YES, there are people who find cultural appropriation and the use of slurs “ok” with them.
Does that mean it’s “ok” to do it to EVERYONE, even if they might be personally offended by it?
Also it is very important to realize that your irl friends saying this shit is ok may be out of a desire to not start drama and get into arguments. I fucking detest when straight people say faggot but I have a few straight friends who do and it is just not worth the shit to tell them to stop.
So the bit about wearing a bindi caught my attention and I feel compelled to add to this post because I’m a little iffy about words and how we use them. I’ve seen the term ‘Cultural Appropriation’ being thrown around a lot on tumblr and it bothers me. It bothers me because a lot of the people who use this term don’t have enough information and go around labeling various things ‘cultural appropriation’. And this a problem. You know why? Because it dilutes the term and trivializes it.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert on this either, but I was interested enough to go and do some reading on it. A simple Google search will throw up a BUNCH of hits ranging from your standard wikipedia entry to personal blogs to academic research papers on it.
And you know the ONE thing that I found almost everywhere? It is that Cultural Appropriation is not set in stone. It’s not a set of rules that hold true universally and for everybody. Some things are universally considered disrespectful. Some things are grey— a lot of people mind, a lot of people don’t. Rule of thumb is usually this—if you don’t intend to be disrespectful, and someone tells you that you are being so, apologize and move on.
Having said that, as a Person of Colour, I feel that we’re excessively sensitive about this. I speak only as an Indian since I have neither the knowledge not the authority to talk about other cultures/communities.
Why is it so offensive if someone who is white wears, say, a Bindi or Mehendi or even plays Holi? The primary argument used in this context is usually that White people use certain aspects of a culture without truly understanding it and adopting things for their ‘exotic value.’ Some go as far as to suggest that no matter how far a white person immerses into a culture, he/she can never understand the collective history and burden of it and should therefore abstain from adopting any portion of it. Another argument used is that no matter how sympathetic or understanding a white person is, he/she is born into privilege and therefore will never truly understand the trials and tribulations of a minority group.
Fair enough. In a Post-Colonial world, these are all valid concerns.
However, what about when the people themselves don’t necessarily know why they’re doing what they’re doing? In India today, a bindi is JUST a decorative ornament that most don’t recognize to have any other significance. Same goes for henna. Most people haven’t the slightest clue why Holi is celebrated and just like to run around with colours and water and get drunk. Culture is a vast, ever-changing and confusing landscape. It’s been influenced by and is a mixture of everything it has ever seen and come into contact with. Even educated Indians often can’t pinpoint the reason and significance behind a practice. Even experts in Culture Studies have trouble. So HOW is it okay to get offended by white people doing innocuous things that we ourselves aren’t sure of?
Do we not wear jeans because they’re stylish/convenient? And don’t give me the ‘it’s a product of imperialism and imposed dressing norms’ argument. FYI, in India, like in much of the world, jeans are worn casually ONLY. NO one is forcing you to wear them. In fact, they’re outright prohibited at certain workplaces and educational institutes. But we wear then anyway. Because we like them. Because they’re convenient. Because they look good.
Why this obsessive need to clutch desperately onto ‘Culture’ and mark proprietorship over even its most frivolous aspects?
My point being, it is important to stop calling everything ‘Cultural Appropriation’ if we want the debate and discourse to remain relevant and serious.
The world is intolerant enough without some people getting upset about White college kids playing Holi.