Cultural Appropriation: Whose problem is it? BBC Stories


How do you define cultural appropriation? Oh my God! You’re not trying to appreciate anything, you’re literally just stealing it. “If you’re not Hindi, you can’t wear a bindi”. And I thought, really? Is that what it’s come to now? There is a lot of cultural appropriation, I believe. Only for festivals, yes. I mean I can’t wear this at a regular day at the office, let’s say that. At the end of the day, that is someone’s heritage. I define cultural appropriation as taking something from a culture that isn’t your own and not giving the full or any sort of residue of credit back. When one racial group, in their history has taken from a different racial group and then in future being currently, wearing the same thing like a slap in the face. It’s dancing that line between being ignorant and understanding. At the end of the day that is someone’s heritage. And I think in order to understand that on a deeper level I think you almost have to understand racism on a deeper level as well. Wearing a bindi… I get weird comments. One person asked me if it was an implant. I don’t know how to respond to that really. The same people that say it’s racist to say that, a white person can’t wear a bindi are probably the same people that don’t necessarily understand that people have been aggressively downtrodden on for wearing that item. I don’t usually go to festivals, But that was probably the most upset I’ve been about but that was probably the most upset I’ve been about cultural appropriation because I felt powerless being there, being surrounded by a lot of people who wouldn’t understand. And it’s just… when I see other people doing it without any repercussions It just makes me think, why can’t I just be? I can’t wear that myself and just have people treat me normally. When you are part of a culture for example, that society has told you how you look is wrong, for someone to then take that and then say, “Well I’m going to do it because it’s fashionable and its cool now but it’s a music festival so who cares?” It’s very ignorant to the people that have had to go through those things. In a city like London, you have to have aspects of people taking on other cultures otherwise everything’s just segregated. We’re this huge melting pot where, you know, the Caribbean meets Cockney It shapes you differently. It shapes what you eat, it shapes what you wear, it shapes what music you listen to. There’s so many aspects that then fit into you know, the festival scene. This is an outfit from Cote D’ivoire in West Africa. If I like wearing it, I like wearing it. Someone about to put on their bindi and they said: “Oh I cant wear a bindi”. I said, “Why was that?” And they said, “Well because of cultural appropriation”. Definitely if someone was telling me that they felt offended, I would definitely offer to take a seat and to talk about it. But I think being open minded also comes in both ways and maybe they have to understand it’s not an offence it’s more like a celebration. I don’t mind if somebody from Africa wants to wear a suit and I don’t think they mind if I want to wear their clothing as well. The first time I came to a festival, here in the UK, I wasn’t really expecting it to happen. Looks like they see other cultures as something fun. So I really got a bit woah! You know? All these people, they are dressing like that? I think a festival typically is some place you just be free. There’s an Indian guy in my group and I asked him what he thought about it. And he said, “Well its completely fine with me”. I would never buy an outfit, a cultural outfit without consulting someone. I think it’s a brilliant thing that people are just embracing fashion that emanates from different cultures. And I think that’s a really joyous thing. And I don’t see it as negative or in any sense… Insulting.
Insulting, yeah exactly. We’re all people, we’re all finding who we are. We don’t all want to stick to one thing. You know if a country was very much like stick to our culture, English culture, that’s it. The world would be even more sheltered. I mean it’s true that there’s value behind it for them. We like something and we… use it and we make it like…we bring with us. And so it’s appreciation more than appropriation I think. But I would never want to wear something and then someone be like: “Gosh you’ve really offended me there… because you’re white and I don’t think you understand my culture”. No, because I don’t think that its offensive. But I mean if it is then I would… If I knew that it were, I wouldn’t do it. But I’m not quite sure that it is. Indian culture, I feel like as English and British people we look up to that we aspire to their colours their vibrancy. If you walk down London you see it’s all black clothing everywhere. And I feel like that’s what people want to challenge at festivals. In the past, I’ve seen someone in a Native American headdress. And just said to them, “Can you name me a tribe?” And they can’t. Not one. It’s very frustrating. And I think that’s the thing, it’s that I think, what I would say to those people is just to listen. And understand that people can have different viewpoints from you and they’re not necessarily coming at it from a place of attacking you, they’re coming at it from a place of, this is my voice, and my voice isn’t necessarily always heard as much. As an individual, you’re going to be attracted to whatever aesthetics appeal to you, whatever stories appeal to you, whatever you find, through travel, through relationships, even the Internet. And it might not necessarily be something you were raised with. But what people are raised with doesn’t necessarily echo who they are. When people say they are trying to promote diversity and acceptance, I think it’s very important to remember that not everybody wants “white validation”. The point isn’t that white people need to wear things to normalise things. Seeing people who aren’t of that culture, dressed in that way, embracing it and understanding it from the food, to the language, to the music. That for me is a truer expression than putting a bindi on at a festival because you think it looks cool. I think when it comes to saying that cultural appropriation is a problem, and then saying that only white people are capable of it. That’s also up for debate because anyone can appropriate another culture. We also have to identify when it happens and white people aren’t necessarily a part of it. Because I think there’s always this demonisation of like, “White people have done this again”, or: “White people don’t get it”. I think it’s beyond white privilege and I think you can look at other examples like Nicki Minaj with “Chun Li”. I think if you do it, you have to be consistent with it. It takes a lot of time when you become an adult to unlearn all the small, racist things people have said to you as a child. and all the feeling ashamed of your own culture because it feels so weird to white people. How can you embrace and feel like you’re embracing a culture, if the people of that culture aren’t happy with you embracing it. So if you are happy to do that and align with that are you truly embracing a culture in the first place?