I’m Indian, I don’t think white people wearing bindis is offensive

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I’m Indian, I don’t think white people wearing bindis is offensive

Don’t let the white guilt get to you

Recently I read the article ‘How to go travelling this summer without being a colonialist dickhead’. Reading it, I couldn’t help but cringe. Apparently one of the key ways to avoid being a dick is to not ‘get mad if you can’t find a Pret’; I naturally found myself wondering who on earth would expect to find a Pret on a rural volunteering trip. However, it was something else entirely that really made me mad; the author was telling readers not to wear a bindi.

I owe my existence to the mixing of different cultures – my father is Indian, my mother white – so I feel as though I have a legitimate stake in the issue of ‘cultural appropriation’, which in my opinion, is a term applied much too liberally today. Here’s what it comes down to – the article I read wasn’t about being a “colonialist dickhead’’ at all, but instead a classic example of the white guilt complex I’ve witnessed in so many of my white friends.

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Simply put, wearing a bindi does not constitute cultural appropriation. The bindis that you’ll see white people wearing are always fashion bindis. As in, bindis designed for little other purpose than to enhance your appearance, in the same way that glittery eyeshadow or a nice pair of shoes would. Sure, the traditional red dot has a whole other meaning and does in fact bear religious significance, but when was the last time you saw a white girl wearing one of those? Donning a fashion bindi is not cultural appropriation and it won’t ‘devalue’ a culture so rich and beautiful.

In fact, the notion that my culture is somehow fragile enough to be harmed or reduced in importance by people of other backgrounds engaging with it is actually quite preposterous. Becky and Susan can wear bindis all they like and India, as a nation with a thriving history and culture, will stay strong and unharmed. After all, it has withstood much worse – like, you know, actual colonialism.

When people try to defend non-white cultures from being appropriated, they just come across as guilty of the “white saviour” mentality they’re trying to dissociate from. They’ve chosen to speak over actual minorities and portray themself as an authority on how to act whilst abroad. White people who seek to ‘protect’ my culture from the outside through isolation are not representative of my people. They act out the gatekeeper role with no regard for the opinions of those affected so long as they’re having their own opinions heard.

I’m aware that this is just my personal opinion, so in anticipation of criticism, I decided to ask other Indian people what they thought about white people wearing bindis. Unsurprisingly, most of them didn’t care either way. My aunt put it rather eloquently, when she told me: “It happens a lot. Many of my white friends come to India and want to wear Indian clothes and the accessories. I think nothing of it. I just feel they want to get a feel of being in India and want to get a taste of our culture which is very unique and very different from their own”.

I asked another friend, who like me is of mixed ethnic origin and he held a similar opinion. Tired of having people tell him what to be insulted by in regards to his own culture, he said: ‘The idea that they have to somehow preserve other cultures is a direct result of the colonialism they so vocally claim to fight against. They believe themselves “leaders,” whether or not they see it themselves, by telling people of different cultures what they should be offended or insulted by.’ This struck a chord for me as I believe it just comes down to this: if most Indian people don’t care, then why do others feel the need to police usage of bindis and other aspects of Indian dress? A serious and unnecessary guilt complex? A desire to ‘protect’ minorities who don’t need saving? It’s probably both, and we’re tired of it.

@saibhandari

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