I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Victoria, waiting to catch the bus back to the ferry, and we happen to look up at the wall here. It’s a rack of photographs for sale @ about $180-$200 a pop. Guy’s name is Adam Dargavel. I’d link to him, but he mostly lives on Facebook. Which isn’t really surprising, taking all context into account here.
The one nearest me is a close-up picture of a Hmong child in an elegant hat. It’s entitled “Little Hmong Girl” and costs $180.
The one next to that is a picture of three young women, dressed in hats and necklaces. It’s entitled “Black Hmong of Laos.” $200.
The one next to that is a portrait of four boys in monastic dress, entitled “Apprentice Buddhist Monks.” It’s $200.
It’s amazing, to me, that we’re at a point still where you could sell pictures of picturesque natives from overseas, labelled just with tribal affiliation, and still feel good about yourself. What’s more amazing is that people buy this stuff. Where do you put a picture of some stranger’s little kid – next to the coffee machine? “Oh yeah. That’s the Little Hmong Girl. Isn’t she adorable?”
I’m sitting here, in fact, with a woman from Southeast Asia. Her response: “Whose kid is that? What’s their name? What village is that from?” You know, because – to her – THESE ARE ACTUAL PEOPLE NOT SET PIECES FOR YOUR LIFESTYLE.
For those of you who have no ability to see how rotten this is, change it to pictures of your favorite oppressed group – say, American Blacks. If you’re a mainstream Canadian, that’s your favorite boo-hoo group, because it’s always easier to snuffle over oppression you don’t understand and aren’t involved in than it is to do something about oppression you SHOULD understand and ARE involved in. But okay, whatever, imagine walking into a coffee shop and seeing a rack of photos of black children for sale, entitled “Little Black Boy” and so on.
This relates to something I’ve complained about on here before, which always rubs me the wrong way – the lack of attribution and specificity when it comes to “traditional” cultures. “Indian Saying.” “Ancient Indian Saying.” “Native American Prophecy” and so on. Labels on pictures like “Cree man.” As if these people were representative stereotypes of a group, rather than individuals.
It’s your responsibility, as an adult, to be able to compare and contrast contexts. If you don’t find it acceptable in one context, you should ask yourself how the same behavior transfers to a different context. If you wouldn’t find it acceptable to put up a picture of a random BLACK child for sale as decor, then why do you find it acceptable to put up a picture of a random ASIAN child? If you don’t think Sambo figurines are okay, why do you think Little Papoose figurines are okay? If you don’t want YOUR child’s photograph sold for $200 at a coffee shop, why do you think it’s okay for THEIR child’s photograph to be sold there? If you want YOUR OWN ideas and creativity properly attributed, why don’t you care when THEIR statements aren’t?
Because, the fact is, these are pictures of someone else’s kids, someone else’s handiwork, someone else’s LIFE. And all they get is an ethnic label on your business product and a couple of guilt-bucks tossed at a charity.