a-noble-savage

tbh it annoys me when people go ‘fuck all of europe’ when there are problems here and then they go and praise the non-western world like it’s a utopia. like if you had any inkling of the kind of shit our leaders do you wouldn’t be saying that so carelessly. don’t make our home countries into this fetishised, noble savage utopia. 

sometimes i see people doing this…like awful non-western leaders get praised for standing up to colonialism for some gesture- when actually they did something utterly tokenistic while continuing to emulate our old colonial rulers by continuing to exploit people. they rail against ‘the West’ while they have no problems growing fat on the capitalist economic system instituted by colonial rule. or some statue or prestige skyscraper or other building is held up as ‘POC achievement’ when it’s actually a project marred in corruption, where the govt wasted millions on it instead of using it to help people (because that’s less sexy than a new skyscraper or statue). it’s like if we uncritically buy this, we’re just becoming complicit in their corrupt system- they use these things to often attract revenue from Westerners (which they hoard and worsen economic inequality).

absolutely do criticise wealthy, developed Western countries, especially for their hypocrisy- but don’t act as if they’ve got a monopoly on being ‘problematic’, don’t act as if the non-western and developing world doesn’t also have racism, religious intolerance, economic inequality and a whole raft of other issues. it’s also shitting on the non-western activists who are campaigning to raise awareness about the problems in their country to pushback against our governments who love to just wrap everything up in shiny wrapping paper and pretend we’re perfect tourist destinations.

Whenever people make these cultural appropriation posts without even bothering to find out about that culture, beyond slotting it into a “white/non-white dichotomy”, it makes me feel like parts of tumblr treat non-Europeans as endangered animals to be protected. Instead of human beings with voices and the agency to speak for themselves. And frankly, I find it extremely dehumanising, especially when they get it wrong and strip non-Europeans of our agency. 

How is this any different from the Spanish priests who landed in the Americas and saw the Mesoamericans as “Noble Savages”? As simple-minded people who were like children and babies, innocent to the depravity of civilisation. Who needed to be protected. Sure, it’s different from the conquistadors who thought they were barbaric people who deserved to be slaughtered. But it’s still two sides of the same coin- it’s dehumanisation. In both cases, you do not see people as human beings like you: with agency to be rational, to think for themselves. It’s still EXTREMELY condescending and insulting. I’ve seen people throw a fit about photos of white people wearing the cheongsam, when they couldn’t even tell they were at a Chinese New Year celebration, when they probably don’t even know the modern cheongsam as you know it was born of Manchu influence during the Qing dynasty, and not a wholly Han Chinese garment. Nor did they know it’s a garment that doesn’t have to be earned. No, I did not feel 4000 years of civilisation crumbling when my French-American teacher in school wore a cheongsam during Chinese New Year. I was happy all the members of staff were eager to participate, rather than being aloof.

There’s a distinct tendency on parts of tumblr for people to be blind to confirmation bias: you see something that superficially supports what you subscribe to, you accept it and don’t critically evaluate it. This is not activism at all, if you don’t ever feel a need to continue critically evaluating the information you read. I mean, this doesn’t require you to have access to complicated, inaccessible knowledge. A basic google search will tell you the Haka is performed by NZ national teams in sporting events. It will tell you that a team comprised mostly of Maori started this tradition. 

It’s not that everything is totally “unproblematic” but a lot of it feels like calling out for the sake of it without bothering to research and understand the specific nuances of each culture? I mean I think that’s important too, so even if the thing deserves to be called out you can do so with a rich and deep understanding of why it’s wrong.