Cultural exploration is one of the joys of living in a multicultural society. This exploration includes being able to try out different cuisines, experience different festivals and events, and also make friends and form relationships with people from different backgrounds. The same of everything is boring.. have you ever tried to eat the same meal everyday? ‘Variety is the spice of life’ as the saying goes. This variety also should include food, clothing and hairstyles.
Sharing ones’ culture should be a source of pride not ownership. Growing up in an Indian American household, we took pride in sharing our traditions and clothing. We often invited other Americans to enjoy our Indian home made food and also bought several friends traditional Indian outfits. We loved sharing our culture, especially with those who are interested. While I do have Indian heritage, I never felt entitled to control others from wearing Indian clothes. Moreover, I was curious and appreciative of those who embrace another culture. More of this behavior will allow others to experience different cultures more deeply and also show their appreciation.
Nowadays, I am so disappointed when I hear so many incidents of cultural appropriation. According to the Cambridge dictionary, cultural appropriation is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”. Some examples of recent examples of accusations of cultural appropriation include a teen from Utah wearing a traditional Chinese dress to prom or Padma Lakshmi wearing corn rows in her hair, people who are not from India wearing a bindi.
Earlier, I wrote an article about implicit bias. I am bringing this up here because the concepts are somewhat related or complementary. Implicit bias, also referred to as unconscious bias, is defined by the perception institute as “describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge”. So, it makes sense then to assume that in order to practice or develop beyond implicit bias tendencies, we could expose ourselves to new experience in order to also meet different people than we normally might interact with. This also may involve new experiences, such as new events or festivals from other cultures or subcultures that are new to us. For example, attending an event in a sports activity that I normally don’t attend or attending a parade celebrating a holiday I normally don’t. When I am attending this parade, for example for St. Patrick’s Day, I may also wear green clothing and some other St. Patrick’s day celebratory attire I am not of Irish decent, but, to celebrate I am appreciating the culture by also adopting some of the clothing.
I also grew up wearing American clothes, which included dresses, pants and shirts. I don’t think these Western clothes originated from India, yet I was never blamed for cultural appropriation behavior. I also colored my hair with brown and blonde highlights, so far I have not been accused of cultural appropriation for this behavior. I also had my hair beaded and braided when we went to a Caribbean vacation. Not only was I not blamed for cultural inappropriate behavior, people were drawn to the change and wanted to learn more about the place and the people where they have this hairstyle.
Accusations of cultural appropriation is limiting for all of us. It limits and restricts each person to stay within their own cultural heritage. This restricts everyone from exploration, learning, and to only experience their own cultural through dress and style. I don’t want to be ‘boxed’ into wearing Indian or American clothes. I have the choice to dress as I feel comfortable and the occasion calls for. For what it’s worth, as an Indian American, I hereby encourage anyone who wants to wear Indian clothes. It will also help me when more people from the dominant culture embrace my Indian heritage so that it helps others to become more open to the boundaries being crossed and freedom of self expression and self exploration. This fluidity with which we move across each others culture, and allowing exploration is a necessary part of our evolution, to reduce bias, as well as to grow as a society.