Cultural Appropriation: The New Trend

Cultural Appropriation: The New Trend

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The mirror in my house, on first look, is identical to any mirror in any house. It has a thick, blue border and stands five feet tall, tucked behind my dressing table. It lets me see my peacock blue sari in all its glory. But glance over to the top right edge and you will notice a red dot that ethnicizes my otherwise Walmart-bought mirror. The red dot is, in fact, a small red bindi placed ever so delicately on the wooden border. It is mine. And it is high time people understand what that means.

The bindi, most prevalent in South Asia, is a forehead adornment worn most by Hindu women. It is said to be our third eye, the center of our intellect. However, in the last couple of decades, there has been a shift in the connotations of a bindi among the South Asian population. Although the bindi's past in intertwined with Hinduism's caste system, in today's times, South Asian women wear it more as a cultural symbol than a religious mark. The majority of married Hindu women (and also non-Hindu Bangladeshi women), especially those from the middle class, wear bindis on a daily basis back in the sub-continent. And when it comes to important occasions like weddings or festivals, South Asian girls and women all across the world don the resplendent bindi. However, we are not the only ones doing so.

An increasing number of women not from bindi-sporting cultures have been wearing the bindi for its "aesthetic value." Several mainstream music artists in the U.S. have worn the bindi—Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea, Selena Gomez, and Madonna are just a few. They see the bindi as a fashion statement, as something with which they can make themselves seem more "exotic," as though my culture is a mere toy to be played with. Coachella, a music festival famous for pricey tickets and cultural appropriation, went so far as to shower "boho" white girls with bindis the same way children are showered with candies from a piñata on their fourth birthday. This is just one of the many instances where cultural appropriation was blatantly celebrated.

Racism against South Asians has always existed and continues to exist. Right from the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act, which sought to ban "undesirable Asians" from U.S. to the outrageous backlash Nina Davuluri, a second-generation Indian American, received after winning the Miss America title in 2014, racism is deeply rooted in America. Hate crimes against Muslims have become five times more common after the 9/11 tragedy. The 2012 Wisconsin Sikh Temple massacre that took the lives of six Sikhs and injured four others is an example of the increased violence against the Sikh community. According to the Sikh Coalition, 12 percent of Sikhs in the San Francisco Bay Area have reported suffering employment discrimination. But there are also the more visible cases of racism.

From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, there was a hate group in New Jersey called the "Dotbusters." In their own words, the Dotbusters “hated [Indian People]… [and] will go to any extreme to get Indians out of New Jersey.” They were responsible for killing one Indian man and beating another into a coma. This group was notorious for spitting on South Asian women who wore traditional clothes in public, a hateful act that many non-affiliates soon emulated. And this is the problem.

Because no longer does the bindi symbolize our culture for those of us who live abroad. Now, when brown women wear the bindi, it symbolizes "otherness." So much so, that it has become unsafe to adorn our culture and walk outside. Our names are mocked, our food looked down on, our bodies are labeled dirty, and our people are labeled "scary" and "primitive." The bindi is seen as the mark of my non-whiteness. But this isn’t the life that white women who wear the bindi have to live.

When white women wear it, they are seen as "cute" and "edgy." They are not called a terrorist, but are seen as fashion icons with a trendy and new style to offer. But the bindi is not theirs to offer. The bindi has taken the form of shared understanding among immigrant South Asian girls and women. It has become a symbol for all the discrimination that still persists against us in countries that pride themselves on diversity.

This might seem like an insignificant problem to many, including some brown people themselves (especially those back home), but that could be because they have not seen kids shouting "Terrorist!" at a Sikh boy. They haven't seen teachers refuse to pronounce our names correctly despite our numerous attempts to correct them. They haven't seen my peers in high school enunciate to me that my “English was very good” after they found out I was from India. They haven't seen brown people being called "Paki" and "Dothead" for simply existing. But my fellow clueless brown people aren't the primary problem here.

An entire generation of foreign-based South Asian women have been stripped of their right to do with their heritage as they please. Many argue that the bindi is just a fashion statement, even for brown women, so it shouldn’t matter if non-South Asian women use it solely for aesthetic purposes. But that’s the point. Even if it is just a fashion statement, it’s our fashion statement. It’s our culture and we get to choose how it evolves. White people do not get to pick and choose what parts of our culture they "appreciate" and then consume it. We are people, not a buffet.

My sisters should not feel unsafe when they walk outside wearing the bindi. The bindi on us should not signify "dirty." My bindi should not be a source of discrimination for me. My bindi should not be target practice. My bindi is mine to define. It can be my concealed wisdom, my link to home, my expression of my culture, or simply my fashion accessory. It is mine; my all-seeing third eye, and this eye had spent a lot of time not wanting to see herself in a sari or bindi for a white girl to slap it on with such flippancy. Nobody should steal a cultural symbol while abusing the very people behind its genesis. So dear non-desis, my bindi is not for sale.

Cover Image Credit: Designer Swap

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It's Time To Thank Your First Roommate

Not the horror story kind of roommate, but the one that was truly awesome.
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Nostalgic feelings have recently caused me to reflect back on my freshman year of college. No other year of my life has been filled with more ups and downs, and highs and lows, than freshman year. Throughout all of the madness, one factor remained constant: my roommate. It is time to thank her for everything. These are only a few of the many reasons to do so, and this goes for roommates everywhere.

