Is my fabric ill-advised?
May 8, 2020 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm sewing masks to donate, and a lot of the fabric in my stash is the Alexander Henry "Leis, Luaus & Alohas" print. What do we think about it? Is it racist?

I see this fabric a cheerful, but maybe I'm too accustomed to it. Or maybe it's charming and I'm overthinking it.

My masks all have a plain side and a patterned side, so any recipient could choose to keep that side hidden, but I don't want to make anyone unhappy about receiving a mask made from it. I'm donating masks through an organization and they're going to a large range of people.
posted by The corpse in the library to Society & Culture (12 answers total)
As a female PoC but not a Pacific Islander, my initial read is the pattern is not in line with modern sensibilities or in good taste. There is an objectifying element to it.

If the palm trees were swapped out with snow, etc. and the character's skin was pale with yellow hair, I think my reaction would be the same, fwiw.

In other words, the pattern is not abhorrent but it's not great to this one stranger on the internet.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 4:24 PM on May 8, 2020 [13 favorites]

Unless it is from Your cultural background; somebody somewhere is going to be offended. This might be early in the ~well meant donation food chain; or later if one of your many masks is gifted away.

The cheerful celebratory happy and pleasant aspect of the print might trigger a reaction from a person that suffered a loss from the CV too...

I'd pass. Just my opinion.
posted by Afghan Stan at 4:27 PM on May 8, 2020

Got it! I'll try to cut it in such a way that it's just trees and flowers, or use it for bias tape.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:41 PM on May 8, 2020 [8 favorites]

I ran into a similar fabric deep in my stash, although mine at least included male and female characters. My solution was to make just one mask out of it, for someone I know personally who asked for "the tackiest mask possible." I'm keeping the masks I'm making to donate much more general-audience-appropriate.

I'm sure there are people out there who would like this print, but there are also people who wouldn't -- and in a way that goes well beyond a dislike of polka dots. The way I see it, this is something people are wearing on their faces. I don't want them to have to choose between exhibiting what they may feel is in poor taste and wearing a mask that protects others.
posted by pie ninja at 7:12 PM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another thought: the masks I have seen are made of two layers of fabric sewn together. You can sew the two layers together such that the patterned side of the fabric is never visible (unless deconstructed) inthe final product.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 7:42 PM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

One alternative might be to seek out Hawaiian designers if you want a similar floral/tropical vibe while supporting a small business from the region your mask is depicting. Reyn Spooner, Manaola and Sig Zane are some larger brands to examine for inspiration.
posted by mdonley at 10:39 PM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love it - cheerful and fun!
posted by davidmsc at 11:02 PM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you got it, use it. The pattern is cheerful enough, and I don't think there is any penalty for wearing a mask that's insufficiently dour, especially as mask wearing is kinda the new normal, and people are increasingly living their lives outside strict isolation.
Is it racist? This is best answered in an individual basis. I kind of dislike the group dynamic of such a question, where something is officially considered racist if one person deems it racist. Particularly when such group doesn't have much input from the ethnic group that's being depicted. (FWIW, I'm a person of color, not pacific islander, nor female, I can give examples of where such dynamic plays out, if you really want, privately).
I don't know how the donation system is set up, but are recipients somehow obligated to take what they are given? If not, I can definitely see how, if given a choice, someone might prefer a cheerful or even tacky pattern to wear over a nondescript one. If they are being handed out one-to-a-person, avoid patterns, and stick to dark solid colors. Put the cheerful and tacky ones up on etsy or the like.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:29 PM on May 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

I do think these are plausibly cheerful. But. If these are going to healthcare workers or public facing essential workers... I would err on the side of care here. What if you showed up to see a hospital receptionist wearing a mask stereotyping your culture while already anxious to be in the hospital? You know?
posted by athirstforsalt at 2:41 AM on May 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

Yes, these are going to public-facing essential workers. It’s fine, I have other brightly colored fabric in my stash, and I don’t mind an excuse to buy more.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:39 AM on May 9, 2020

white person who'd say definitely yes due to having just read this informative post about the harm to hawaiians specifically from objectifying and commodifying "hula girls"
posted by gaybobbie at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is offensive on so many levels I don't even know where to start. The female objectification, the exoticism, the distorted body imagery. Ugh. (I think it's a really ugly design as well, but that's just a personal opinion.)

No, I would not be happy to receive this as a mask.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:30 PM on May 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

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