Cultural Appropriation and Commodification

selena-gomez-dance-2

http://theaerogram.com/beyond-bindis-why-cultural-appropriation-matters/  <—Check out this link

This post is a tribute to a Facebook rant I had a couple of weeks ago about Western celebrities donning bindis.

Cultural appropriation – def: the borrowing of another culture’s elements such as dress, practices, language or mannerisms.

It sounds like a good thing, right? It seems like a the right thing to do – putting yourself in another’s shoes. However – it becomes more of a Halloween parade with Native American headdresses, Japanese kimonos, and North Indian lehengas. (I thought American Halloween is about being scary? – Freddy Krueger and Scream masks. I don’t know why dressing in cultural clothing gets mixed in the jumble but that’s for a more dense topic which I’ll probably write more in depth about in October).

I just got back from a yoga class (hot vinyasa yoga- Try it! It’s amazing) and I had a flashback from a somatics and dance movement therapy (DMT) class I took at UGA. A guest speaker came in all haughty about her wealth of knowledge about DMT and asked if any of us practiced yoga. I naturally raised my hand and she asked me what type of yoga. I said – idk, you know, sun salutations and stuff…like p90x. Naturally, she was disgusted with the p90x system and wrote me off. I have done yoga my whole life. It is an extremely important part of my religion and I’ve done it as a child with my parents and grandparents and in my temple during Sunday school. I felt pretty ashamed for the rest of the class because I didn’t know the appropriate name for the type of yoga I had done the majority of my life. It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized what that feeling of shame was. Looking back – I should’ve been more offended. I used yoga as a means of meditation for spiritual reasons and I still do. When my yoga class gets tough – I’m praying for Shakti. This dance movement therapist saw yoga as a cross training tool for her dancing. <–This is when cultural appropriation takes a turn for the worst. Yoga classes are popping up everywhere now. It’s becoming a mainstream class in our local gyms between Zumba and Xtreme cardio sculpt! What once held such a strong spiritual meaning within Hinduism has now been commodified (made into a commercial trade).

This article talks about another aspect of Hinduism that has been “borrowed” by Western culture – the bindi. In high school, I used to be so ashamed of being different. I was one out maybe five Indian kids at my school and that too – pretty much the only Hindu. I dreaded going to temple every Sunday because it was on the other side of town and I just knew my family would want to run errands after so as to not waste gas going out another time. “Why would I want to go into the mall or Walmart or any store for that matter dressed like a freak show?” was the question running through my head at the time. I’d have a muddle of yellow, white and red powder slathered generously on my forehead and a chudidar with loud patterns. But my mom would get upset with me (rightfully, looking back) and would force me to endure the awkward eyes that weren’t ashamed of staring.

I would feel shame. And for what? For being different. As Jaya points out, we are “perpetual immigrants” when we decide to don our Indian attire and bindis. We are treated as odd or different but when Selena Gomez wore bindis, it was cool! So this is the problem: when a Western public figure does the same thing as a typical Indo-American, but it is treated differently. One is given veneration and the latter – alienation.

So I speak for myself and I will not take it upon myself to speak for others, but as an Indian – please don’t disrespect where I’ve come from. My “elephant god” is not something cool to be tattooed on your calf, my bindi is not to be worn to your Billboard Awards and Indians are from India – Native Americans are not Indians.

 

“Appropriation occurs when bodies, typically white, popularize styles that didn’t originate with them, across a matrix of power: the power of visibility, the power to define what is ‘ethnic’ in the market. The gains that follow are reserved for the appropriator, not the appropriated. When the participation of poc in mainstream culture is relegated to trinkets Urban Outfitters can sell, what are we supposed to do, be grateful? While our communities are mined for the latest hip accessories that are lauded on white bodies while suspect on ours, it’s a valuation of whiteness above us. Above our history, dignity, and humanity.”  – Ayesha Siddiqi

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4 thoughts on “Cultural Appropriation and Commodification”

  1. This is such a wonderful post!
    As a latin@, I feel similar attitudes towards zumba. Although it was specifically invented as a fitness routine, it still feels odd when white women use this routine that has so many cultural dances and elements as a means to lose weight.

    Additionally, I love your inclusion on the point about “perpetual immigrants”. I completely agree and I thank you for writing such a great post. (Though, i have to say – I am quite obsessed with your entire blog)

  2. Reblogged this on modgepodgefeminism. and commented:
    “I would feel shame. And for what? For being different. As Jaya points out, we are “perpetual immigrants” when we decide to don our Indian attire and bindis. We are treated as odd or different but when Selena Gomez wore bindis, it was cool! So this is the problem: when a Western public figure does the same thing as a typical Indo-American, but it is treated differently. One is given veneration and the latter – alienation.

    So I speak for myself and I will not take it upon myself to speak for others, but as an Indian – please don’t disrespect where I’ve come from. My “elephant god” is not something cool to be tattooed on your calf, my bindi is not to be worn to your Billboard Awards and Indians are from India – Native Americans are not Indians.”

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