In previous posts I have dabbled with creating avatars are other than myself—either male or of another race. In fact, when I show Harper, I am typically showing one other than myself—I am not a redhead and I am definitely not tall and thin. However, when I dabble in such representations, I try very hard to represent the avatars positively or thoughtfully, and sometimes I still have misgivings about what I am doing.
So when I heard about the new Maasai avatar created by Hart Larsson, Clio Cardiff and Bronco Graves, I was really interested in what they came up with. Hart gave us a beautifully rendered dark skin placed over a body that had a thin nose and green exotic eyes with colored markings as makeup. Bronco gave us beautifully made necklaces with pretty colored beads. Clio gave us a shift that would be lovely as a summer dress. All of them are very well made by great SL artisans. However, none of it has any connection to real life Maasai people or for that matter, any people in Africa except the ones in their imaginations. And old Tarzan movies.
And that’s what really brought me short. The exoticization of the “Other’ (if we want to get all postcolonial on this or even worse, the ‘subaltern’) has been going on for years. It’s our means of not connecting with people who live lives different than ours but distancing them. By making them Others, by making them exotic, they become pretty THINGS, not people.
(To straighten this out, by the way, Maasai women typically have wider flatter noses, thicker lips. They wear substantial piercings in their ears as well as necklets that are large round constructions with colored beads but no kewpie shells or feathers. They wear woven cloths wrapped around their bodies (shuka) and sandals. This is when they ARE dressed in traditional clothing—which is not always. And they never EVER wear colorful markings on their faces. Incidentally, the Maasai happen also to be one of the few groups that still practice female circumcision, which is deeply entrenched in their culture, even though it is illegal in some countries like Kenya. How exotic is that? Screw cultural relativism–it shouldn’t be happening.)
Bottom line? Maasai people are not exotic or fantasy like drows or fairies. They are living existing people with specific political and social concerns, just LIKE WE ARE. Exoticizing a drow or fae is excusable–they aren’t real life people in this world. They are made-up creatures. Maasai people aren’t fantasy creatures–they REALLY exist.
I appreciate the attempt that the creators made to bring a different sort of person into this overwhelmingly white (or rather, deep tan) world. I really dig that. And Hart’s skin, as you see here, is beautifully rendered and would be perfect for say, an African American woman. (However, I have changed the shape he used to show it to one with a more realistic facial structure and I have given her beautiful deep dark brown eyes.) Why did she have to become a Maasai woman? Wouldn’t it be enough to make her African-American?
I have also dressed our beautiful woman in an outfit of pure class. Think Kathleen Battle here or Rita Dove or.. ha, Michele Obama! Our beauty wears a gorgeous dress from Su Scarmon. What catches my eye the most about this dress is the silvery-gold texture. Giving off this kind of luster is not easy in SL, especially for a fabric. Su really captured the richness of a champagne-colored satin.
“Be careful what you swallow. Chew!” ~ Gwendolyn Brooks
Hair: ETD Anisa – Black by Elikapeka Tiramisu for ETD (No longer available)
Skin: [PXL] Efe DeepTan NoMakeup by Hart Larsson for [PXL]
Dress: *LaLei*Josephine-silver by Su Scarmon for *LaLei*
Necklace and earrings: Donna Flora ASIA black set by Squinternet Larnia for Donna Flora
Want to read more about “native appropriations”? Click here to Mimi Thi Nyugen’s article on threadbared.