The Fine Line Between Appreciation and Appropriation

Written by Sanjana Gudivada and edited by Anvitha Reddy

When someone thinks of Coachella, they associate it with summer, Los Angeles, dressing up and most importantly, the music. However, many people seem unphased by the amount of cultural appropriation that Coachella brings with it every year. From celebrities to regular festival attendees, people have picked out clothing that is significant to other cultures and incorporated it into their festival fashion for the aesthetic. This is cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is defined as using an aspect of a certain culture for aesthetic or personal gain while failing to learn more about the culture itself (Lexico). The most common incidents of appropriation during Coachella occur with Bindis. Bindis are colorful dots that Indian women, mostly Jains and Hindus, wear between their eyebrows on their foreheads. Bindis hold cultural and religious significance. In Hinduism, the Bindi serves as a “third eye” which focuses towards keeping God as the center of one’s life. Nowadays, Bindis are used as accessories and come in every different color, shape, size etc. However, this doesn’t excuse a non-Indian person wearing a Bindi without knowing or acknowledging the history and significance behind it. This is especially true when they call it a sticker or dot, disregarding its origin and Indian culture.

Once again, taking into consideration the official definition of appropriation, wearing a Bindi as a non-Indian person is appropriation of the culture and can be perceived as mockery since the person hasn’t faced the backlash and oppression that Indians have. The same goes for people from any culture. Taking one aspect of a culture and using it for personal gain such as Instagram followers, fame, or even money is disrespectful, especially if the person is uneducated about the culture.

Though a lot of people might appropriate a culture unknowingly — for example using chopsticks to tie a bun in one’s hair (which appropriates East Asian culture) — it indirectly affects people of that culture by creating double standards. While people belonging to that culture are mocked and called barbaric and uncivilized, others who appropriate it and incorporate it into their daily life are praised and posted on the front pages of magazines and tabloids.

However, there is a way to appreciate a culture without being ignorant. This is called cultural appreciation. Cultural appreciation is when someone genuinely wants to learn about and explore a culture, so they seek to find out more about it and respectfully listen and observe instead of mocking it, however unintentional it may be.

For instance, when someone wants to learn about Indian culture, the first thing they should do is respect the wishes of the Indian people. So, when one wants to appreciate a culture, they should learn to listen first. Then will they understand the history and significance behind it. There have been many incidents involving celebrities that have worn Maang Tikas- a piece of jewelry, which consists of a chain and a pendant, worn by South Asian women on their head- and Bindis to award shows and public appearances, however they’ve never spoken up about India or its culture. The main issue is not people wearing culturally significant ornaments, it’s not recognizing where it originates from and honoring that culture. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez have all profited off of using Indian culture as an aesthetic all while paying no mind to India or its culture and people.

Appreciating a culture doesn’t mean simply recognizing different aspects of it and learning about it but also honoring the people within and understanding its history and rich heritage. There is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation, but being culturally and socially aware will always help recognize the difference between the both.

Sources

Cover Photo by Pavan Gupta on Unsplash

Cultural Appropriation: Definition of Cultural Appropriation by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of Cultural Appropriation. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/cultural_appropriation.