What is Cultural Appropriation?

In my own experience as a child, I was laughed at for my chanlo (ceremonial dot place on the forehead during rituals also known as a bindi), my numerous neck threads, my parent’s accent, my first language, the type of food I ate, it goes on. This leads to othering. 

To these people; the othered, the day to day becomes a game of balancing survival and proud resistance. Playing the field from proudly displaying my religion/culture through multicoloured rakhi (wrist bands) or some of the other artefacts, to changing my accent, anglicising my name, to denying my heritage and culture. 

I kept those thoughts in my mind of being ridiculed so much that to survive I denied a part of my identity; a part of myself. Please don’t judge at this point, yes people have a choice, remember but so does wider society. 

As always we are not looking at colour or even culture, but as always, power. Get your power lens and goggles on people. Remember people of colour for centuries have been othered, ridiculed and assaulted for their ‘differences’.

That is a part of life.

 

Now people who sought to hold others back, by bullying and beating down the othered, or even the people who indirectly benefit from the oppression, think they can appropriate this culture for themselves. 

Pran, That wasn’t the people of today though? That wasn’t me? 

I agree that this may be correct but the people who have benefited and still do benefit from that oppression need to be aware of the legacy and connatation of their day to day acts, in the same way that the n-word should never be used by a white person (A future blog is coming).

I’m all for cultural sharing, respectfully learning through the experience, but remember these symbols are artefacts of resistance and rebellion. From the power lens again I reiterate that the very same people who benefit are now appropriating them as a fashion symbol, fad or for profitable gain.

Examples

1. Yoga, for all the people partaking in yoga for a health benefits. Props, go, enjoy yourself. However, without the slightest recognition that yoga is essential prayer, a part of a Hindu system which lead to spiritual and physical liberation (Moksha) this is cultural appropriation. Each position has a spiritual meaning linked to scripture. When a non-Hindu teaches yoga for monetary gain, without cultural regard it becomes a fad. Yoga is not a fad. Well it is. It should not be. Still not convinced then think about that when you sign up or see adverts for beer yoga, etc. 


2. Gucci and their turbans. You read that correctly. Turbans for Sikhs are an inherent part of them, enshrined in their culture to exploit this for gain is cringeworthy. I have had Sikh friends attacked and their turbans removed and in some cases, and their hair cut. This was more than physical attack but an attack on what it means to be Sikh. I’ve also been present when Sikhs have been discriminated against in the workplace (been called rag heads, etc). Now Gucci have the gaul to profit from a symbol resistance (for more information google Anandpur 1699, Guru Govind Singh Ji). 


3. Dreadlocks – black people to this day are oppressed because of their hair. Natural black is not professional, sigh. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36279845. 

4. Indigenous Native American head dresses. Think this through, your ancestors (or people who look like you) stole land and nearly wiped out all of the native people, let alone the culture. Now with that power lens, is it right to parade around in cultural artefacts as a fickle fashion accessory. 


5. Food. “This is how you eat authentic [insert culture] the way you cook it is wrong” but the chef is not from that culture. 

Are you listening to yourself?

(https://news.sky.com/story/malaysia-pm-enters-masterchef-crispy-chicken-rendang-controversy-11315233)

How do we avoid these in our lessons? Step one is always about awareness. Schools should be places of sharing and learning, without teaching our pupils to critically analyse the power structures we set them up.to cause more damage and hurt. 

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