racistHat.jpg

The other day I was going out in the sun, so I put on a hat I had gotten in Chinatown. It’s a conical hat made of straw. In Vietnam, it’s called a “non la”. The hats are traditionally worn in Asian countries for protection from the sun, and it’s the perfect hat for the heat because it shields you from the sun but still keeps you cool.

But my friend rushed to stop me before I went out the door.

She told me I couldn’t wear the hat because it was racist of me. I told her I was only wearing it because it’s a great hat and it goes with my sundress, but she still wouldn’t let me wear it out.

I asked another friend if it was somehow racist of me to wear the hat and she just started laughing, and wouldn’t give me more of an answer than that. So I asked them if it was racist of me to wear a beret and they both said “no, it’s different.”

How could be different? Neither of them could explain it, only saying “it just is.” But I think they’re wrong, I think the racism is in them, not in me and my wearing the hat.

The way I see it, wearing either hat could only be racist is if the wearer thought the people who had originally worn the hat were less than themselves (like Mickey Rooney’s disgusting portrayal of the neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and I certainly don’t feel that way.

But still I’m wondering. Am I wrong?

The last thing I want to do is be disrespectful of other peoples’ heritage. I don’t really have one heritage that I identify with (I’m kind of everything mixed together) so I’ve never been in a position to experience an insult to my people. However, my skin is pale and almost transparent (honestly I look like raw chicken in a clear plastic bag).

So even though I’m wearing the hat because it’s an amazing and cute design, should I still not wear it?

What do you think?

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the author

Babe Scanlon is a writer living and working in San Francisco. She's worked as an archaeologist, computer game designer, agent at Agent Provocateur and hypnotherapist. She is controlling your mind at this very moment.

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  • Martini Madame

    If you were just trying to protect yourself from the sun, then, NO. If you were trying to be “fashionable”, then, YES. If you want to do both (protect/be fashionable) just wear a wide-brimmed hat like the rest of us white girls. 😛

  • Martini Madame

    If you were just trying to protect yourself from the sun, then, NO. If you were trying to be “fashionable”, then, YES. If you want to do both (protect/be fashionable) just wear a wide-brimmed hat like the rest of us white girls. 😛

  • Eve Batey
  • Eve Batey
  • flo

    There’s a big difference between some mild cultural appropriation and racism. If that hat is racist, then there are loads of drum-beating, sweat-lodging, turquiose-wearing new agers that need to be taken to task by the ACLU. Keep calm and carry on. 🙂

  • flo

    There’s a big difference between some mild cultural appropriation and racism. If that hat is racist, then there are loads of drum-beating, sweat-lodging, turquiose-wearing new agers that need to be taken to task by the ACLU. Keep calm and carry on. 🙂

  • cpc

    I think some people just need to lighten up. Wearing a cute hat that references another culture is not racist! It’s ridiculous that people should be banned from wearing clothing that too closely references a culture they weren’t born into, whether that’s a “Chinese” hat, Indian sari, Japanese kimono or Irish fishermen’s sweater. People wear clothing to express facets of their personality. Unless that clothing has a specific political message that is offensive (i.e. Prince Harry in a Nazi costume), I don’t see why it can’t be worn by anyone.

    Maybe, instead of jumping to a conclusion that it’s racist to wear another cultures apparel and/or accessories, we should think of it as form of modern expression to include a hat design that’s been around for centuries in an outfit with a modern dress. I love it when people’s personal style goes outside the box. It’s a way of showing the world how creative you are.

  • cpc

    I think some people just need to lighten up. Wearing a cute hat that references another culture is not racist! It’s ridiculous that people should be banned from wearing clothing that too closely references a culture they weren’t born into, whether that’s a “Chinese” hat, Indian sari, Japanese kimono or Irish fishermen’s sweater. People wear clothing to express facets of their personality. Unless that clothing has a specific political message that is offensive (i.e. Prince Harry in a Nazi costume), I don’t see why it can’t be worn by anyone.

    Maybe, instead of jumping to a conclusion that it’s racist to wear another cultures apparel and/or accessories, we should think of it as form of modern expression to include a hat design that’s been around for centuries in an outfit with a modern dress. I love it when people’s personal style goes outside the box. It’s a way of showing the world how creative you are.

  • Babe Scanlon

    I agree CPC!

  • Babe Scanlon

    I agree CPC!

  • judy b.

    I’m wondering how many commenters are Asian.

    If he really wants to know, is a man going to ask another man if something is sexist?

  • judy b.

    I’m wondering how many commenters are Asian.

    If he really wants to know, is a man going to ask another man if something is sexist?

  • Martini Madame

    I’m wondering how many commenters are White Girls. Check!

    Oh, who the hell cares about damn hats; I’m actually more concerned about who our next president will be. If our next president is republican, then our hat choices, ALONG WITH ALL OF OUR CHOICES, will be very clearly defined for us. So, we won’t have to trouble ourselves with all this “thinking” ’bout stuff. Oh, happy days.

  • Martini Madame

    I’m wondering how many commenters are White Girls. Check!

    Oh, who the hell cares about damn hats; I’m actually more concerned about who our next president will be. If our next president is republican, then our hat choices, ALONG WITH ALL OF OUR CHOICES, will be very clearly defined for us. So, we won’t have to trouble ourselves with all this “thinking” ’bout stuff. Oh, happy days.

