In an increasingly globalised world, where people of diverse backgrounds have intertwined and the transfer of cultures is rampant, is there a difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation?
“Cultural appropriation is extremely harmful as it is a manifestation of racism” says the founder of the #reclaimthebindi movement. Cultural appropriation is the use of elements of minority culture by members of a mainstream audience who do not belong to that culture, without the invitation or permission of use – which often leads to the “stripping of its identity and significance as well as a wrongful oppression of minority culture”.
Reclaim the Bindi is a bold online movement, which was started in 2014, to provide a “safe space” for the “empowerment and reclaiming of South Asian culture”. The movement calls for the termination of the use of cultural, religious and spiritual artefacts by those who do not associate with the group to whom these artefact are sacred or significant. Today, #reclaimthebindi is a multi-social-media spanning movement.
“It started on Tumblr and then I decided to operate on other social media platforms”. The movement is available for all to take part in, regardless of their choice of social media platform.
The movement came about from the founder’s own frustration of a lack of platform or discussion about the wrongfulness of cultural appropriation. The anonymous found of #reclaimthebindi was inspired by South Asian blogger Anjana Raj of Banglebanger’s post titled ‘Reclaim the Bindi’. The phrase really resonated with me and my feelings about cultural appropriation.
According to the founder, the bindi is “of religious significance to Hindus” . Such cultural artefacts of religious and cultural significance “are not exotic” and “wearing a bindi to appear ‘boho’, ‘grunge’, ‘hipster’, or any other reason that is not cultural or religious” is simply disrespectful.
The founder of the movement chose to remain anonymous because she wanted to provide a platform for “empowering and reclaiming South Asian culture” without becoming “the face of the campaign or imposing her own personal opinions and beliefs”.
Cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural appreciation or cultural exchange. The founder of Reclaim the Bindi states that the difference between the two is “very situation based”. If one truly appreciates a culture, they will find “respectful and genuine ways to understand and engage with the culture”.
Whereas, cultural appropriation is the manifestation of the ignorance of the power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that very same dominant group.
If a cultural artefact is used “out of context or for aesthetic purposes to appear ‘hipster’ or ‘indie’ – that’s cultural appropriation, and 9 times out of 10, it is harmful”.
However, calling out appropriators can be controversial and “it is very important to know when and how to approach this issue”.
I only bring it up with people I know, who are familiar with the concept, or who I know would take the time to understand what I am trying to say. It can be really counterproductive to yell at a stranger on a sidewalk that something they’re wearing is appropriative. It is also important not to jump to conclusions.
Further, the burden does not lie on people of colour to let mainstream audiences know how they can and cannot appreciate a culture. The onus ultimately lies on the person donning something that may lead to controversy – “why not google it” or “watch a film and educate yourself”.
While the movement has had an overwhelmingly positive response from the South Asian community, some have exerted that cultural appropriation is not a “big deal”
Those who say that cultural appropriation is not a ‘big deal’ don’t understand the racism or bullying tied to it.
While the #reclaimthebindi movement remains pivotal in starting a conversation about cultural appropriation, the founder says that she has “a lot of issues to tackle” such as “antiblackness, casteism, and colourism”.
Thank you #reclaimthebindi for starting a powerful conversation on the significance of cultural artefacts to one’s sense of identity.