Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation: The Dilemma Interracial Couples Face
Updated: Mar 8
Interracial couples already face many challenges by dating outside of their own culture, however since the inclusion of the term cultural appropriation it has only added more adversity. The term cultural appropriation has been a pressing issue of the past few years, despite its relevance throughout history, that The Oxford English Dictionary added the term in 2017. Since then most of you would have read many articles and heard many stories in the media regarding this complex matter. Particularly since Halloween just passed and social media is on fire with allegations of misappropriation against anyone who decided to sport a culturally inspired costume. It's a debate that I've decided to not get on board with until now. Though what exactly is cultural appropriation?
According to The Oxford English Dictionary it is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. However with such loose and undefined parameters it makes the term cultural appropriation a complex matter and very much open to interpretation. Which has allowed people with their own agenda to berate and belittle anyone who adopts another culture, particularly towards those of us in interracial relationships.
Such a term only promotes segregation and discrimination which goes against what human rights groups and political movements have been fighting for. Being culturally sensitive and aware are values that are instilled in us at a young age. Particularly so for anyone who has been raised in a mixed culture household or lived in a multicultural society. Living in such a multicultural society there is bound to be some degree of what is now defined as cultural appropriation, when it was once considered a celebration of cultures.
With that said it does not mean that I support the misappropriation of cultures where it is done explicitly with ill intent to harm or offend any culture, whether it be considered an oppressed or dominant society. I simply don't agree with the need to define such a term when it discourages multiculturalism and encourages discrimination against those who embrace multiculturalism. It seems that society is only becoming more and more politically correct apparently for the greater good, though is it really? Is this culture of mine and yours really maintaining the integrity of cultures.
So why introduce such a term that promotes fear into anyone who adopts another culture in a respectful manner, yet is still berated for doing so. The term has gained much hype and media attention that even the slightest hint of potentially adopting another culture by a person from a dominant society, brings about mass hysteria on social media. Such as the time when Selena Gomez wore a bindi while performing live her debut single, Come and Get It. Or more recently Halloween, with everyone giving their #culturalappropriation two cents worth about any culturally inspired costumes. With Queen Cleopatra being just one of the costumes that was accused of being inappropriate.
As a result, for many interracial couples, what was once seen as admiration and appreciation of their partner's culture, is now often seen as exploitation and degradation by outsiders should you happen to be Caucasian. What exactly is cultural appreciation? Essentially it is when you adopt aspects of a culture to try and gain a better understanding of that culture to broaden your perspective and connect with others cross culturally. It can also be referred to as cultural exchange, the mutual and beneficial sharing of cultures and beliefs.
Over the past few years since this term has become a pressing matter, online hate groups have formed merely for the purposes of spreading hate towards those in interracial relationships or anyone who they deem to be misappropriating 'their' culture. Despite what outsiders may presume, many interracial couples who are in a loving and caring relationship mutually invite one another to partake in their own culture.
It makes sense since that is usually what forms the basis of any loving relationship, to share your interests, values and beliefs. When you love another person you unconditionally see them as another human being, equal to yourself. Not that you are from a dominant society and your partner is from an oppressed society. Yet it seems to be presumed that by partaking in your partner's culture it is a form of appropriation and not appreciation or exchange.
Those of us in interracial relationships already face many challenges whether that be internally or externally, and now with such a term as cultural appropriation it has added more adversity. So how is cultural appreciation or exchange, different to cultural appropriation? A key word to note is unacknowledged, taking from another culture without acknowledgment is considered to be plagiarism. A great example of this would have to be the fashion industry, which consistently makes headlines for alleged cultural appropriation due to designers drawing inspiration from a culture, and failing to acknowledge the basis of their inspiration.
Yet fashion in itself is a fusion of different styles, trends and ideas, that there will always be an array of cultural inspiration or unintended appropriation in amidst the mix. Fashion is about creativity and expression, therefore it is to be expected that ideas will unintentionally be replicated to some extent. Shouldn't we be celebrating all the different cultures and what they have to offer. If anything by appreciating these cultures it is bringing more awareness to that culture.
The other key word to note is inappropriate, taking from another culture that profits from, misconstrues or reduces to a stereotype, important or spiritual historical figures and traditional aspects of a culture without understanding the cultural significance. The music industry constantly makes headlines with allegations of cultural appropriation due to directors and pop stars misrepresenting particular cultures and reducing them to a single stereotype. Thus overlooking the reality of a complex society and promoting a westernised image of said culture.
Some famous examples that have made headlines for cultural appropriation over the past few years have been Cold Play featuring Beyonce music video Hymn For The Weekend. Which represents the Indian Culture as a bejeweling paradise for westerners. Kim Kardashian donning cornrows a hairstyle of African American Culture. The Kardashian's in general are constantly accused of misappropriating the African American Culture for a myriad of reasons ranging from their enlarged lips and buttocks, hairstyles, fashion and business ventures. Iggy Azalea music video Bounce, again representing the Indian Culture with Iggy dressed awkwardly in traditional attire that could pass as a Halloween costume, as she partakes in an Indian Wedding. Then is featured as a Hindu Goddess dressed provocatively in a gold bodysuit riding on an elephant. Major Lazer & DJ Snake featuring MO music video Lean On, again representing the Indian Culture with ethnic women dancing in Indian inspired attire to Bollywood-esque choreography next to Danish singer MO. Who is dressed in a mini skirt thrusting her pelvis awkwardly while in a temple.
The argument behind each of these celebrities who misappropriate another culture is more than just that of a privileged group adopting the symbols and practices of a marginalized one for profit or social capital. It forms part of a system of representation that shapes how the west understands and engages with the world. These representations become meaningful and powerful in relation to each other and to similar images throughout history. Essentially it shapes how the rest of the world views that culture in question.
