The damages of Cultural Appropriation
In this blog, I chose to discuss the controversy of Selena Gomez and her choice of clothing in her new “Come and Get it” music video. Following in the footsteps of Gwen Stafani and Madonna, she is not the first to hyper sexualize the Indian dance, wear a bindi and appropriate forms of Indian clothing. Rajan Zed, the president of Universal Society of Hinduism said, “[The bindi] is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed. Selena should apologize and then she should get acquainted with the basics of world religions.”
When an Indian woman wears a bindi, she is not just wearing a ‘beautiful face gem” but she is showing her religion and culture. It is who she is. When Selena Gomez wears a bindi, it is like throwing that value back in the faces of Indian women, saying their cultural symbol has now been picked up as a westernized beauty symbol and there is nothing they can do about it. This is a perfect example of the culture appropriation that Professor Tolmie spoke about in her lecture. Susan Scafidi defines cultural appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This is exactly what Gomez is doing in her controversial music video and following performances. She is replacing the original culture with her copy created by the dominant culture. She stripped it of all symbolic value and merely used it as a tool to appear more sexualized. People of these hegemonic cultures automatically assume they have the power and the right to do these types of things and make a profit off the components of South Asian culture. It is actually quite ridiculous; especially when Gomez defended herself saying the song is “tribal.” What does tribal even mean? Are these Indian women part of a tribe? She obviously does not understand the culture in which she has stolen and pretty much butchered for her music video. Not only is Selena wearing the Indian clothing in her music video and the bindi on live performances, she is also wearing the bindi out on her regular day-to-day routines as a fashion statement. I am not sure if she is trying to start a new trend, or if she is purposefully trying to offend people, but either way, I do not think it should be acceptable to wear an important and culturally significant symbol as a fashion statement.
One of the main oppressing factors in this issue though is the concept of white privilege. In lecture, we were provided with a link to the article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” written by Peggy MacIntosh. She states that, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” White people have this privilege. They think they are not being racist or socially insensitive because they are not ‘being mean.’ I am sure Selena Gomez justifies what she is doing because she is not trying to offend these women, yet that is so ignorant. What she does not understand is her white privilege. For years and years, many women have been ridiculed and harassed for wearing a bindi, for supporting their culture. Yet, as soon as Selena Gomez wears a bindi, it is immediately a fashion statement and is considered beautiful. She used the fact that it is a famous and important symbol and she made a profit from it. An online blogger made a really good point about this fashion icon as well. She stated that, “On [Selena Gomez], it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls.” As soon as a famous icon wears a bindi, people immediately look at them with more appreciation. Comparing this to when an Indian girl wears it as something meaningful and special to their culture and upbringing. Hegemonic culture is the norm for our society. We assume that the leading culture can dominate and oppress other minority groups with no questions asked. Many articles online spoke of how great it is that Gomez is expanding societies view of beauty and that she is only appreciating the Indian culture by wearing their clothes and having a bindi on her forehead. What these people do not understand is that there is a very thin line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. This fad is not appreciating their culture. It is completely appropriating it.
AceShowBiz. ACESHOWBIZ.com, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <http://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00060488.html>.
Tolmie, Jane. “Cultural Appropration.” Queens University. Biosci Complex, Kingston, Ontario. 3 Mar. 2014. Lecture.
– – -. “Gender Studies 125: Class 2.” Queens University. BioSci Complex, Kingston, Ontario. 14 Jan. 2014. Lecture.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html>.