On Cultural Misappropriation

This is a question to all my Indian readers, What is your take on the growing menace of “cultural appropriation”?

Confused? Let me put it another way. Would you be offended if someone “not connected” to India wears a bindi? Say, Katie Perry? Or our own Amy Jackson? Can they wear Saree? How about Mehendi?

Amy Jackson on a Tanishq advert

Apparently, Amy was not are supposed to do any of that. According to “culture rescue warriors” this could amount to racism and stealing  !!

For your benefit, let me summarise what it means :

cultural appropriation is Taking traditional knowledge, cultural imagery, or artefacts from someone else’s culture “without permission”. This can include, but not limited to “unauthorized use” of another culture’s dance, attire, music, language, cuisine, religious symbols, and so on. This is wildly wrong when “giving” community is a less “dominant culture” which, probably was, previously oppressed or exploited by the “taking” community.

Looks like these are imaginations of a misguided, overcompensating and an apologetic group that is bending over backwards. But unfortunately, its growing movement and its in fashion for “culture rescue warriors” continuously outraging on unsuspecting artists on this flavour of racism.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Let’s assume, Obamas want to celebrate Gandhi Jayanthi, and Barack asks Michelle if she can make Samosa for this occasion.

By technicality, this is a massive cultural appropriation for three reasons. One Obamas belong to a country with bigger GDP. Second, Samosa belongs to India. Finally three, there is no “Letter of Cross-cultural Fair use of Samosa” issued! Now, what should Obama do to eat those delicious Samosas? Suppose he is ready to fight it in International court, these the hurdles :

  • Samosas are not Indian to start with. They have their origins in middle-east or Persia at best. India just popularised it and flavour-ized it with spices. So, Who would sign that letter for Obama? All these countries?
  • What defines to ‘dominant culture’ India and America never invaded each other. Unless there is a “The first war of Samosa” we will never know who is dominant.
  • Suppose India is signatory, then who does it on behalf of Indian culture ?  Gandhi’s great-grandson, Modi or Arnab?

I don’t know what Obamas should do. But hey, if my approval works, I am more than happy to sign it. Obama Bhai, you have my blessings, please go ahead and eat your Samosas.

Honestly, I can’t keep track of all the outrages happened “on behalf of” India against cultural appropriation. I can attempt to list a few, though.

  1. Katie Perry, Selena Gomez etc. sporting Bindi.
  2. Appu character in Simpson series speaking in an Indian accent
  3. The Yoga Debate
  4. Sacha Boron Cohen as the voice of Lemur King in Madagascar movies.

I don’t think Indian’s care any less on these things. That, unless of course, it was done with malicious intent. Otherwise, Please go ahead wear a Saree the way you want and eat “Curry” and just make sure you have fun while you

I will leave you with Coldplay ft Beyoncé song “Hymn For The Weekend”, and you tell me what is offensive about this.


PS. For Further reading ;

  1. Hate to use BBC video on this, but Jonathan Pie hits bulls-eye on this topic
  2. Curbing cultural appropriation in the fashion industry with intellectual property – World Intellectual Property Organization.

18 thoughts on “On Cultural Misappropriation

  1. She is from West Bengal na …. Bangadeshiyon ne kuch zada hi dil pe le liya hai she appreaciating Goddess Durga. Hamare Indians bhi peeche nahi hai … It’s the mindset which I am hoping would change, haan par that won’t happen in a night …
    However a very good read

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As an American citizen, this article makes me think about some of the Indian culture I consume and enjoy. For instance, I love the music of Ravi Shankar. I was fortunate to attend one of his concerts in Lincoln, Nebraska. I also love Indian cuisine and sometimes watch Bollywood movies. I enjoy these things out of admiration and respect for Indian culture.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m an American citizen, but an Indian by heritage. I don’t think that so-called foreigners should need permission to use tidbits of any culture. That’s sorta ridiculous, because in the end we are supposed to be working for a world full of global citizens, not narrow-minded individualists. I liked your samosa analogy, great post!


  4. My little understanding on this, not to be taken as truth is that cultural misappropriation occurs when say for instance celebrities are praised for donning outfits or pieces that other people who have traditionally donned the items or style are chastised for wearing. This is especially so if wearing of those things was met with disapproval by their colonizers but the same colonizers (Obviously not the same people but probably their future generations) are able to wear now and be praised for it, but the people who wore it traditionally are still chastised if they choose to wear that fashion or style maybe due to ingrained disapproval by the current society who learnt long time ago that those things were to be disapproved. Dreadlocks and cornrows for instance have always been controversial.


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