I am fortunate. I am so unbelievably fortunate that I want to smack myself in the head for how much I take it for granted. I live in a community of immigrants. Most of my friends share my skin tone and my language and my style of parenting. My school celebrates the holidays of my family, even if they can’t give us days off. My town throws festivals and dance celebrations on my major holidays. My house is minutes away from a grocery store that sells food from my mother’s country and a short drive from a street lined corner to corner with restaurants and clothing stores of my culture.
As I grow older and travel to new places, I realize that this is unbelievably not a norm. The minute I drive two hours south or three hours west, everything changes. No one knows what “Diwali” is, no one eats “Maggi” on the weekends, no one knows what I’m saying when I talk to my parents in rapid Hindi.
So, I am lucky. I have spent my entire life in a community of people who have the capacity to understand me and my culture and where I came from.
With that in mind, my community celebrates embracing others in our culture. We give our non-Indian friends Indian clothes to wear on Diwali and invite them over to watch cringy Bollywood movies and take them to Indian buffets to try Mango lassi.
When I see people in magazines wearing Indian-inspired clothing or fashion models wearing bindhis I’m not offended, just curious. When I shopped for prom dresses and saw clothes that looked like the lenghas that I wore for wedding ceremonies, I laughed and thought they looked cool. When I see Indian actors portrayed with heavy accents and absolute nerdiness, I think it’s funny. Even when pop singers dress up in Indian clothes, I’m kind of confused as to why, but not mad. I’m not, per say, offended.
But I’m lucky. My community overwhelmingly, for better or for worse, wants to be white. They want the fairest skin possible and they watch all of the American movies and they love America. Suffice to say, cultural appropriation, at least in my experience, doesn’t really affect us all that much.
Recently, a member of my favorite KPOP band (BTS) wore some dreads because they were given to him at a Jamaican restaurant or something. He wasn’t trying to be mean, and he didn’t do anything that was offensive (at least in terms of his actions and his words). I get that people are upset, and they are entitled to their own opinions, but I always factor innocence into matters like this. People are going as far as to stop supporting him and the band. He’s from Korea, a basically homogeneous country in terms of culture. He probably doesn’t know about all of these controversies regarding cultural appropriation.
I completely agree with the idea that no one should use any derogatory ethnic term, and I avoid using any such term at all times. There are arguments that people within that ethnicity can use that term, but I honestly don’t know enough about those cultures to speak in regards to that conversation.
What I can say is that the internet, and the world, is becoming increasingly sensitive and aware. I’m all for equality of all kinds, of embracing one another with open arms. This is just one area where I’m conflicted because I know that a lot of people who “culturally appropriate” don’t even realize they’re doing it. And maybe that’s part of the problem, or maybe some of what they’re doing is trying to be a part of a culture instead of trying to make fun of it. I just, I don’t know. The situation itself breeds complexity.
Also, most of the cultural appropriation comments I have seen are towards the African American community, which I really don’t know enough about to gauge whether it is appropriation or not. As I mentioned before, I do think that everyone’s feelings are valid. However, this is one place where I am leaning towards a moderate stance. In my experience (with LBGTQIA+ and feminism), the more radical you are, the less people are willing to listen. Then again, sometimes radicalism is what the situation calls for.
I just don’t completely understand. As someone who celebrates diversity and invites people into her culture freely, am I allowing for cultural appropriation? Is it cultural appropriation if their intentions are pure and innocent? Is sensitivity towards cultural appropriation leading to people not being able to accept and enjoy other cultures?
Like I said, I don’t know.
(I’m really sorry if I offended anyone. These are just my thoughts. I’m still learning. I don’t know everything. I only speak based on my own experiences)