Tag Archives: cultural appropriation

Were you born an Indian in a past life? (cultural appropriation)

After my heavy weekend of Eid and Holi I sat at home, lounging around, putting food on my face with the hopes that it will clear up my blemishes, when I decide to take a trip up to London with a friend of mine and do a spot of shopping after a spa morning and afternoon tea. Successfully buying two dresses (aw yeah) and stepping into the more, um, middle class shops I noticed something that slightly aggravated me.

I’ve mentioned a certain thing called cultural appropriation to you, but I think I’ll take a blog out and delve deeper into it and why it’s a little bit evil. If I was you, I wouldn’t partake in it not only because it offends a lot more people than it’s worth, but also because I’ll leave it looking like a bit of a knob.

Stepping into Monsoon and browsing the sale section (was £170, now £100) I noticed their fashion trends in and around the store. And then around the high street, take a look at their fittingly titled “Indian Summer Collection:”

monsoon1 monsoon2 monsoon3

Here we have beautiful henna designs from the corners of Asia, spanning from Nepal to Sri Lanka, with their vibrant colours really setting off the summer mood for all to see. It just seems to me, however, that my friend and I are the only ones in the store who know a little bit about this fashion in a more traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, fashion is eclectic, we all love fashion with its forward thinking and diversity; but it does bother me when the two middle aged, middle class women are speaking ill of, well, look.

“The little girl was in her summer dress wearing tights for heaven’s sake. She said her mother made her wear them because of their religion. Islam.

“Ridiculous.”

And so on and so forth. Funnily enough the same situation happened to me when I was in primary school, being a devout little Muslim girl at the age of seven I was confused as to why I was forced to eat the ham on my plate, or why I was berated for wearing tights with a summer dress, or even why I was told to “scrub my hands harder” in order to rid them of the stained henna my mother had so painstakingly applied onto me a few nights before for Eid. Yeah, I stood there having a flash back like Don Draper remembering his childhood or the war.

I’ve linked the Wikipedia definition of cultural appropriation in past blogs, and it’s very likely no one’s ever looked at it so I’ll just do a simple definition which is easy to understand for all. There’s been a hot topic of “#WhiteGirlsWearingBindis” on Twitter, so I’ll use the bindi situation to describe it.

So according to Wikipedia (I can’t even do a TL;DR, I’m sorry, it’s 2am and I’m wrecked.) The Bindi is a cultural aesthetic to Hindu’s and South Asian women and men (women have more decorative ones and men mostly have the simple red dot) if you’ve read the link, then you it’s safe to assume we understand that if it isn’t a completely sacred thing Hindu’s use, then it is a cultural tradition brides wear. [We] then see [white] people wearing bindi’s in England, weird, right? Speaking to some young girls who are wearing a bindi, it shocked me a bit to hear that they didn’t even know it is something that originated from Asia, they just wore it to be “quirky” *shudder.* To me, unfortunately, it’s just people trending on my culture where they see fit for their amusement, and it comes off as quite patronising and ignorant.

In Layman’s terms, all I can see is the white dominant culture appropriating certain aspects of a minority’s culture. White settlers and colonisers imposed their cultural values onto others. So, what is “standard” or “normal” is pretty much default white culture. In India, Bollywood is drawing upon many western influences for the glamour and to be at one with the “norm.” Therefore, it’s almost impossible to appropriate white culture because it is about an imbalance of power.

There have been responses such as “Indian people wear jeans, why is it okay for you to wear jeans and it’s not okay for us to wear a bindi?” Because for one, jeans were created by a Jewish immigrant in America and for another, it’s not really a sacred token of British culture, which is incredibly pastiche.

So here comes the tricky bit, and along with come the loopholes and possibly valid arguments. This blog is attempting to deconstruct cultural appropriation, not to shame any one or group, but too look at it from an outsider’s stance and see where the line is, if there is a line. I will continue using the bindi as an example.

Bindi’s were once seen as something incredibly sacred in traditional India. But, as Westernisation became increasingly common (come on, Katrina Kaif?) the root value of the bindi became less sacred, and it became a fashion statement just as it has become a fashion statement here. Of course, Indian people can do what they want with the bindi for it is theirs as Indian people, sure; but what about fashion in all of its electiveness? Living in a pastiche culture within the United Kingdom, celebrated for its diversity, it’s difficult to not find beauty within other cultures. Film Study students study Bollywood, therefore studying their culture, Sociology students, Anthropologists, the list goes on. Everywhere we look, there are cultural influences thrown in from across the oceans, it’s hard pushed to find anything fundamentally British anymore. Don’t even mention tea. Don’t you dare. The point is, perhaps taking things away from certain cultures may be a means to maintain our status as a progressive country, to gather ideas and values which could make us stronger and have a thriving relationship with others.

