From 1987 to 1993, a group called the “Dotbusters” roamed the East Coast attacking and harassing South Asians. In 2012, Vanessa Ann Hudgens began wearing a bindi to music festivals, sparking a new trend of white girls sporting that same accessory that South Asians could potentially be murdered for.
This phenomenon can best be described as cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the theft of the elements of one, usually oppressed, culture by those of a different culture. Racism is often depicted as slurs and physical violence, and in turn appropriation takes second stage to the minds of the masses in arguments regarding race.
Appropriators are then abolished of the idea that they are, in fact, a racist. Instead, they are simply appreciating a race because they haven’t killed anyone. Instead, they are “sharing our culture”. It’s flattering, according to them, that my culture is mitigated into an aesthetic. Would these appropriators want to share my culture when someone told me that if I were wearing a bindi, it would be a perfect shooting target? Or would they prefer to be called dot head and terrorist behind their backs? Would this fit the chill hipster aesthetic they strive for? Of course not. Rather, they would want to take the same culture that my people have fought to even keep alive and wear it as a costume because to them it is only beautiful.
My culture is beautiful, but appropriators put glamour as paramount, and the stories behind the look futile. The fight behind the charm is lost. Interestingly, white feminist icons such as Madonna and Miley Cyrus often sport appropriated fashion like dreadlocks or bindis, putting beauty beyond spiel. The hypocrisy exhibited in white feminism demands that white women are more than just a face, yet the same cannot be said for our cultures.
White people themselves have a vast history of stealing people of colors’ work to fit their own desires. Blackface (the practice of painting one’s face black to represent a black person, usually mockingly) became a staple to the American theatrical business in the 19th century. White actors painted their skin black and overdrew their lips huge for white audiences to laugh at racist caricatures about black people. In 2015, overdrawn lips became fashionable, worn by Kylie Jenner and beauty gurus worldwide, because the pout, that white people mocked black people for years about, was now sexy (but only on white women). In 1920, a frustrated young artist was put in charge of marketing for the early days of the National Socialist Party. Adolf Hitler was quick to realize that the organization needed a symbol to differentiate the Nazi party from the other and chose the swastika. In the Hindu religion, the swastika is a lucky charm, meant to attract good and protect against evil and in Buddhism it symbolizes eternity. Yet, from all the different interpretations and meanings of the swastika, only one retains prominence in our minds. The Nazis took a symbol of good to make it a representation of the Aryan race, and left it as an image of one of the darkest moments in human history.
Appropriating a culture strips the culture of it’s meaning, and history. It replaces each past with something false, and something fast and something meaningless. The fight for my people to even wear a bindi without getting murdered becomes forgotten when Urban Outfitters begins marketing “face gems” for five dollars to a group of people who have never fought for anything in their lives. Miley Cyrus and Kendall Jenner wear dreadlocks and get called edgy and trendy by white media while black people are sometimes prohibited from wearing their natural hair to work . Cultural appropriation packages pretty little pieces of a past with absolutely no substance. It exploits and erases the fights of those before us to just survive. Cultural appropriation is no better than racially motivated violence because at it’s core, it is violence, it is the erasure of history, and it is despicable.