Cultural appropriation or Exchange - a facebook post


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A lot of (largely non-Indian) people are mad at Dita Von Teese for rocking this gorgeously goth-tacular sari.

As an Indian woman, I really appreciate Indian fashion being normalized in this way. Why should our clothes be relegated to Indian-only spaces? Why are only Western clothes allowed to be worn by mainstream society? This kind of generally well-meaning social segregation has the overall effect of holding White Western culture as a neutral norm all other cultures can and should draw from, while simultaneously telling us our cultures must be kept to ourselves.

Cultural appropriation is real, but it’s not the same as cultural exchange. Context is key: Are you mocking Indian women for wearing saris but treating them as high-fashion when you wear them? Are you treating it as a joke or a costume — or are you genuinely appreciating it? There’s a difference.

It's perhaps worth making the distinction that none of what Dita's wearing here has deep religious significance. So, let's apply the same rubric to wearing the bindi, which is a Hindu religious symbol. That doesn't mean non-Hindus should never wear them, but they should be mindful of that and why they're choosing to wear them.

I tend to roll my eyes at non-Hindus wearing bindis, but that again comes down to context. I get particularly annoyed by a certain stereotype of "woke, spiritual" hippies wearing bindis who feel the need to lecture me on my own religious beliefs, which they generally have a very poor understanding of. The other, even more offensive example of this is when Gwen Stefani made wearing a bindi popular in the 90s, girls who mocked me for being "fobby" because I wore a bindi, had a long braid, etc, and who regularly attacked me for not being Christian, started wearing bindis for fashion purposes. They continued to hold their close-minded and racist beliefs about Indians and Hindus, but felt that the bindi was ok for THEM to wear because THEY were White Christians. THAT's appropriation.

On the other hand, I have happily put bindis on Christian and Jewish friends when going to Indian weddings, etc, and am very open to talking about and sharing my culture with those who are genuinely interested. I equally love learning new customs, foods, etc from my friends around the world.

The line is whether you treat people as a stereotype or a brand ambassador for their culture, dehumanizing them and their unique experiences, or if you are able to humbly share your own culture while relishing in parts of theirs.

I love listening to country music and eating frito pie; that’s not cultural appropriation. But, if I were to, say, throw a “white trash” party where I played country music and served frito pie “ironically,” because *of course* I‘m not one of *those people* who genuinely like those kinds of things (*shudder*), that IS cultural appropriation. The difference is a genuine appreciation vs using someone else’s culture to mock and deride them, or otherwise benefit from their social capital while holding them to be lesser humans than you. It’s about respect.

Tl;Dr: Cultural appropriation is ignorant and racist. Cultural exchange is a beautiful thing that makes our world a better place.

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"The Veiled Male"
Anybody who wants to appropriate male western clothing is welcome to it, and can keep it under the one condition that they don't give it back!


Good heavens, coherent thought and cultural generosity still exists in the world.

By the way, if one is going to be properly derisive, one should get the cultural aspects of the despised culture straight. Frito pie is a respectable New Mexican dish embraced by gourmets everywhere. White trash parties require only beer and the culturally appropriate terms are "redneck" or "hillbilly."

(Later: It occurs to me I should perhaps explain that tongue in cheek remark. I am from Arkansas. My family moved to the San Francisco Bay area of California in the late sixties. By virtue- or lack thereof- of my Southern accent, I was on the receiving end of every white trash, redneck, and/or hillbilly remark that you can imagine. Ergo, I can be as ironic as I like without tipping over into cultural appropriation... not that most people consider "redneck" cultured anyway. ;))
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