Papow Ponders #18: Multiculturalism In The Vintage Community

This week, Nora of @norafinds posted about multiculturalism in the vintage community. There was a great response with people tagging vintage lovers from a variety of backgrounds. Following the post, I spent some time considering this topic in greater depth. These are my personal views of what I have experienced and dealt with – obviously it’s not the same for everyone.

The vintage community, as with all communities, is at times problematic. Regarding multiculturalism, these problems rear their heads in different ways:

Archaic Views – Sadly, sections of the vintage community long for the ‘good old days’. If I went back in time, I’d be suffering much worse racial abuse, my marriage would be condemned and I probably wouldn’t be able to teach. Some people hold a rose-tinted view of the past and will defend their right to return to that life. I have had to explain on more than one occasion why golliwogs are racist and offensive. I have complained at a vintage event about a seller having racist paraphernalia on their stall. Don’t let me get started on the grim number of confederate flags on show. The thing that gets me with all this stuff is the response once you call it out. Some minimise the issue, some will ignore you and some will passionately argue that it’s OK. With right-wing politics on the rise and problematic figures in positions of power, this is a growing issue.

Lack Of Representation – There are a hell of a lot of vintage-loving POC. Under the umbrella of vintage, the majority of adverts, publications and imagery involves white people. It is not truly representative of the vintage community or what our past actually looked like. Why does this happen though? Take a look at the people at the top and find out who those decision-makers are. It’s this kind of culture that can make it difficult to really feel part of the vintage scene.

Cultural Appropriation – This has been an ongoing issue for many vintage reproduction companies. There are also those who want to recreate looks from the past but are ignorant of how problematic these looks might be. As with the above responses to archaic views, people have mixed reactions to feedback on cultural appropriation. It’s an issue because the styling and clothing of marginalised groups which have been mocked or denigrated for years suddenly become acceptable and celebrated when worn by others.

Silent Privilege and Hypocrisy – These come up time and time again in the vintage community. Silent privilege is when people have the power to say or do something but they don’t. Quite often when something problematic occurs, the response in ‘let’s just all be kind’ and the problem remains unaddressed. Hypocrisy is when someone says they stand for something but do nothing about it. There are a number of people who talk the talk on issues like multiculturalism but will still buy from problematic businesses, support questionable people and ignore difficult discussions. It is difficult to get your views across when you are either silenced or ignored.

Now I’m clearly not an expert on any of this but this is my experience and I know I’m not alone in my thoughts and feelings. I really debated whether or not to write this because I get anxious about responses. However, these issues need to be discussed and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say something.

What can you do to make a positive change? Educate yourself and others, listen to marginalised people, accept when you’ve done something wrong and use your privilege for good. All of us mess up (myself included) but how we react when we are given feedback makes a huge impact.

There are so many people out there fighting the good fight. There are accounts, businesses and publications that celebrate multiculturalism in vintage. There are people making their own spaces in the vintage community successfully. Change is happening but, as ever, more needs to be done.



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