My Culture is Currently Unavailable for Borrow.
“For diasporic people of color especially, their culture is all they have left. It is their pride and their identity and can be a source of solidarity and comfort in the face of racist power structures.”
I remember waking up in the morning and hearing the chiming of the bell, as my mother gave praise to God.
I remember intricate, swirling patterns of deep red henna being drawn on my hands before a big Indian celebration.
I remember watching my grandmother and mother getting dressed in colourful saris and placing delicate, glistening items of gold on their necks and ears.
I remember watching my mother on stage as she sang sweet South Indian, classical melodies.
These are all things that I can remember from my childhood, things that I remember of my culture before I realised it was something that I had to protect.
Being born in a Western country whilst being of Indian descent, you are born into two different worlds. One that — as I think many second generation Indian migrants can agree with — you must maintain, without allowing them to clash. I can remember as a young girl, hiding parts of my identity because I felt uncomfortable showing people the ‘Indian’ side of me. I had extreme difficulty in associating with my Indian culture unless I was at South Indian events because I did not want to give into the supposed ‘Other’ that Australian culture perpetuates. I wanted to feel like I was one of ‘them’- them being white Australians. This short documentary video I created covers a lot of points that second generation youth and POC (people of colour) would like people to understand about their lives.
I have faced so much ridicule up to this point in my life because I am Indian. People have made fun of my name, the food I eat, my own people, perpetuated ignorant stereotypes and generalisations, as well as perhaps unintentionally — forced me to understand the fact that many people view my race and the colour of my skin as my whole identity.
Because of this, me and so many of my fellow second generation migrant peers have whitewashed ourselves to fit into Western culture and society. In a survey I created to understand the opinions of my fellow peers, 54.2% of people stated that they did feel a pressure to assimilate into Western culture. In fact, looking back, I’ve realised I spent much of my childhood trying to assimilate into a culture which — due to systemic racism — wouldn’t have accepted me anyway.
The same girls who once made fun of me, are now walking around wearing ‘bindis’ and Indian cultural clothing at music festivals or ‘indie’ themed parties. These people are wrongly representing my culture and cultural practises as ‘fashion statements’ or an attempt to seem ‘culturally aware’ or, ‘#ethnic’ or ‘#embracingIndianCulture’.
It’s not only the fact that many of them do not understand the significance of these clothing items within Indian culture and Hindu religion, but also that they preach their intent of ‘embracing’ culture, without acknowledging the impact of this on us — Indian second generation migrants. The idea that they can have people compliment and praise them for wearing ‘parts’ of my culture, whilst the same girls relentlessly made fun of other ‘parts’ so recently. How when they wear it, its cool and trendy, however when we do, they make us seem and feel as though we are not Australian, as though we fit the role of a stereotypical Indian migrant. In my survey, 47.9% of people steered away from their culture in fear of being viewed as a stereotype.
It’s the fact that I face the brunt of bigotry, racism and cultural conflicts for my skin colour and ethnic background, however they do not, and can simply take what they perceive as the most aesthetic or ‘best bits’ of Indian culture.
It’s the fact that I grew up with such difficulty trying to maintain both sides of my being and they get to have BOTH sides? Fit into Western culture without problem, as well as begin to take my Indian culture?
“Appropriation is ultimately about power. Cultural appropriation refers to a specific power dynamic where members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people that they continue to systematically oppress.”
So much of the aspect of my being and identity has been mocked, taken or violated by white individuals up to this point in my life. These things I consider to be so precious and vital for me to hold on to. This is so sacred to Indian second generation migrants, as they are the private features of their culture that they got to see and be a part of from a young age, before they were ridiculed by people for embracing their culture, before they were exposed to the hate people have for immigrants and POC (people of colour), before they had to change themselves to feel safe and comfortable in this country — a time where they were unaware that they would soon feel so distant from their own culture. When we see white people taking our culture, it is as though we are being made to feel as though we don’t ‘fit in’ all over again — yet this time it is with the culture our parents tried to raise us with and instil in us.
Although a difficult process, I began to properly embrace both sides of my culture, a few years ago. Consistently having to try and unlearn what I’ve changed about myself for years — much of which was without me even realising — has been extremely tough. Although I’ve come to a new stage in my life where I can feel more comfortable with both sides, I still strongly face the after effects of my previous embarrassment which “instinctively provokes knee-jerk responses to ensure distance from my ‘Otherness’”. Although these are things we shouldn’t HAVE to be changing about ourselves, they have become so intrinsic to our personality and how we act that it is so difficult and we keep changing ourselves this way to fit in — because we’re constantly having to prove that despite our skin colour, we are in fact Australian.
So I’m asking white people who wish to seem ‘trendy’ or ‘cool’ by borrowing parts of my culture to acknowledge that…
There are years of history that has led us to where we are now. There is so MUCH that has happened for me and so many other immigrants to feel comfortable with our culture, and in our skin and in fact, many of us still don’t. So please, stop taking the things we wish to preserve and protect. These things that are a part of my identity, are being violated, objectified and distorted as mere ‘fashion statements’ or as an attempt to seem ‘culturally aware’. Please think about IMPACT vs INTENT. Instead of arguing that you are ‘embracing’ or ‘appreciating’ culture, think about how what you’re wearing symbolises years of culture and history, how what you’re doing is affecting second generation migrants so negatively and how you may be adding to misrepresentations of their culture.
My culture will forever, be unavailable for borrow.