Alright, so we’ve accepted that we’re influenced by a lot of things. Indian food, Japanese fashion, German decorum, African tribal piercingsbut does that make it okay? Let’s look at the issue of colonisation that many countries were subject to. We cannot accept that, in such a short space of time, all is forgotten and all the wounds have been healed when with regards to colonisation. Arguments for or against it is not what this is about; we can all agree that people were hurt. Is it then “okay” for the dominant culture which wounded us so to then rub salt in it and patronisingly pick apart values for their amusement and luxury? Sacredness might be dead, but it’s still integrated within ones culture, who knows.

So, someone tell me. Is there a line? I can’t even begin to think where the line starts, does is start when an EDL member protests my existence and then goes home to feast on an Indian curry, or does it begin when a white girl is twerking for weed, speaking in a Jamaican accent. (source: Reddit /r/cringepics) it’s alright for a white woman to come to one of our weddings and be adorned in a silky sari, with my cousin applying henna on her hands so she feels part of the community, but it’s not alright for it to be a trend. I face racism and prejudice daily, and it is incredibly frustrating to see this happening before my very eyes and no one is around to bat an eyelid on my fuming behalf, but, maybe, it’s not so bad? Or is it, I feel as though there are so many rules and regulations that I lose myself in what’s alright and what is not alright. Cultural thievery, much?

Shall we take a look at some more examples in pop culture?  You may be able to relate to this.

The talented singer, Grimes, wore a bindi. Here’s how people felt about it (be warned – tumblr shit storm) and here’s her apology. Props to her for recognising what she had done looked really bad and that she had offended people.  Is a white person wearing a bindi the modern day “blacking yourself up?”  Is it just a case of people being ignorant, not knowing or understand what the root of it all means. This reminds me of people wearing very baggy trousers, hung low so others can see their boxers/underwear; the original meaning of that was male prison inmates used this as a code to tell other inmates they were up for being anally penetrated. So it may just be a case of looking stupid…

Grimes had apologised, all is well. I feel I’ve been very balanced up to this point but I’d like to bring your attention to Lady Gaga. Oh Lady GaGa, never will I tire of your fashion, your creativity, your green lipsticks, never will I- oh? What’s this? You-you’re wearing a Burqa. With nothing underneath… I see. (pics of burqa)

ladygaga2 ladygaga3

What Lady GaGa has done is she has created a song called “Burqa,” now “Aura.” Here are some of the lyrics:

“I’m not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice
My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face
You watch, you fancy me cause there’s always one man to love
But in the bedroom the size of them’s more than enough

Do you wanna see me naked, lover?
Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura?
Do you wanna touch me, cosmic lover?
Do you wanna be the peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura
Behind the aura, behind the aura, behind the aura?

Enigma popstar is fun, she wears burqa for fashion.”

I hope that most people reading this understands that a burqa is a veil used to protect a (commonly) Muslim woman’s modesty, in order to protect her from the “sexual predator” within men (my mother’s words, not mine, haha.) Unlike the bindi, burqa’s are straight up religious, they’re not a cultural thing, they’re religious. So it’s safe to say that if anything I’ve spoken about is sacred, it’s a burqa. An atheist speaking, but with a strong Muslim mother, (who, by the way, wears a burqa so much better than Lady GaGa I wouldn’t blame you if you assumed I was just pissed off that GaGa’s a millionaire and not my mum) the sexualising of the burqa makes me uncomfortable. Because it’s a religious icon, I can confidently say that people live their lives in accordance to their religion, they take pride in their burqa; to then have someone use it as a fashion statement is incredibly hurtful and belittling, no? You tell me, is it an overreaction? Not only is she shitting on the purpose of a burqa, there are hints of a message attempting to liberate women who do, “I am not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice.”

