Saturday, February 13, 2016

Cultural Appropriation is not an art

Coldplay made an "exotic" video along with Beyonce and a micro-second appearance by Sonam Kapoor. Now, I might be surrounded by socially-aware friends, because most of the people I know are speaking against it, but YouTube is filled with people, especially Indians, telling how the video is not offensive and people should stop making fuss about it.
For those of you who have not seen the video, it features Chris Martin walking around the street, mainly in the dented and slum areas of India, singing, “I’m feeling drunk and so high”, while small kids dance around him and Holi colors fly high . Then something more interesting happens. He walks up to a small theater that is running a movie “Rani” (written in Hindi because that’s exotic) and our very own Queen Bee is doing some weird hand motions on a green screen, and sporting an overly done Indian attire, while too stubborn to let go off her blonde dyed hair.
Yes, the video is offensive and let me explain you why.

For generations, Indians have been mocked in the US for sporting a bindi or wearing Indian attire. So much that they were called “Dot Indians”.  They still do. Forget yesterday. Take any current American movie or a sitcom and you’ll notice how  Indians are mocked for their accents, their dressing sense and their food. As funny as Koothrapali is to Indians, he is still shown wearing tacky sweaters on top of his shirts because Indians are not supposed to know what goes on what. Indian food is always said along with the word ‘diarrhea’. Indian women are still stared at on the streets while in their Indian attire. Not just Indian, but most ethnic cultures have been mocked and caricatured in the western countries.  In the same timeline, they also want to use this very specific culture and its traits as a fashion accessory, when they want to. From music festivals like Coachella to music videos made by the entertainment Industry, you will see the usage of bindis, sarees, bridal dresses, etc. being sported in the name of fashion without actually understanding or respecting what it means to people who wear them in real life. That is called Cultural Appropriation and it’s offensive as hell.
I am no protector of Indian culture. I couldn’t care less if a bindi is sported by Beyonce, Iggy Azalea, or a cat. Just because I am an Indian, I do not have the rights to tell you what to wear, for I am not a tad bit responsible for building up this rich culture, but what I am asking is for a little bit of respect. Respect for my countrymen who had fought many battles to build up this rich history and culture that you easily mock. Please, don’t use other cultures if you don’t know what it means to its people. Most of the times, I feel proud when I see Indian culture being adopted by westerners. It creates a mutual bond. But that’s when they actually like it and try to learn the idea behind it, not when they use it as an accessory to lift their own personality or to feel exotic or to sell their art.
The second reason this video annoys me is because every time westerners want to portray India, they would not go beyond slums, dirty roads, poor people and some colorful festivals. Showing developed cities, educated youth, or modern infrastructure wouldn’t be entertaining now, would it? There has to be some random poor people dancing around them while they take a proud white walk on the dirty streets of India. It makes them feel good about themselves.
And if you think this issue is too small to talk about and that we should focus on wars and famine, as a lot of empathetic individuals would say, go find an answer to give to the Indian-American girl who was bullied and pushed around because she wore a bindi and a Punjabi dress for her birthday, to school. A lot of vital issues stems from smaller issues. No issue is a small issue.

It is okay to be a Beyonce or a Coldplay fan and still find this offensive. You don’t have to defend them shamelessly because you like their music. I am (was) a Coldplay fan and I liked the audio. I wish Chris Martin had not gone for an easy sell-out, like everyone else.
So dear Indians, if you think this is not offensive, speak for yourself. Don’t say, “We Indians love it and don’t find it offensive,” and give a wrong message. Just because you are an Indian, you don’t have the right to be not offended on behalf of 1.2 billion people.
And to you Americans, it’s 2016 and we Indians have gone way beyond our snake-charming and elephant riding days. Pull up your creativity socks and try to meet us where we are.


  1. hey!that is so much positive speaking about us indians!thank you!:)

  2. Excellent. Not just Koothrapalli even in FRIENDS there are few scenes in which 'Indian food' is associated with burning sensation and diarrhea. Just because their taste buds can't take our spices, doesn't mean it can be mocked, right?

    1. I had that in mind when I mentioned about Indian food and diarrhea. It's all because of ethnocentrism that exist in western culture. Things surely are changing and people are surely looking at other cultures a bit differently now.

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