Using the Cold Play music video as an example, the array of colours, spirituality and poverty represented in the video has become inherently how the world views Indian Culture. According to www.theguardian.com:-
"These music videos are perpetuating hackneyed fantasies of India as an exotic playground for rich white people to explore and exploit for cultural capital and economic gain. This is about more than calling out cultural appropriation when a white girl is wearing a bindi at the club – representations conceived through a white, western lens wield real power to reinforce the racial and colonial logics that undergird the way we think about non-western people, places and cultures."
We really need to give more credit to our society, as surely we don't take anything represented in the media at face value given it is all manipulated to achieve a desired outcome. I certainly have never viewed India as an exotic playground, nor have I ever presumed that India consists only of slums. We live in such a multicultural society I would like to think that majority of us attempt to gain a better understanding before passing judgement.
Furthermore hasn't our society evolved well beyond the colonial logics, with the exception of a minority whose views won't be suede to no extent. Surely if we are to achieve unity as a race, celebrating the best parts of a culture shouldn't be considered as misrepresentation. Particularly when both music and fashion are forms of creativity and expression, therefore shouldn't be taken at face value and should be understood before being able to claim misappropriation. As with any form of art, it is a creative form of expression and is supposed to be open to interpretation. Though thrusting your pelvis awkwardly in a mini skirt, to some what Bollywood-esque choreography in a temple doesn't exactly qualify as art.
Being in an interracial relationship has opened up the flood gates for waves of haters who feel that they need to pass along, better yet inflict their opinion upon us. These hate groups and individuals have been around for years now and unfortunately don't seem to be going anywhere. If anything there only seems to be more of these individuals. They specifically target others like myself who are in an interracial relationship, particularly towards white women in a relationship with an Indian man. Also referred to as gori in Punjabi which is generally a derogatory connotation used to describe fair skinned women. I regularly receive a myriad of hateful comments from these individuals usually consisting mostly of derogatory language which I won't repeat.
Now as a blogger I have received my fair share of haters who seem to believe that I don't have a right to have an opinion, albeit the very definition of culture includes the opinions of people in society. Yet once upon a time these haters really only consisted of a minority of uneducated Indian men opposed to interracial marriage who sat behind a keyboard all day trolling the internet.
Prior to the term cultural appropriation existing, embracing my partner's culture by wearing traditional attire was positively received by most. Even when living in India more often than not people were warm and welcoming, and were thrilled that I made the effort to embrace their culture and participate. With the exception of a few, though that will always be a given. One such retort towards a photo of me dressed in Indian attire:- "LOL when a white woman tries to be Indian. Your son can wear the clothes but you cannot. That is called cultural appropriation if you are not of Indian descent or origin and are exploiting it aka 'a white Punjabi wife title'."
Therefore if I am deemed to be misappropriating the Indian Culture as someone who is married to an Indian, of mixed race, dual citizen, born in the convict lands of Australia and have lived in India like a local, how is it not considered misappropriating for my son? Albeit he has an Indian father he was born Australian and has no prior knowledge or awareness of being an Indian or the culture. He is also quite fair skinned and therefore has what would be considered to others, lived a privileged life.
Other accusations of appropriation have been aimed towards how India is depicted in photos I've used on the blog;- "LOOK AT YOUR 'this is india' topic, pic you have on title, shows the amount of hatred you have for INDIA . SHAME ON YOU. SO YOU talking. Western countries where divorces are SKY HIGH, where teenage pregnancies or teenage moms are the normal , are teaching Indian HOW TO BEHAVE. SO much hate for india. IT shows your stereotyped mindset you have for india. all thanks to Western media brainwashing for this negative and Toxic hatred. KEEP IT UP. YOUR KIDS SHALL GROW LIKE THAT TOO."
The photo in question is a stunning stock picture of hardworking Indian's who are farming the land, just as my in laws do and just as my family once did. When I use the term 'This Is India' it doesn't literally imply that the photo is how I view India, but is a common phrase used by many Indians. Such as when you're frustrated with certain aspects of India you can't change, such as running on Indian time, you would say 'This Is India'. My brother in law used to say that to me constantly when I lived in India. However it can be used in many different ways. That was why I titled my adventures living in India as This Is India.
However it is the articles where I discuss any matter pertaining to relationships that receive the most accusations of cultural appropriation. Particularly when I share my opinion and experience in response to readers who have shared their relationship troubles. "YOU only see India as Slum country, thanks to Slumdog Millionare. what about your country's 50% divorce rate? in US, Hook up culture, high percent of teenage moms, RACISM in your country against browns and blacks. all thanks to western media for your hate towards INDIA and the culture. SO MUCH of hate , keep it up and the superiority Complex."
This is what makes this term a complex matter and difficult to discern what constitutes appropriation and who is entitled to contend. There are no defined parameters and only seem to be open to interpretation, thus in my experience has only encouraged discrimination and a negative culture against multiculturalism. I'd just like to again state that albeit my opinions on the term cultural appropriation, I don't support the misappropriation of any culture, whether it be an oppressed or dominant culture, where it is done explicitly with ill intent to harm or offend.
What are your thoughts or experience on this contentious matter?
I'd love to hear from you so be sure to leave your comments below. Distasteful comments will be deleted as this is an open and supportive environment to share your thoughts and experiences.
Here are some other great articles that discuss cultural appropriation:
Cultural Appropriation My Two Pennies Worth is another article by An English Woman In Mumbai that delves into the topic of appropriation when it first started becoming a pressing matter. Unfortunately since then it has only gained more traction and created more haters.
Am I Guilty Of Cultural Appropriation by One Cuppa Chai who is another Caucasian woman living abroad in India who gives her thoughts on the topic.