im ironically having all these conflicted feelings about #reclaimthebindi. ironic because barely a year ago me and some of my tumblr desi crew went hard in the paint trying to tell white girls how wrong they are for appropriating the bindi and other kinds of South Asian symbols/iconography, and we got a lot of push back from desis outside the US who thought we were wasting our time/ being too uptight, and we were even labelled The Bindi Squad. so on the one hand i get why this work is important and why so many of us are fed up with white people profiting off our culture. i get it.
but something about those “who can wear the bindi and who can’t” posts make me low key uncomfortable because where does that leave room for, like, mixed-WOC who don’t “look” south asian but who want to use a cultural aesthetic, or for Black women like Azaelia Banks who might (problematically maybe) be experimenting with different aesthetics of femininity (and im gonna get flack for this but i DO think its cool and interesting when artists like Azaelia, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna occupy stereotypes of asian/south asian femininity because desi women and black women are pitted against each other in interesting ways. not saying they cant be critiqued, but its not the same for me personally as miley cyrus “twerking” or white girl Coachella shit) and when we start to draw lines around culture, what shape and form do those lines take? dont get me wrong, im not saying all cultures should be open access to everyone. not at all. but i worry when i see young desi activists falling back on cultural nationalist defenses of our/their culture, saying things like “this is a tradition” and “this is culturally sacred” because that rhetoric skews uncomfortably close to patriarchal Hindu and Buddhist nationalist rhetoric that’s rampant in India and Sri Lanka, that’s deeply misogynistic, anti-black, islamophobic, anti-indigenous and imperialist, thats based on ideas of women’s bodies being vessels of culture in specific ways.
because you know what, im a femme lesbian desi who wants to grind up in the club in a sari, who likes to wear dance anklets and a crop top, and when i see Black women who’re mixing and matching prints and colors from west-africa to north india, or when award winning Black artist sanford biggers mixes Buddhist mandalas and lotuses with break dancing and diagrams of slave ships, i see creativity and dazzling kinds of experimentation. and i realize im in the minority here but im not ready to repudiate the long, colorful, fraught, troubling, beautiful, messy, loving, bold history of diasporic brown and black folks making and mixing culture together. so yea, white appropriation of cultural forms SUCK. and its infuriating and institutionally oppressive. but i dont wanna expend my energy on white people who’re never gonna respect me and mine, never gonna see beyond the superficial glitter of a bindi or sari. i wanna focus on other folks and other histories instead. i mean no judgement if #reclaimthebindi is your thing. and i do love all the beautiful desi selfies that the hastag has fostered. but i just want us to talk more deeply among ourselves about what we’re reclaiming, from whom, and for whom. that’s all.