You have been through all the college "firsts" together.

If you think about it, your roommate was there through all of your first college experiences. The first day of orientation, wishing you luck on the first days of classes, the first night out, etc. That is something that can never be changed. You will always look back and think, "I remember my first day of college with ____."

You were even each other's first real college friend.

You were even each other's first real college friend.

Months before move-in day, you were already planning out what freshman year would be like. Whether you previously knew each other, met on Facebook, or arranged to meet in person before making any decisions, you made your first real college friend during that process.

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The transition from high school to college is not easy, but somehow you made it out on the other side.

It is no secret that transitioning from high school to college is difficult. No matter how excited you were to get away from home, reality hit at some point. Although some people are better at adjusting than others, at the times when you were not, your roommate was there to listen. You helped each other out, and made it through together.

Late night talks were never more real.

Remember the first week when we stayed up talking until 2:00 a.m. every night? Late night talks will never be more real than they were freshman year. There was so much to plan for, figure out, and hope for. Your roommate talked, listened, laughed, and cried right there with you until one of you stopped responding because sleep took over.

You saw each other at your absolute lowest.

It was difficult being away from home. It hurt watching relationships end and losing touch with your hometown friends. It was stressful trying to get in the swing of college level classes. Despite all of the above, your roommate saw, listened, and strengthened you.

...but you also saw each other during your highest highs.

After seeing each other during the lows, seeing each other during the highs was such a great feeling. Getting involved on campus, making new friends, and succeeding in classes are only a few of the many ways you have watched each other grow.

There was so much time to bond before the stresses of college would later take over.

Freshman year was not "easy," but looking back on it, it was more manageable than you thought at the time. College only gets busier the more the years go on, which means less free time. Freshman year you went to lunch, dinner, the gym, class, events, and everything else possible together. You had the chance to be each other's go-to before it got tough.

No matter what, you always bounced back to being inseparable.

Phases of not talking or seeing each other because of business and stress would come and go. Even though you physically grew apart, you did not grow apart as friends. When one of you was in a funk, as soon as it was over, you bounced right back. You and your freshman roommate were inseparable.

The "remember that one time, freshman year..." stories never end.

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The unspoken rule that no matter how far apart you grow, you are always there for each other.

It is sad to look back and realize everything that has changed since your freshman year days. You started college with a clean slate, and all you really had was each other. Even though you went separate ways, there is an unspoken rule that you are still always there for each other.

Your old dorm room is now filled with two freshmen trying to make it through their first year. They will never know all the memories that you made in that room, and how it used to be your home. You can only hope that they will have the relationship you had together to reflect on in the years to come.


Cover Image Credit: Katie Ward

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Irish-American History Is Just As Important As Any Other Culture, You Can't Prove Me Wrong

I cherish being Irish and I will not let anyone let me feel bad for that.

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Depending on when you're reading this, Saint Patrick's day has either just passed or is around the corner. For me, Saint Patrick's day is tomorrow. I've been debating this article for some time now because I didn't know how it would be perceived. At this point, though, I feel it's important for me to get out. No, Irish people were never kept as slaves in America, and I will never be one to try and say they were. However, Irish people were treated tremendously awful in America. A lot of people tend to forget, or just try to erase entirely, the history of the Irish in America. So much so that I felt shameful for wanting to celebrate my heritage. Therefore, I want to bring to light the history that everyone brushes under the rug.

In 1845, a potato famine broke out across Ireland. This was a big deal because the Irish lived off, mainly, potatoes. They were cheap, easy to grow, and had tons of nutrients. So when the famine struck, many people either died of starvation or fled to America in seek of refuge. When the Irish arrived in America they were seen as a threat to the decency of America. People viewed them as drunk beasts, sinful savages, barbaric, violent, belligerent, stupid, and white apes. When the Irish would go to look for jobs, many times they found signs that read "Irish Need Not Apply," even when the job was hiring. Therefore, the Irish did the jobs no one wanted, and even jobs African slaves wouldn't do. The biggest example of this is when Irishmen built canals and drained swamps. They were sent to do these things because of the enormous amount of mosquitoes; in the swamp, they would get bit and ultimately die of malaria.

Also, during this time, Irish people were poor and therefore lived in the same neighborhoods as the free African Americans. A lot of the Irish people were friendly with their neighbors of color and even got into interracial relationships. Because the Irish lived in these neighborhoods they were seen as dirty and even a lot of people at this time put African Americans higher on the totem pole than Irish. One person during the time even said, "At least the black families keep their homes clean."

The main reason American's outlook on Irish people changed was that most Irishmen took up fighting for the Union in the Civil War. I make this argument, not because I think the Irish suffered more than African slaves. I don't say this in means of trying to erase the struggles of the African slaves. I do not think that any of our ancestors should have been treated the way they were. I mean to say that the Irish did in fact suffer. Irish people were treated wrongly on the basis of...nothing. Simply because my ancestors hailed from the shores of Eire, they were treated with malice. And I write this simply because I want people to remember. I want people to understand what happened.

On Saint Patrick's Day this year, next year, and for the many years to come, I want people to embrace the Irish culture. I want the folks of Irish heritage to not be ashamed of where they come from; to not be ashamed to share their culture the way I have for many years. I want everyone to have a beer, wear some green, eat a potato or two, and dance the Irish step; to celebrate the history of Irish people with a bit more understanding than before.

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