I have mentioned the “bullshit white superiority complex feeding me lies that you’re liberating me,” and this is what I mean. We have a white woman here, successful, iconic, speaking out for women who (on the whole) probably don’t know she exists, and who Lady GaGa probably doesn’t care about. I’m wrong, I shouldn’t assume things, but you know what I mean. If she wanted to make the burqa fashionable and known, she’s done it. Take a look at this. If she wanted to completely devalue the concept of it and turn it into a pointless fashion icon, she’s done it. I think this hurts me very much because of my mother, I see her in her attempts at modesty in a country where, wherever she looks there is sexualisation of everything; I see her in her burqa, fixing the car, cooking a meal, husbandless, and it just makes my heart ache to see her values being crushed by a lazy pop star.

For me, cultural appropriation is everywhere, it is! It’s hard for anyone to not see elements of diversity in this country and many others. There does seem to be a line, and that line is to be wary of devaluing a minority cultures tradition and/or sacredness, it’s a question of respect, I think. And in all honesty, people who aren’t aware of this tend to come across as looking like idiots. But but but! People who wear kimonos aren’t really targeted, or the yin and yang signs hung around their neck? I wonder why that is, it might be because those things have been merged into fashion and popular culture that we just don’t notice it anymore. Is this a question of time consuming these arguments, and regurgitating a jaded trend? I don’t know man; I shudder to think about it.

Have you seen “Human Traffic?” It’s a great film, and when I first saw it years ago one lines really stuck to me. The protagonist was taking the mick out of these pseudo-spiritual youngsters who think that “being black is a state of mind, man.” Since then I’ve heard of people claiming to have “been born an Indian in a past life.” I think it’s a bit of an ignorant thing to say, as if the speaker in question feels they are able to relate to every single thing the ethnic group have been and can possibly go through. Being black is a state of mind; is it not the colour of skin which carries a rich history of pain and beauty? So if someone was to identify as a black individual they would have to have this “state of mind” I hear white folks speak so much about, and if they don’t have it, then what? I ask too many questions to no one in particular.

For someone who loves pop culture, I’m torn, seriously. This may just be a case of blurred lines. (Crappy song, but how postmodern?!)

Thanks for reading this. Hopefully I haven’t confused you with my garbled thoughts. I’d love to hear your take on it if you wouldn’t mind.

Here are a few blogs and posts I have found on Tumblr expressing their own individual views, this may give you a deeper insight into how this affects us, or if it affects us at all.

http://mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com/

http://hikikomoriganglife.tumblr.com/post/11308336529/day-three-of-wearing-a-supposedly-racist

http://youarenotdesi.tumblr.com/

http://batoriova.tumblr.com/post/8185781596/my-culture-is-not-a-trend-is-fucking-stupid

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Meta Third Culture Porn: an introduction.

Porn:

Pornography is the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction; it was actually a word in ancient Greek that signified art and literature depicting the life of prostitutes, but the word has evolved. We had the pornography of death, of sex, of violence, and it has metamorphosed into the fetishizing (for me) of basic human experience, so I’ll fetishize my own within this blog, for you.

I’m typing this in a box room in South London, currently fasting as it’s the Islamic month of Ramadan, and fuming for my own reasons. I don’t fast because I want to, and it’s not even because I have to; I do it to keep the peace for other people and allow a raging war to happen inside of myself. Sometimes, you might find me at a bar with my friends, other times, I may be studying in my room on campus – and that’s fair enough, it’s the normal life of any student, sex, drugs, the carefree hedonistic life we are granted three years of, it’s alright. However, half of my life is living within Eurocentric norms, never being completely accepted so I accepted my unacceptance a long time ago; the other half I’m living within an alien and orientalised culture integrated within a culture imposed upon them long ago. My pseudo-Indo-Pakistani heritage was lugged along across oceans to settle down comfortably in London, *fanfuckingtastic* London, the city where celebrities are moulded, there’s a job going on every street, the diversity and multiculturalism mars the blatant and violent racism my parents and young brothers had to suffer just so my generation could be comfortable and embodied in a state of cultural appropriation and the dehumanising and/or fetishizing of our values and skin colour. I’m at a bar having a drink with friends on a Friday evening, then by Friday night I’m in traditional Pakistani clothing, cradling various babies and setting the dinner table for a family of 8 with heavy curries, yogurts, and china plates, my mind lingering on the heavy events of the previous night. The next morning, I might go to the mosque, undergoing various security checks in case I am carrying a bomb to sit down and listen to a homophobic sermon. I’ll probably go to the ethnic shops after that to pick up some food for my mother, only to find the sign on their door saying “NO ******* ALLOWED” so I’d turn around, dejected, and leave. Sunday night, I’d be at the bar with my friends again, rinse, and repeat.