  • Paper Foxes

    Do your girlfriends have a problem with you wearing cute silk dresses with Mandarin collars? Probably not. I’ll admit that sometimes I think it looks out-of-place for someone to wear the full costume of another culture, but a lot of my friends are Indian and request their white friends wear saris at their weddings. We don’t get to choose our race, but we do get to choose our culture. Be respectful and absorb whatever you want!

  • Paper Foxes

    Do your girlfriends have a problem with you wearing cute silk dresses with Mandarin collars? Probably not. I’ll admit that sometimes I think it looks out-of-place for someone to wear the full costume of another culture, but a lot of my friends are Indian and request their white friends wear saris at their weddings. We don’t get to choose our race, but we do get to choose our culture. Be respectful and absorb whatever you want!

  • 49Giants

    Hi. I have two pennies.

    The question posed is whether wearing that particular hat makes you look racist. I believe it does. And the reasons are somewhat complicated and may not be satisfactory or fair, but the question wasn’t “should,” but “does.” I will also note that you are not asking if wearing that hat makes you a racist. It doesn’t.

    I’m going to make one assumption. I’m going to assume you are of European descent. I honestly can’t tell from your profile picture, but I’m just going to make that assumption. If I am wrong, please let me know because, strangely, it would change the answer to your question.

    Your wearing that hat makes you look racist because you are a member of the dominant group (white folks), wearing something that is very closely identified with a particular minority group (Vietnamese, or southeast Asia generally). This particular minority group also happened to have been colonized by the dominant group (France) and fought an incredibly brutal war against the dominant group (America).

    Also, because that particular hat is so out of the norm in the region we’re in, it looks as though you’re going out of your way to wear that hat. Even if that is not the case, and as you said, you were in Chinatown and it was hot so it made sense to purchase it, we are still in California, in the United States and such hats do not often make appearances.

    So, to recap briefly:

    1) You’re a member of the dominant group
    2) that also colonized a particular minority group
    3) that hat is very closely associated with that minority group
    4) that hat is not common.

    I know it’s unsatisfactory and unfair, but really, I think those are the reasons why your wearing that hat makes you look racist.

    Your question about the beret would fail when analyzed this way. Although a beret is closely associated with the French and is not very common and therefore stands out, but the French are part of that dominant group.

    If we can imagine a world in which China fought a war with the United States, with China emerging as the victor and thereafter occupying and governing the US. If we can imagine that the Chinese then become the dominant group in the US, being the main players in government, business, media, arts, etc and after a few generations, the descendants of the former US become rather downtrodden. In that world, if some Chinese kid wears a cowboy hat, I think I’d understand if a kid from Texas gets annoyed. That Chinese kid’s friends should probably tell him not to wear the cowboy hat even if they know that he’s not trying to make fun of Texans.

    It just looks bad.

  • 49Giants

    Hi. I have two pennies.

    The question posed is whether wearing that particular hat makes you look racist. I believe it does. And the reasons are somewhat complicated and may not be satisfactory or fair, but the question wasn’t “should,” but “does.” I will also note that you are not asking if wearing that hat makes you a racist. It doesn’t.

    I’m going to make one assumption. I’m going to assume you are of European descent. I honestly can’t tell from your profile picture, but I’m just going to make that assumption. If I am wrong, please let me know because, strangely, it would change the answer to your question.

    Your wearing that hat makes you look racist because you are a member of the dominant group (white folks), wearing something that is very closely identified with a particular minority group (Vietnamese, or southeast Asia generally). This particular minority group also happened to have been colonized by the dominant group (France) and fought an incredibly brutal war against the dominant group (America).

    Also, because that particular hat is so out of the norm in the region we’re in, it looks as though you’re going out of your way to wear that hat. Even if that is not the case, and as you said, you were in Chinatown and it was hot so it made sense to purchase it, we are still in California, in the United States and such hats do not often make appearances.

    So, to recap briefly:

    1) You’re a member of the dominant group
    2) that also colonized a particular minority group
    3) that hat is very closely associated with that minority group
    4) that hat is not common.

    I know it’s unsatisfactory and unfair, but really, I think those are the reasons why your wearing that hat makes you look racist.

    Your question about the beret would fail when analyzed this way. Although a beret is closely associated with the French and is not very common and therefore stands out, but the French are part of that dominant group.

    If we can imagine a world in which China fought a war with the United States, with China emerging as the victor and thereafter occupying and governing the US. If we can imagine that the Chinese then become the dominant group in the US, being the main players in government, business, media, arts, etc and after a few generations, the descendants of the former US become rather downtrodden. In that world, if some Chinese kid wears a cowboy hat, I think I’d understand if a kid from Texas gets annoyed. That Chinese kid’s friends should probably tell him not to wear the cowboy hat even if they know that he’s not trying to make fun of Texans.

    It just looks bad.

  • Babe Scanlon

    Thank you so much for all your comments! I love knowing your opinions.

  • Babe Scanlon

    Thank you so much for all your comments! I love knowing your opinions.

  • Dr Usha Rajagopal

    I agree with your thoughts.

  • Dr Usha Rajagopal

    I agree with your thoughts.

  • Daniel Reeve

    Hi, I’m Asian but an Americanized one. But I would never find it “racist” for one to wear that type of hat. For anyone to say your “prejudice” for wearing that hat basically is pre-judging you. Therefore they’re way more prejudice than you wearing a hat for a practical reason.
    Wear what you want and be who you want, and don’t be pressured by what others will say, especially if it’s a stupid belief given as advice.