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Go ahead, wear a bindi. As an Indian-American, I view it as cultural appreciation, not appropriation

Cultural appropriation is destroying cultural appreciation

“You can only wear bindis if it is part of your culture.”

This is what a flyer on cultural appropriation declared at Cornell University on Halloween two years ago. I have never been able to let that statement go.

As an Indian-American immigrant, I am appalled at the policing of Halloween costumes, especially costumes honoring my culture that I would be happy to see people wear.

The bindi holds several purposes. People might wear it for decorative purposes, because of religion, or because of its good-natured meaning. It also symbolizes good fortune for the woman and her family.

Growing up in a small, predominantly white town where my culture was not well known, I encouraged others to wear Indian inspired accessories, including the bindi, and to try Indian food. It helped build awareness about my culture and created a sense of unity.

I’ve seen first-hand on my campus that many people who are actively against cultural appropriation are not of the cultures that they claim are being appropriated. In doing so, they advocate for restrictions on the behavior of people like me — who actively encourage others to be involved in my culture.

How ironic considering they claim to be promoting the rights of minorities and immigrants through this “crusade” while also domineering them and telling them what opinions they can and can’t have.

Besides, if we told each ethnicity group to do only things that are reflective of their cultures, then how are we embracing diversity and integration?

Recently, I observed this style of attack against Miss Missouri 2016 Jennifer Davis’s performance of a Bollywood dance at the 2017 Miss America competition. She received a slew of remarks regarding cultural appropriation partially because she was not Indian but performed an Indian style of dance.

I, however, was happy to see her bringing a dance that is generally performed by Indians to the forefront to show that the dance can be accessible to all.

In an interesting contrast to the Bollywood controversy, when Misty Copeland was accepted into the American Ballet Theater as the first African American ballerina, there was mostly praise and little to no question about cultural appropriation, even though ballet is a European style of dance. So it is acceptable to “appropriate” Western culture, but if it is a non-Western culture, only a select few can be involved?

The real impact of “cultural appropriation” is the decreased integration of other cultures. Sensitivity and microaggression trainings have turned people timid and afraid. I’ve noticed people are afraid to ask questions about my culture out of fear of being “offensive.”

Thanks for keeping my feelings in mind, but I don’t want anyone to be afraid of having honest conversations. A more productive way of learning about culture and people is to talk, question and engage.

Neetu Chandak is a senior at Cornell University and treasurer for Network of Enlightened Women at Cornell.

IMAGE: Ander5/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Neetu Chandak is a senior studying communication at Cornell University. She writes for several news outlets and also serves as treasurer for Cornell's Network of Enlightened Women. Her interests include higher education and cultural issues.

Add to the Discussion

  • Kernighan

    Congratulations. It’s a great idea to dive into a culture when you are interested. Indian culture is very complex, and cannot be well assimilated at a distance. This junk about cultural appropriation is just another excuse to be offended when no offense was intended.

    • MamaCat

      It’s just another way to cause divisiveness.

  • holygoat

    “Besides, if we told each ethnicity group to do only things that are reflective of their cultures, then how are we embracing diversity and integration?”

    Integration is not what these people are embracing. It is the exact opposite of what they are embracing.

  • GarySweeten

    No one except the English can speak or write in English?

    • kartashok

      Well that doesn’t count, the majority of former English colonial non-whites were forced to learn basic English at the crack of a whip.

  • Alan_McIntire

    My wife, a Filipina, was pleased and flattered when my sister’s son called her to ask for a Filipino recipe for “Asian Culture Week” at his school.

    A Chinese tour guide once told me that Marco Polo was trying to copy the Asian “shopao” a rice bun with meat in the center, when he introduced pizza to Italy. To create that pizza, the Italians appropriated wheat to make the bread from Middle Eastern culture, they appropriated tomatoes to make the pizza sauce from American Indian culture, and they appropriated the meat in/on the bread from the Chinese culture. My second favorite flavor of pizza topping is pineapple and Canadian Bacon, – another cultural appropriation from Polynesia (pineapple), and I suppose from Canada for the term “Canadian Bacon”. No cultural appropriation means no such thing as pizza.

    Baseball and Basketball were invented in the U.S. Do WE feel cultural outrage than Japanese, Taiwanese, plenty of Caribbean countries play the game? No, we’re pleased that other countries find our games entertaining.

