(Please note, this post is over 1,000 words long. If you’re ready for that, please buckle your seatbelt. This is the first of many articles in this series. It’s going to be a long ride!)
When I first stumbled upon this topic, I found it rather annoying. Some people were outraged at Selena Gomez for wearing a bindi. I thought nothing of it, and time quickly moved on.
Years later, I was reintroduced to the topic when a young friend of mine was harassed on her instagram account by a hateful user (known as @desigirlsrockbindis at the time) who spewed hatred and told her she couldn’t wear a bindi because she was not Indian or South Asian. This troll was hating under the “#ReclaimTheBindi” campaign.
I was enraged, feeling very protective of my young friend, and confused at how such a stupid topic could have formed such a cult following.
So I did my research. If people were thinking that expressing another culture is wrong, that this is a big deal, I wanted to know why. After a debate among other ladies with Indian partners, and researching independently, I learned a few things. I took over a month to absorb all I had learned, before writing about it.
Voices of the People Who Stand Against Cultural Appropriation
After debating with other ladies on the subject, many who identify as a minority – all partnered with an Indian man, they had quite a bit to say on why they think it’s not okay to use elements of another culture.
People claiming that cultural appropriation is wrong, often say the only times you are allowed to adorn something from another culture, is when you are invited to by a member of that culture. For example, if your Indian friend gives you some jeweled bindis – or if you are invited to an Indian wedding and asked to wear a saree. Other ladies who were partnered with an Indian, said they felt the only right they had to wear Indian clothes and bindis, was because their partner is Indian.
“I wouldn’t wear a kimono, unless my partner was Japanese and taught me when and how to wear one.”
This was one example used.
When I expressed that people are free to explore and express culture, just as they are to explore and express the world’s languages, and whatever religion they believed in, one woman was quick to reply. She said that she believed language, culture, and religion were not things that people have the right to learn because they want to.
She believed that communities don’t have to let us use their culture because we want to, and that adorning aspects of another culture is essentially stealing from that culture. Regardless of if a person has good intentions, that does not free them from the fact that they are stealing from a minority culture.
“Notice how mostly white people do that?”
This person, and many others out there, believe that cultural appropriation, goes hand in hand with racism. The power and control flows from the most “dominant” culture, to the “dominated” culture. The dominant culture in question, being “white” culture.
Cultural appropriation, according to many, does not apply if a “dominated” culture is borrowing from a “dominant” culture, because it can be seen as forced or necessary for survival – even if it’s not.
Further debates led to frustration, and being told that those who don’t agree, can’t see their own “white privilege”.
Some people ask “Then why do ___ people wear jeans? That’s western!” or “Then why do ___ people speak English, that’s Western!”
The answer to both? “Because of colonization.” and “Because it’s mandatory for people in other countries to learn English, if they expect to get a job.”
The message being, regardless of how much we don’t mind others borrowing from our culture, it’s still wrong to borrow from other people’s cultures – if you are from a dominant culture.
Another valuable opinion is that we need to respect and hear the voices of these minorities. That, at the end of the day, we can take off all of these cultural accessories and blend in, but someone with different skin will never have the luxury of blending in. They can’t just slip out of their skin, after all, and will inevitably be asked “Where are you really from?”
The end message being, “I’m not saying we can’t wear any of those things, we just have to be aware of why we wear it.”
The Real Dangers of Cultural Appropriation
Firstly, it’s oppressive to minorities that people will take aspects of their culture and adorn them, meanwhile, they are being judged for it, and discriminated against by the majority of society for adorning the same aspects of their own culture.
Another harmful occurrence is when people adorn elements of another culture and it leads to discriminatory generalizations of that culture.
While the topic of cultural appropriation is quite controversial, there are some real problems that arise because of it.
Like Mexican restaurants, owned by Mexican Americans, being forced to close because a Mexican restaurant (owned by “white” people) is in a better, “less sketchy” neighborhood – and taking all the business.
Or the “white” girl who looks so beautiful and unique in her braids, while the “black” girl is teased for it, and being called “ghetto”.
These are just a few examples I have read, during my research. There is so much more to it.
Much of my enlightenment came from this article: What’s Wrong With Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm.
In The End
The topic of cultural appropriation, and whether or not it’s acceptable, has brought some serious points to everyone’s attention regarding the oppression, discrimination, and neglect of minorities. These are valid points, and we not only need to be more mindful of the struggles these minorities are facing, we need to help empower them.
But, as a minority in India, I also believe this can apply to minorities of any color, race, and ethnicity, in any country. This is not just about “white culture” V.S. every other culture.
I also think the division of people based on colors, “white” vs “black” vs “brown” (and any other color) is the ultimate form of racism here. Not to mention the clear discrimination against “white” people’s opinions on this subject is ultimately proof of the entire topic perpetuating racism and division.
I think the valid points of this topic has inspired hatred, racism, discrimination, and ultimately segregation.
My friends have been attacked by people saying their blogs “scream cultural appropriation and white privilege” without ever understanding whether or not they identify as a minority, or reasons why they chose to express that specific culture. Read Buddhaful Brit’s post, to find out more: Attack Culture.
If you are seen as white (because people judge quickly, don’t they) you have no business disagreeing with the Cultural Appropriation Cult. Even people who genuinely care and love culture have been slapped with racist labels, asking them to stop “white-‘splaining”. And when they lose an argument or get upset, are bullied by racist comments such as “white tears”.
While cultural appropriation brings very valid points to light, the hatred and segregation is unnecessary and evil.
In my next post, I will cover what the other ladies had to say (the ones who stand for cultural appreciation), why I think it’s definitely okay for people to express their love for cultures, and other opinions I have about it all.
Featured image is by protoflux via Flickr.com, who definitely was invited by her Indian friend to wear that bindi!