Racist Politics of Cultural Appropriation [Some Notes]

When the west appropriates culture from different people, it rarely utilizes the piece of cultural artifact as it is meant to be used. Instead it engages in a kind of racist dialogue that re-assigns meaning and context to suit one’s own personal needs, desires or performance. Colonialism and marginalization is inherent to the West’s racist culling of different cultures. 

With India — stereotypical and dusty ideas of exoticism, hipster notions of peace and groove, grunge, goth, hip, just plain weird — all of these implications are imposed onto the objects .  Well-established and familiar ideas are perverted from its original meaning and intent for the sake one’s own narrative image-making. 


As anyone from India will tell you, bindis have long-ago been thoroughly commodified into a fashion accessory. Countless non-Hindu Indian people have been wearing bindis secularly with no spiritual intent for generations now.

So why is it a problem then for white people to do the same? Short answer – It’s not. Not really. Anyone can wear them — Hindu and non-Hindu alike. 


It is a problem when wearing a bindi becomes equated with racist ideas of exoticism, grunge, goth, “third-eye”-related awkwardness, hipster culture. Bindis, itself, get re-appropriated to symbolize the entireity of a culture that gets reduced to whatever the white narrative decides it is. 

It is also a problem when bindis are worn for an aesthetic effect that is deliberately out-of-place, and re-appropriated. There is a sense in such usages that the way bindis are ordinarily used is not “cool” enough for the white forehead. 

Tattoos, Clothing Apparel and Decorum 

I am not invested in preserving the sanctity of Hinduism as a sacred purity that should remain untouched  — especially since these ideas are rooted in perserving a certain upper caste privileged practice of Hinduism. (See this wonderful thread for further discussion, related to these pair of Ganesha-related shorts.) 

However, the chaotic and awkward re-appropriation of Hindu images and symbols is jarring in the explosion of Hindu diety-related fashion and accessories. (This is very different from its cultural parallel related to bindis – which are a fashion commodity in India).

While Hindu iconography is commonplace and used pretty much everywhere, you will never see it imprinted on commonly used items such as t-shirts, pants, shirts or tattooed on bodies.   

The context of religion, politics and history is erased completely — only to be replaced by the vacuous and profitable hook found in the imagery of elephant-heads, multi-hands, multi-heads, and hanging tongues.  When Hindu iconography is reduced to its consumerist shock value in the West, it becomes a question of cultural neocolonialism.

All of this has little to do with spirituality and/or cultural appreciation, and everything to do with cultural looting for the sake of western capitalism. 


What about the times you lied to me
What about the times you said no one would want me
What about all the shit you’ve done to me
What about that? What about that?
What about the times you yelled at me
What about the times I cried, you wouldn’t even hold me
What about those things?
What about that? What about that?
What about the times you hit my face
What about the times you kept on when I said “no more please”
What about those things?
What about that? What about that?
What about the times you shamed me
What about the times you said you didn’t fuck her
She only gave you head
What about that? What about that?