    • Ulf Sark

      i hate to be that guy, but marco polo never went to china, and Italy had recipes for pasta before his supposed voyage.
      Everyone likes to claim Marco polo visited china because he wrote about it … well, he also wrote about dragons …

      • Alan_McIntire


        “…Now, however, research by Hans Ulrich Vogel of Germany’s Tubingen University might help restore Marco Polo’s integrity. In a new book entitled “Marco Polo Was in China,” the professor of Chinese history counters the arguments most frequently made by skeptics in an attempt to prove once and for all that the Venetian spoke the truth. He suggests, for example, that Polo didn’t include the Great Wall in his chronicles because the impressive monument only achieved its great proportions under the Ming dynasty, several hundred years later. Vogel further maintains that Chinese records from the 13th and 14th centuries routinely glossed over visits from Western envoys, making Polo’s exclusion less peculiar……

        …Vogel also relies on another compelling body of evidence: the explorer’s meticulous descriptions of currency and salt production in the Yuan era. According to Vogel, Polo documents these aspects of Mongol Chinese civilization in greater detail than any of his Western, Arab or Persian contemporaries, a hint that the Venetian relied on his own powers of observation. Polo’s claims about the size of paper money and the value of salt, among other aspects, check out against archaeological evidence and Chinese documents maintained by Yuan officials, Vogel concluded.”

        According to Wikipedia: “The precursor of pizza was probably the focaccia, a flat bread known to the Romans as panis focaciusto which toppings were then added.Modern pizza developed in Naples, when tomato was added to the focaccia in the late 18th century.

      • kartashok

        Proof? He lied about a lot of things, but Kublai Khan does mention a Latin who was in service to him right until the end, when he was sent to escort Princess Kokochin to Persia from Khanbaliq and return to Venice through the Black Sea and Mediterranean.

    • GoldRushApple

      Japan and the Caribbean countries, arguably, field a better national team than the US.

      Again, Japan, has somehow preserved the Ivy style of dress – a (mostly) American way of fashion. See: http://www.ivy-style.com/the-miyuki-zoku-japans-first-ivy-rebels.html. Some Americans argue that the Japanese takes it to a degree that it’s a costume, but nonetheless no one in the Western world is asking them to stop what they’re doing.

      There is a solid jazz scene, a genre born out of the black New Orleans community, in Sweden. I remember a couple of years ago a Swedish jazz musician – having no ties to the US or an ounce of African blood in him – toured the US and stopped by my city.

    • kartashok

      LOL the Chinks like to claim everyone copied them. Pizza has its origins in GREEK and MIDDLE EASTERN good and was brought to Italy by Greeks in the 1700s, long after the life of Marco Polo. The original “Pizza” was more similar to what would today be called the Turkish Pide. Next the Chinks are going to say they taught us how to breathe. Give credit to the brown people of the Middle East too, the Chinese didn’t invent every single thing in the ancient Eastern world. 🙂
      And Napoli

  • wolverine1987

    Thank you for pointing how how truly insane, and even worse, low IQ, the entire ludicrous concept of “cultural appropriation” is. When people hear those words from now on they should collectively howl with laughter until the person who uses them flushes with shame and leaves the room

  • bbdudley

    Neetu, thank you very much for your thoughtful and personal view. I fully agree that we need more cultural exploration to celebrate culture, not less. Bravo! I hope that many may rethink their views based on this.

  • Carey J

    In an interesting contrast to the Bollywood controversy, when Misty Copeland was accepted into the American Ballet Theater as the first African American ballerina, there was mostly praise and little to no question about cultural appropriation, even though ballet is a European style of dance. So it is acceptable to “appropriate” Western culture, but if it is a non-Western culture, only a select few can be involved?

    If non-white SJWs are really serious about stopping cultural appropriation, they must give up their cell phones, their wireline phones, their cars, their electric service, and if they get a sexually transmitted disease, no antibiotics, because all of these things were invented by dead white men.

    • kartashok

      Yeah antibiotics are going to cure HIV? Haha!

      • Carey J

        HIV is not the only STD. Syphilis and gonorrhea are bacterial and are routinely treated with antibiotics. Failure to treat syphilis leads to really bad shit.

        There was a young man of Black Bay,
        Who thought syphilis just went away,
        And felt that a chancre,
        Was merely a canker,
        Acquired in lascivious play.

        Now first he got acne vulgaris,
        The kind that is rampant in Paris,
        It covered his skin,
        From forehead to shin,
        And now people ask where his hair is.

