I understand that racism has bigger problems than cultural appropriation. Problems like mass incarceration, deportation, police profiling and shootings, etc. However, I do feel that people undermine the fact that cultural appropriation goes beyond just wearing bindis and Native American headgear at Coachella.
The fact that cultural appropriation is the literal translation of plagiarizing someone's culture while continuing to undermine that culture is pretty shocking. And it hits on an individual level affecting even children. Even in my own life, I have seen the terrifying truth about cultural appropriation. For instance, coconut oil today is hailed as the ultimate cure-all for any beauty related problem by every western fashion and health publication, but as a child when my mother and grandmother, who have known the benefits of coconut oil for generations, would put it in my hair, my caucasian American teacher would pull me aside and tell me that my hair looked dirty and I should tell my mother to never put oil in my hair again.
I remember when I was fifteen, seeing an Indian actress go to the Cannes Film Festival and dressing in traditional Indian clothes and accessories. She wore a gold and white saree and a gold nose ring. I genuinely thought she looked stunning and I felt proud that she was representing her culture on this global platform.
However, western fashion critics felt differently. They put her on worst-dressed lists citing her nose ring as grotesque and her outfit as over-the-top. I felt startled as someone who loves fashion and reading fashion publications, I thought they would celebrate her novelty and confidence in wearing her cultural garbs. What bothered me even more, however, is when the French luxury design house Givenchy put out a whole collection of nose rings that same year, the same publication showered the collection with praise and called the fashion house "innovative" and "cutting edge."
I felt robbed. How can a South-Asian woman upholding generations of beauty traditions be called grotesque and a western fashion house stealing from that same culture be called innovative?
What bothers me the most is not that white girls wear bindis to Coachella or the fact that western fashion houses make nose rings. It is the fact that credit and knowledge of the origin of these items and concepts are not known.
That white girl has no idea the cultural history and significance of a bindi and yet she touts it around as if it is the latest seasonal trend. How can I explain to these people that my culture is not a trend?
In college, we are told that we can get kicked out of school for plagiarizing, but what about the centuries of cultural plagiarism that has gone untold and unpunished?