Saturday, February 6, 2016

Is Cultural Appropriation Really an Issue?

Alright, we need to talk about an issue that has blown up this year: cultural appropriation. The media has reported a few examples such as Selena Gomez wearing a bindi and Miley Cyrus wearing dreadlocks; but, almost in a state of fury, people are voicing their opinions on these latest events. The most notable being Amanda Sternberg's video and the Reclaim the Bindi movement, accusing celebrities of cultural appropriation.

So my next question was what exactly is cultural appropriation? The text book definition of cultural appropriation is to adopt elements of one culture into another. Yet others, including people I have talked to, have said that cultural appropriation is seen as the western world 'stealing' aspects of different cultures and calling it as their own.

Being an Indian American, you would think that I would be offended by Selena wearing a bindi or Coldplay's new music video, but I'm not. In fact, I think it's wonderful that the western world is finally noticing and appreciating my culture.


Indians, like any other culture, have had their share of oppression. After the end of British control in India, the country was in a disarray about politics, land,  and religion. That's when an influx of Indian immigrants came to America, hoping to escape the chaos in India and searching for better lives. While some states welcomed Indian immigrants, many were irked with the recent growth. In fact, a group called the Dotbusters, who originated in New Jersey, targeted the Indian community because they felt that Indian's 'had it easy' while citizens of New Jersey had to work hard to get where they were at. After years of mocking and ridiculing, people finally think bindi's are cool.

Even growing up, I would have to face numerous questions about my culture. Such as "Why are you wearing those clothes?", "What's that brown stuff on your hands? It looks like a disease!," and my least favorite question about my mother's bindi, "Why does your mom wear that? It looks like she's bleeding between her eyebrows."

Even today, it still hurts when I get these questions; but, I will not change nor apologize for my statement. If someone from India told me that my opinion was wrong, then I would respond with the fact that people from India have adopted to wearing 'western' clothing such as jeans and shirts styled by American Eagle, Abercrombie, etc. The fact of the matter is that every culture has adopted certain aspects within their own culture, and that the western world is actually making an effort to understand my culture is the best news I will ever hear in my life.

But here's what I'm not okay with: the mocking and ridicule of the people or symbols that emanate from that culture. Most Indian Americans I have spoke too resonate with this as well. Some others have included that as long as people are trying to understand the culture and know the significant meanings behind them, that'll be fine. For example, the Ganesha flip flops back in 2003, when American Eagle Outfitters apologized for their placing the deity Ganesha on flip flops, the dirtiest place agreed upon in Indian culture.

In actuality, is cultural appropriation an issue? I personally don't think so, but this post is for those who believe it is. My goal was to try and bring a new perspective because I know where you're coming from; I've been there, believe me. There's a thin line between appropriation and cultural appreciation, and it's very easy to cross from one to the other. While the western world can adopt aspects of culture, people shouldn't act like they have created a new fashion statement. Vice versa, people affected by the appropriation should NOT lash out. I cannot stress this enough. People should express their opinions (like what I'm doing), but lashing out leads to more conflict and leads to more despair.

So if you get anything out of this post it would be to respect the culture, respect the people, and most importantly respect the opinions.