Fighting Back Against Cultural Appropriation

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“The Bindi for me symbolizes religion and heritage. It’s a symbol of strength and love. It defines me”

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“I don’t know what the problem is. I’m only appreciating the culture”

Here we have the textbook definition of cultural appropriation. These pictures speak for themselves. A quick clarification to elucidate:

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture and can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.

For me, the most simple way of putting it for me is through this axiom: My culture is not a trend

No group culture is a trend to be fetishized. Appropriation is the thief of cultural essence.

Why should any culture, in particular that of historically oppressed peoples, become popular culture while the people from which the culture are systematically marginalized? Those who partake in their own cultural traditions are stigmatized, while those who popularise it profitize. It is nonsensical.

For example, the Caucasian woman who wears a traditional South Asian bindi is seen as “cool” and “trendy” by her peers, while the South Asian woman wearing the same bindi is classed as the “other”. Her bindi is not “trendy”. It is merely a visible sign of her failure to assimilate.

This is the double-standard that is so ripe in cultural appropriation.

Another example relates to the popularisation and subsequent appropriation of the Sikh religious turban. Turbans have become a recent fashion trend among those who use it as a head wrap style:

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“My turban is for honor, self-respect.. It is our identity as Sikhs. To wear it for fashion.. that is wrong”

Cultural appropriation trivializes and undermines traditional and historical cultures.

It boasts an erroneous double-standard whereby those within the culture are ridiculed for their “backwardness”, “failure to assimilate” and overall “otherness”, while the outsider who is appropriating the symbols are profiting and inadvertently popularising a once meaningful symbol.

What is appreciation for one individual becomes thievery and hijacking of culture for another.

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