yourself and opening minds!

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  43. Your saris are so beautiful and unique...just like you. Small minded judgmental people should be ignored. Wear what you love and makes you feel most like you.
    Debbie
    www.fashionfairydust.blogspot.com

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  44. 4) Because you look super good in them! So pretty.

    (Although, being Dutch, I must tell you... if you ain't Dutch, you ain't much- and you probably don't eat the blandest food ever, either! ; ) )

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  45. Hurrah Rachel! There is no reason why caucasians can't wear beautiful ethnically diverse clothes just because our culture doesn't really have these kinds of clothes. I am mostly Dutch too and I'm sorry I will NOT dress up in a frilly skirt and plait my hair , I really won't!

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  46. They look lovely and you should wear them ... you're a citizen of the world, after all!

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  47. I too like to wear ethnic clothes, mostly Indian, and lucky I am that nobody has commented on the colour of my skin so far. You look fabulous in all these saris. I like sari too but the problem is that to drape it one needs practice and skills that I lack.

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  48. This was really inspiring Rachel! It’s so true we get caught up on cultural representations when the fact is, we’re all the same!

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  49. I think this is a really eloquent response to something that's personal and other people's quick judgments. I think sometimes people who are well-meaning and want to uplift certain cultures can attack the very people who are interested in understanding and supporting those cultures instead of people who are genuinely spreading hate. I totally get people asking if they are curious and wondering about it, but a white person wearing something from another culture does not not automatically mean it's cultural appropriation. I also think it's hard in the USA in general, when we have a mix of several cultures and the lines are so blurred. So many people have been brought up in communities that are diverse and really align themselves with more than the mainstream culture, but having to explain that all the time can be taxing. Thanks for writing this, Rachel!

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  50. That is just ridiculous. Some people are so closed minded, and I'm sorry that you have felt discriminated against. I've never once given thought to the fact that you wear Saris because it's obviously a part of you. I hope you never stop!

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  51. I really enjoyed reading the post and totally agree with you, however, I also had a similar experience. One of my best friends is Pakistani. One day I was joking that she should get married soon because I love the Salwar Kamiz picutres she likes to post.

    She was very flattered that I would love to wear something like this, but she pointed out that at a party with the majority of attending People being Pakistani themselves, I should not wear one at her wedding because many feel that it is not appropriate for a Caucasian girl to wear their traditional clothing.

    And slightly off topic, but your post remembered me of an awesome TED Talk about "home" you might really enjoy:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_where_is_home?v2=0

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  52. I cannot believe that someone actually criticized you for wearing a saris. Ridiculous. Racism appears in every form. I don't believe anyone should have the right to tell you what to wear unless it is hurting someone. A swastika is the only thing I can think of that people shouldn't wear.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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  53. Wow, I can't believe the comments you have received. I don't see any issue with what you are wearing. As far as I know a sari is not a religious garment, that's the only type of clothing I could see raising concern or offense.

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  54. Your story doesn't surprise me in the least. I love what you are doing - Maybe what I can do to help is speak out about employers who mistreat their domestic workers - and if you can educate one person it is worth it. BTW - you look lovely in the saris.

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  55. Hi, Rachel! I'm Courtney from The Brown Girl with Long Hair blog. I absolutely LOVE this post! And I thank you for having written it because it needed to be done. I can relate on many levels...As an African American, you should see the looks I got when I was ordering my food in Arabic at an Middle Eastern restaurant (I minored in Arabic in college)...or how about when I am at the park, Chanting in Sanskrit on my yoga mat (I have been practicing Hatha yoga for over 12 years and serve as a certified yoga instructor).

    All I can say is, I can relate.

    Job well-done on this post. Stopping by from SITS. :-)

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  56. Continue doing what you enjoy. I think the saris are beautiful. I tried rocking a sari once, but was a bit overwhelmed with all the fabric.

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  57. Good for you! People are so quick to judge about every little thing- parenting, eating, wearing certain clothes. It's crazy. Your saris are beautiful.

    Stopping by from #SITS. <3

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  58. I think it's great that you've embraced another culture as your own. It's disappointing how close-minded some people can be.

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