You hear about this a lot, us Third Culture Kids, our identities torn by different expectations everywhere, the politics and the tragedy of it all, you’ve heard it all before, and I’m certain your sympathies are with us. But what if I were to deconstruct it a little more for you, what if I were to actually individualise and break myself away from this pathetic stigma imposed upon us by god knows who, would it be more entertaining for you? It’s certainly a topic of interest with my friends and people I meet.

You have the “Bend it like Beckham” image in your mind, the lovable and comical family who want nothing but good things to happen for their daughter, restricting her access to men and revealing clothes. No? So my family must be extremists who stamp on my neck whenever I want to wear jeans! Obviously, and here is where the deconstruction comes in, I’ll try to simplify it as much as I can.

India / Pakistani conflicts = a child (me) = bad.

Indo-Pakistani child living in a predominantly white and racist country, having to interpolate = bad.

Indo-Pakistani child happens to be a girl living in a predominantly sexist and racist world = bad.

Indo-Pakistani girl happens to be part of a Muslim family (and is an atheist) in a country rife with Islamophobia = bad.

Hey, why do you label it as a bad thing? What’s your problem? You. You’re my damn problem.

Indo-Pakistani Muslim girl turned irreligious pansexual is part of a sect of Islam (which she will not mention) that is targeted and attacked in Pakistan and even here by “fellow Muslims.” That’s a story for another time. I doubt you’d find it anywhere else, the media is not concerned about my slaughtered family members and their neighbours, or their banishment from Mecca.

It’s funny how wherever I turn, I’m doing something wrong. You sleep with men? You whore! You sleep with women? You degenerate! You consume drugs? You’re a drunk? You must have an imbalance in there somewhere; cover your breasts, shroud your face, why are you shrouding your face, you have lovely breasts, flaunt them. Don’t go to university, why are you doing that course, why don’t you sleep with me, you should be cooking and cleaning right now, you should be studying right now, you’re pretty for an Asian girl, you’re Muslim family are oppressing you! The sect of Islam you’re brought up in is led by the Devil himself! The Western ideals are devouring you and turning you into a product for the pleasure of men, oh the oppression! Don’t worry, we’ll save you. I’ve never met a Pakistani atheist, how queer, you’re a paradox. So do you like, have to chew gum before you go home so your mum doesn’t smell the cigarettes on your breath? A young girl, fatherless, how I pity her mother! Heh, I wouldn’t expect that from someone like you: everything is a fucking commentary, and it really doesn’t need to be.

So whilst I balance the beauty of this culture my family carried to me beating in my chest, I’m battling the oppression I face within that culture, and the culture of the country I’m living in. Everywhere I look, even within my family, the mosque, my lovers, the educational system, jobs, sex, entertainment, the arts, there’s just fucking oppression everywhere, man. This is just the introduction, I’ll be bitching and moaning about this all in my next blogs (yay – I hear the internet sigh.) But why can’t I bitch and moan? I’m tired! I’m seriously sick and tired of being judged by things that are out of my control, and it happens far too much. It needs to change, I won’t go into that “we’re all the same underneath, guys!” and “why can’t we just get along?” Because it’s that kind of BS that pisses me off even more, if that’s what you think, then do something about it. Don’t impose your bullshit white superiority complex and straddle me with it feeding me those lies that you’re liberating me. This is me finally being able to articulate myself and understanding that I’m not alone in this, whether that’s comforting or tragic, you decide.

This blog is about my life and my identities, the balancing and rejecting of. The stories I will take you through might not necessarily be about my life living in a brothel in Mumbai or being a masseuse in Lahore, it might not necessarily be about the hilarious situation a poor boy found himself in when he hid in my closet from my mother, it might not be about the judgement of our family from and Islamic or British stance; Hell, it might just be about an outfit I think I look really cute in or a movie I think is really good or outstandingly shit. For me, the point of this blog is about individualising who I am and detaching myself from the stereotype, so it might not be your run of the mill, pissed off brown woman bitching about the White Man. It’s just about me, making myself heard.

Thank you for reading, see you soon.

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