        With symptoms increasing in number,
        His aorta’s in need of a plumber,
        His heart is cavorting,
        His wife is aborting,
        And now he’s acquired a gumma.

        Consider his terrible plight,
        His eyes won’t react to the light,
        His hands are apraxic
        His gait is ataxic,
        He’s developing gun-barrell sight.

        His passions are strong, as before,
        But his penis is flaccid, and sore,
        His wife now has tabes
        And sabre-shinned babies,
        She’s really worse off than a whore.

        There are pains in his belly and knees,
        His sphincters have gone by degrees,
        Paroxysmal incontinence,
        With all its concomitants,
        Brings on quite unpredictable pees.

        Though treated in every known way,
        His spirochetes grow day by day,
        He’s developed paresis,
        Converses with Jesus,
        And thinks he’s the Queen of the May.

  • Bob Jones

    I’m sorry but it’s better to leave the decision making to us White educated liberals we don’t go to college for nothing and we will let you know if you should be offended or not.

  • Drmbon

    Thank you. And as white person of european decent, I give you permission to use western medicine, air conditioning, heating, electricity, air planes and democracy. See? we all benefit from cultural appropriation.

    • kartashok

      If it was taught to, or forced on, the colonial subjects of Western nations, we don’t require your permission, thank you.

      • Drmbon

        Yes we FORCED life saving medicine, climate control, airplanes, and democracy on brown people. You are a pathetic idiot.

        • kartashok

          No we just learned how to use that technology by observing you, it wasn’t charity which is what I’m saying. Look at the Chinese, taught the West everything from gunpowder to the compass and astrolabe, without which Christopher Columbus’ conquest of the Americas would never have happened. Except for black Africans and Abos, all other races can sustain themselves and would’ve gotten those technologies without colonialism, through simple trade.

  • Mary


  • sdhello

    so refreshing to read, cultures are beautiful, celebrate them, if someone wants to wear something of your culture it is because they like it and appreciate it, not to bastardize it like the left claim. It is so sad how things are going now. A little girl loves a strong lead character like Moana, who is also a minority. You have to tell her she can’t be Moana for Halloween? Sad, as all she wants is to be like her new, modern, strong princess but since she is white with blonde hair she can’t..

  • J. G.

    Cultural appropriation: if you are Black or Native indigenous do not use a fork, or drive a car, or get on an airplane, or use paved concrete highways, or wear clothes of any kind other than those from animal skins, and so much more you should not do: see a movie, use TV, use modern medicine, wear a pacemaker, etc. That would be cultural appropriation and Caucasians should not stand for it!

    • kartashok

      LOL to be fair the natives did use cotton and yucca fibers for clothing as well, at least the Aztecs and Incas, not the forest primitives of the US.

      • J. G.

        Point taken. Yes, I kinda knew that, but it was fun to write the screed anyway without going into all the “but for this and for that” exceptions…. that would have diluted it.

  • GulfPundit

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

  • TxMedRgr

    Stop making sense! It is confusing the snowflakes.

  • J_Waller

    Since “cultural appropriation” has existed for millennia, all they are saying is that these cultures are inferior to the “dominant” one. They have nothing to offer us. They can appropriate OUR culture because it is superior to theirs and they can gain something from it, whereas we have nothing to gain from their cultures. It is like separate but equal. Blacks can have all the civil rights whites have, as long as they stay in their enclaves. This is nonsense.

    This also perpetuates the idea that all whites are the same. There is a big difference between Irish culture, German culture, Italian culture, Serbian culture, et al. Cultural Appropriation would forbid the English from performing Italian opera, the French would be denied access to Jerry Lewis, the Germans could not play the bagpipes, etc.

  • Bria Thurman

    To some degree I agree with this very much but I think their is line that seperates appropriation and appreciation. Culture can never spread and influence if people never know why Its important. So you can say people can wear a bindi and I can say people can wear braids but if they begin to rename them and act like they have no historical significance then thats when people have the right to be offended. But this is just my opinion so….

  • Doina Manea

    I would cheer anyone wearing the Romanian Blouse! Go ahead!
    Good article, thanks for your opinion and your warmth.

  • kartashok

    It’s mostly white and black liberal females that complain the loudest about cultural appropriation. Brown and yellow people generally just want to be left alone and don’t care what is “appropriated” unless someone is openly degrading our culture.