I’m Guilty of Cultural Appropriation

I wore Bindi Jewelry to Coachella. Do I regret it? Nope! I also have tribal tattoos and plan on getting one of the Ganesha and I am not Hindu. I do consider myself culturally aware but I’m guilty of cultural appropriation.  Yet, I don’t regret my decisions. Cultural Appropriation has been a hot-button issue for a while, especially as it relates to music festivals. A recently posted video titled Dear White Women, We Need To Talk About Coachella sparked a lot of debate on Social Media. While I agree with the underlying message of being respectful of religious symbols and practices. There are a few things about the video that I disagreed with. For starters, singling out White Women. I wore a Bindi, but I’m a black woman, do I get a pass?

Guilty-Cultural-Appropriation-Bindi-JewelryMy “Third Eye” sparkling in the sunlight.

There’s a razor thin line between wearing something because you respect its beauty and culture and making light of something another considers sacred. While this video describes the Bindi as “a symbol of spirituality and awakening instead of a forehead accessory”. Anjali Joshi explains Why a Bindi Is NOT an Example of Cultural Appropriation. Joshi explains that, “Of my informal survey of 50 Hindu women, not one could accurately explain its history, religious or spiritual significance. I had to Google it myself, and I’ve been wearing one since before I could walk.” But does one South Asian’s opinion validate my decision? Another article breaks down the difference between appropriation and appreciation and wraps up the subject honestly by acknowledging that “our reaction to appropriation is also tied up in who’s doing the appropriating.”

My style inspiration for the first day of Coachella was Frida Kahlo. I’d recently written a post about how much she’s influenced me. So I wanted to pay homage to her by bringing her look to life, as a Fat Black Woman. I knew I wanted to wear a Bindi in a unique way, so I decided to channel Frida’s Third Eye piece and wear three. I couldn’t wait to share my Day #1 photos on my favorite social sites. But I was a little nervous about the possible blowback. Not only did I post on my personal and blog pages I posted in some of the Facebook travel groups I’m a member of. While most of the comments were positive and encouraging, there was some negative feedback. I also noticed that some of my “woke” friends didn’t “like” the photos of me wearing a Bindi. But “loved” and commented on photos from days two and three when I was Bindi-free.

The irony is Frida was also accused of cultural appropriation. She was known for wearing embroidered dresses of indigenous Tehuana style. Although she wasn’t of indigenous descent, she was enamored by the matriarchal society. Still, the honest truth is that while Frida had the privilege of “playing dress up” indigenous women who wore the same styles remained oppressed.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with appreciating someone else’s culture and wearing things from it in a respectful way because you find it beautiful. Still, fashion is trend driven and while some things are timeless, it’s hard to say what is sacred. Men’s suits are a western fashion staple worn for business and formal events. However, you can visit any country in the world and see business men wearing business suits. Is that cultural appropriation? What about wearing a rosary? Something that’s frowned upon in the Catholic faith. When I visited Thailand I saw signs everywhere explaining that tattoos of Buddha was not only wrong but against the law. Many people have been deported from and even imprisoned in Buddhist countries for sporting their spiritual leader as a tattoo.

No-Buddha-Tattoo-Cultural-Appropriation

Photo via Knowing Buddha

 So, long story short, I made a list of fashion clichés and checked them all off in one weekend in Indio. Flower crown? Check! Bikini top? Check! Bindi? Triple check! If you’re offended by me wearing a Bindi, I do apologize because that’s not my intention. However, would I wear it again? Yes! I use fashion as an artistic outlets. I don’t dress to impress others, I dress to express myself. No approval needed.

9 thoughts

  1. You look amazing. It’s not cultural appropriation because it’s orgins are actually Ancient African/tribal African. (However, some Africans may take issue if you’re disconnected to the motherland- meaning not showing any interest or love). Just like neck stretching, face and body piercings and tatoos – all that is rooted in Africa. Afrians brought their culture everywhere they migrated-or brought by force into slavery. Wear it well sista. It’s your culture too.

    1. It is cultural appropriation. The bindi or pottu’s origins lie in Hinduism, the earliest form of brought by the Aryans. I’m sure some tribal groups of Africans had forehead markings too…I’ve heard that there’s evidence Egyptians also wore forehead markings…but were they “bindis”? No. Do they have shared history of the third eye? Possibly. Bindis have always and forever been associated with the Indian/Hindu culture. We too, have been colonized and enslaved, our culture being brought to diff corners of the earth, including Africa, the West Indies, and South America. The beautiful author of this post recognizes that she’s culturally appropriating and is ok with that. Different strokes for different folks. We all borrow from each other’s cultures. It’s all about respect and knowledge. All I’m saying is that it’s just really disheartening to South Asian females to constantly hear that our argument is not valid (coming up against the “everything originated from Africa” argument). I mean, thousands of us feel this way for a reason.

      1. Egyptians are Africans so….. and changing the name in a different county and attaching it to the regional religion doesn’t make them originators. We can agree this writer is a beautiful person and I love her honesty. In my eyes she’s reppin’ her heritage- not appropriating a religion (whether she’s aware of it or not). She did nothing wrong.

  2. Because you CAN wear it as a fashion statement without facing oppression. It IS negative. You can take that bindi on and off, without facing the hardships previous people have faced before you. Wearing a bindi to Coachella does NOT show appreciation or respect. It shows a want to be as you said “different”. Go to a Hindu or Buddhist religious service and THEN preach about admiring and appreciating the religion.

  3. Thank you for writing this post. Cultural Appropriation is a tricky topic that needs addressing. It’s complicated, but the limitations are growing ridiculous. I remember that video and had one of the top comments in that post, the video should not just be calling out white women. I wrote about how women of all ethnicities cultural appropriate. I’ve also been known to do it it, I have sported a bindi on more than one occasion in my life, and I am Asian – but certainly not Indian. That said, I have a general rule for what is appropriate and what should be left untouched. If something is sold to tourists by those people in gift shops, they want to share with others, so go ahead and feel free to borrow and appreciate. It also wouldn’t hurt to learn more about what you are wearing. I do believe some items should be left sacred. For example, considering that we are living in America where Native Americans are still present and still being oppressed, I believe the war bonnet is off limits because of scared meaning. We are on their land, and most tribes have spoken, requesting that we not wear war bonnets, unless we are honored with one (ex Obama was honored with one). We may participate in many other things, but to please keep some things sacred. In addition, many people who have sported the bonnet have worn it mockingly, which is disrespectful and inappropriate. I’ve seen people sporting them while drunkenly yelling out “Indian war cries” at Coachella – it’s are just not right. I wrote a blog post about it myself a few years ago, but it needs some updating. I do however, feel that one could perhaps make an artistic interpretation of a war bonnet, so long as it is not made in mockery but in appreciation and interpretation. Anyway, thank you for your thoughts on this subject. You rock the bindi and all of your looks! There is nothing wrong with borrowing from cultures, so long as it is done thoughtfully.

  4. Culture shouldn’t be used as a costume. There’s something icky about it especially when you are informed. I especially wouldn’t do it as women are ridiculed and made fun of for wearing it in western cultures. But cute outfit tho.

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