Don’t make me snap my fingers in a
say a Latin incantation
sacrificed to Satan
E t e r n a l D a m n a t i o n
Why a Bindi Is NOT an Example of Culture Appropriation
by Anjali Joshi
A white girl wore a bindi at Coachella. And, then my social media feeds went berserk. Hashtagging the term “cultural appropriation” follows the outrage and seems to justify it at the same time. Except that it doesn’t.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of a specific part of one culture by another cultural group. As I (an Indian) sit here, eating my sushi dinner (Japanese) and drinking tea (Chinese), wearing denim jeans (American), and overhearing Brahm’s Lullaby (German) from the baby’s room, I can’t help but think what’s the big deal?
The big deal with cultural appropriation is when the new adoption is void of the significance that it was supposed to have — it strips the religious, historical and cultural context of something and makes it mass-marketable. That’s pretty offensive. The truth is, I wouldn’t be on this side of the debate if we were talking about Native American headdresses, or tattoos of Polynesian tribal iconography, Chinese characters or Celtic bands.
Why shouldn’t the bindi warrant the same kind of response as the other cultural symbols I’ve listed, you ask? Because most South Asians won’t be able to tell you the religious significance of a bindi. Of my informal survey of 50 Hindu women, not one could accurately explain it’s history, religious or spiritual significance. I had to Google it myself, and I’ve been wearing one since before I could walk.
We can’t accuse non-Hindus of turning the bindi into a fashion accessory with little religious meaning because, well, we’ve already done that. We did it long before Vanessa Hudgens in Coachella 2014, long before Selena Gomez at the MTV Awards in 2013, and even before Gwen Stefani in the mid-90s.
Indian statesman Rajan Zed justifies the opposing view as he explains, “[The bindi] is an auspicious religious and spiritual symbol… It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory…” If us Indians had preserved the sanctity and holiness of the bindi, Zed’s argument for cultural appropriation would have been airtight. But, the reality is, we haven’t.
The 5,000 year old tradition of adorning my forehead with kumkum just doesn’t seem to align with the current bindi collection in my dresser — the 10-pack, crystal-encrusted, multi-colored stick-on bindis that have been designed to perfectly compliment my outfit. I didn’t happen to pick up these modern-day bindis at a hyper-hipster spot near my new home in California. No. This lot was brought from the motherland itself.
And, that’s just it. Culture evolves. Indians appreciated the beauty of a bindi and brought it into the world of fashion several decades ago. The single red dot that once was, transformed into a multitude of colors and shapes embellished with all the glitz and glamor that is inherent in Bollywood. I don’t recall an uproar when Indian actress Madhuri Dixit’s bindi was no longer a traditional one. Hindus accepted the evolution of this cultural symbol then. And, as the bindi makes it’s way to the foreheads of non-South Asians, we should accept — even celebrate — the continued evolution of this cultural symbol. Not only has it managed to transcend religion and class in a sea of one-billion brown faces, it will now adorn the faces of many more races. And that’s nothing short of amazing.
So, you won’t find this Hindu posting a flaming tweet accusing a white girl of #culturalappropriation. I will say that I’m glad you find this aspect of my culture beautiful. I do too.
1. Push yourself to get up before the rest of the world — start with 7 a.m., then 6 a.m., then 5:30 a.m. Go to the nearest hill with a big coat and a scarf and watch the sunrise.
2. Push yourself to fall asleep earlier — start with 11 p.m., then 10 p.m., then 9 p.m. wake up in the morning feeling re-energized and comfortable.
3. Erase processed food from your diet. Start with no candy, chips, cookies, then erase pasta, rice, cereal and then bread. Use the rule that if a child couldn’t identify what was in it, you don’t eat it.
4. Get into the habit of cooking yourself a beautiful breakfast. Fry tomatoes and mushrooms in real butter and garlic, fry an egg, slice up a fresh avocado and squirt way too much lemon on it. Sit and eat while doing absolutely nothing else.
5. Stretch. Start by reaching for the sky as hard as you can, then trying to touch your toes. Roll your head, stretch your fingers, stretch everything.
6. Buy a 1L water bottle. Start with pushing yourself to drink the whole thing in a day, then try drinking it twice.
7. Buy a beautiful diary and a beautiful black pen. Write down everything you do, including dinner dates, appointments, assignments, coffees, what you need to do that day. No detail is too small.
8. Strip your bed of your sheets and empty your underwear drawer into the washing machine. Put a massive scoop of scented fabric softener in there and wash everything. Then make your bed in full.
9. Organize your room. Fold all your clothes (and bag what you don’t want), clean your mirror, your laptop, vacuum the floor and light a beautiful candle.
10. Have a luxurious shower with your favorite music playing. Wash your hair, scrub your body, brush your teeth. Lather your whole body in moisturizer, get familiar with the part between your toes, your inner thighs and the back of your neck.
11. Push yourself to go for a walk. Take your headphones, go to the beach and walk. Smile at strangers walking the other way and be surprised how many smile back. Bring your dog and observe the dog’s behaviour. Realize how much you can learn from your dog.
12. Message old friends with personal jokes. Reminisce. Suggest a movie or sushi date soon, even if you don’t usually follow through, push yourself to follow through.
14. Think long and hard about what interests you. Crime? Sex? Chinese folklore? Long-forgotten romance etiquette? Find a book about it and read it. There is a book about literally everything.
15. Become the person you would ideally fall in love with. Let cars merge into your lane when driving. Pay double for parking tickets and leave a second one in the machine. Stick your tongue out at babies. Compliment people on their cute clothes. Challenge yourself to not ridicule anyone for an entire day, then two, then a week. Walk with straight posture. Look people in the eye. Ask people about their story. Talk to acquaintances so you become friends.
16. Lie in the sunshine and daydream about the life you would lead if failure wasn’t possible. Breathe in, breathe out. Open your eyes and take small steps to make it happen for you.