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:”
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.”
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 piercings, but 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)
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.