The cultural appropriation series
On April 7, 2016, Ashneil Randhawa ‘17 wrote an article on cultural appropriation, highlighting aspects of one of the most discussed topics of this year. Cultural appropriation, for those who don’t know, is when a facet of one culture is taken and misused or used insensitively by someone of another culture.
Prominent examples are dreadlocks, associated with African American culture, worn by individuals not of African descent, or non-Native Americans wearing feather headdresses, which are regarded as highly respected or even sacred, as fashion items or Halloween costumes.
As Holi celebrations had just finished at UOP, there was an air of appropriation on campus, with some claiming that Holi celebrations are appropriations of Indian culture when done on college campuses. Randhawa personally didn’t see Indian culture as being appropriated.
He was not offended when he saw a white girl wearing a bindi and sipping a chai latte while talking about the henna tattoo she got at Coachella. Nor was he offended when he saw a guy with a back tattoo of Ganesha (the Hindu elephant god) or some Sanskrit phrase he saw on Facebook.
More than anything, Ashneil saw those examples as people celebrating a culture that he comes from. These instances, for him, are moments of cultural diversity, of his culture being shared and celebrated by those who may have never gotten to experience it otherwise.
To Randhawa, culture itself is fluid and dynamic. Or perhaps his own privilege is showing. Indians haven’t had to face the struggles that African Americans and Native Americans have had to in this country’s history.
Indians haven’t had to face the prospect of their own culture being destroyed by another. Just because there are people walking around with Ganesha tattoos, doesn’t necessarily mean he should get Jesus tattooed on his arm just because he liked His message.
But at the same time, Randhawa kept thinking of how culture itself, as a concept, constantly changes and interacts with those around it. It’s hard to pin down exactly where the boundaries are. He believes that people should be able to do what they want as long as they are not physically harming anyone. It seems racist to him to put people into a box based on race and have that box determine what they can and cannot do.
On April 17, 2016, I wrote a response to Ashneil’s article on whether cultural appropriation was an issue or not. To me, cultural appropriation is quite real, and the line between appreciation and appropriation is a thin one.
When I was younger, one of my father’s colleagues converted to Hinduism. She is white, and she changed her name to an Indian name after she converted She spent many years traveling India, and many more years studying and understanding Hinduism.
If religious conviction was a competition, she would be winning. Her devotion to the Indian community and people is commendable. She volunteers when she’s not working and tries her best to love her religion and culture, even though she wasn’t born into it. That, to me, is cultural appreciation.
Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, is when people from another culture pick and choose parts they want from another culture. To me, cultural appropriation is when girls at festivals wear bindis (or the assortment of dots above their eyebrows) or when companies like American Apparel think it is okay to put one of my gods on a one-piece.
Cultural appropriation is Iggy Azalea in a Hindu wedding outfit in her “Bounce” music video, pretty much gyrating on top of an elephant, and catering to viewers in the Western world through the “aesthetically pleasing” Festival of Colors shoot she did.
Cultural appropriation is when the culture of a group is “borrowed” from them, and often the people doing the borrowing don’t understand the history, experiences or traditions behind the culture.
We should understand the history behind the culture, focusing on the reasons and traditions for everything. In most cultures, there are intricate and extensive reasons and stories behind each and every tradition.
For example, the bindi represents so much more than a pretty jewel or dot you just apply between your eyebrows. The bindi represents the third eye, through which we can gain knowledge beyond what is given to us in the mortal universe. Married women often wear it, and it is also a way to ward off bad luck. Bet you didn’t know that when you were buying the colorful gems to sport at Coachella.
It is perfectly acceptable to enjoy someone else’s culture and immerse yourself in the endless wealth of the world’s cultures, but I would like to caution you to be sensitive while doing so. It’s not a crime to appreciate someone’s culture, but next time, think about whether it would look offensive in your profile picture and come across as appropriative.