Hindi Film 101: White Women, White Privilege, and the “Feeble No”

This is a very complicated confusing post with a lot of big things in it.  And it starts with a very upsetting story, so watch out for that.  But I also seed little fun videos within it, so that should lighten things up a bit.  Or, if you want only the serious things, you can ignore the videos.

About a year back I ran across a story that had one of those little “hey!  That could be me!” twinges.  A female white American grad student researcher was interviewing a film director as part of her research (Mahmood Farooqui who co-directed Peepli Live and has tons and tons of advanced academic and artistic credentials).  He invited her to come to his house for dinner and forced her to perform oral sex on him.  She reported it, and traveled back and forth from America to India to testify in the court cases and so on for 3 years.  And then appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, where the case was thrown out because the judge’s initial judgement was found to be sound.  This was the judge’s declaration, the reason for throwing out the case as he put it:

In cases where the parties are known to each other, it could be really difficult to decipher whether a feeble ‘no’ – little or no resistance – actually amounts to denial of consent.

She said “no”, but she didn’t say it the right way, so it meant “yes”. Put it another way, being white meant the “yes” was assumed and the “no” had to be proved.

(I guess this is how she was supposed to say “no”.  And maybe watch this video to cheer yourself up if the above bit depressed you)

 

 

Put a pin in that story for a moment and listen to this other story.  When I was flying to India last, the woman sitting next to me on the plane struck up a conversation because I was a young white woman, non-threatening and also a curiosity in that situation.  It came up naturally that I liked Indian movies, and within 10 minutes of meeting, she was telling me about having dinner with Aamir Khan a few weeks earlier and offering to help me meet him.

2 or 3 times a year, I am offered the opportunity to meet a major Indian movie star.  And I always turn it down. The same thing has happened to the two other women I know who are like me, young white American women who are serious Indian film scholars, not just fans, but have degrees and so on.  It’s truly not hard to get that opportunity if you are a young white woman in America.

But see, that only happened because I am white.  And American.  And upper class.  And young.  Not because of my intelligence or my knowledge.  In that particular example I gave, she had only spoken to me for ten minutes, all she knew was that I have a slightly higher knowledge of Indian movies than you would expect from a white person, and that I was a white person.  A white person wearing “nice” clothes who can afford a trip to India.  And so I turned that opportunity down, as I have turned it down every other time that has been offered me, because I didn’t feel I had earned it correctly.

(Me and Dhanush in VIP, same person)

It’s something I struggle with, because I know I am getting these offers because of white privilege.  It’s not fair, to me or to the person offering or to the other people who might be just as qualified but less white.  I know the world isn’t fair, but at least I can do a small part to make sure it doesn’t become MORE unfair.

If you are an upperclass connected educated desi who comes to America, someone who knows film celebrities in India, even works on films, you will find yourself dropping several classes upon arrival.  Suddenly myself, a young white woman from merely a “good” family, will be your equal or your superior.  I can take advantage of that if I want, my white and my American privilege, to make these connections, but that would be wrong.

At the same time, I know I am a bit of a curiosity.  The white girl with the long hair who actually likes Indian movies.  If I were desi, I wouldn’t be that curiosity.  I would be less interesting to meet, less of an important thing to offer up to someone as an experience.  And so there are, I am sure, young desi American scholars who are struggling for these opportunities that fall into my lap.

And it’s not fair to myself.  If I took these opportunities, I would always have that little rough spot in my mind asking “did I get that because I deserved it or just because I am young and white?”  I’m not talking about meeting someone as a fan, that’s different.  I’m talking about meeting someone as a semi-professional the way I am.  Getting a career advantage from (maybe) the color of my skin.  That’s part of the reason I like blogging.  I certainly don’t hide who I am here, but it’s not the very first thing you see the way it is if you meet me in person.  You get my thoughts first, and decide if they are worth paying attention to in a color blind way.

(Not like you are sitting around dreaming of what I might look like, my photo isn’t hard to find, but it also isn’t the very first thing you see)

And there’s that rape story in my head.  The whole thing, the young female scholar who thought she was just doing an interview, the older male director who was excited at the idea of this young woman in his home, the evening that surely included a series of danger signs that she ignored because it was a different culture, she didn’t want to be rude, maybe she was misunderstanding him.  The attack, the shock of it, the inability to fight back.  And then the long long long court case, doing the right thing by filing a case and testifying, flying all the way back to India over and over again.  And finally being told, “no, you didn’t say ‘no’ the right way, the way we expected you to, you didn’t act the right way, and so anything that happens to you is okay.”

This is the problem with white women in India.  I mean, it’s a problem with all women in India as well, but for white women in particular there is behavior which would be normal and not necessarily sending any signals in white culture but can be seen as a non-verbal “yes” in India that any “feeble no” cannot override.  And this is why that story is so chilling for me, because if I were to be that grad student (which I easily could be), I would of course meet someone at their house for dinner (assuming we had already met multiple times in other places) and not think anything of it.  I would smile and nod politely when they talked, I would wear shirts that didn’t button all the way to the collar and had sleeves shorter than 3/4 length, I would shake hands, I would make direct eye contact, and I would have no idea of the signals I am sending.

In America, I send a strong signal of “nope!”.  I don’t wear make-up, I have long natural hair, I am modest to the point that when I was in college I once had someone ask me if I was a member of some sort of ultra-conservative Christian community with a strict dress code.  But in India, the things that to me signal “purely professional and friendly and nothing else” would signal “another white woman, available”.

And I can’t really signal anything else.  Even if I wear a sari, I would just look like a white woman in a sari, which is even more tempting.  If I say “Namaskar” and fold hands instead of shaking them, I look like a white woman who is into Indian culture and therefore even more available.  If I stop smiling at people, I look like a white woman who is troubled and tempting.  Plus, I can’t stop smiling, my lips just turn up every 30 seconds and I can’t stop them!

(The smile is not a lie either, I am a happy person who likes people and my face shows it)

Not that I am complaining about this!  I am aware that it is a result of my white privilege, which has benefited me in so many ways.  I send these signals, wear these clothes, talk freely with men, because I have been raised to believe I am untouchable, I have in fact been untouchable, a smile and a friendly word getting me out of all kinds of situations from airport security lines to thesis extensions in grad school.  I am a good person, so I try not to take advantage of my white privilege as much as possible, but it is still always there.  And it has made me act free and easy and powerful, smiling at people and shaking hands and wearing low cut tops and tight jeans, that is the gift of an easy life.  One of many gifts.

Here’s an example of another gift of my white skin and gender.  The first time I was in India with my sister, we were walking down the street in Bombay and we noticed a cool old school, St. Xaviers.  We stopped in front and took pictures and then the guard sitting by the gate waved us over and asked if we wanted to go in.  We were confused, had a sort of “sure, but is that allowed?” reaction since it was so clearly a locked and guarded gate.  The guard unlocked the gate for us and escorted us inside.  Inside, there was a film shoot going on (you know this courtyard, it’s been used in dozens of films).  One of the people with the production saw us standing there and rushed over to bring us plastic chairs to sit on, and offer water.  We sat there for about 45 minutes, watching what was happening (no celebrity sightings, seemed like maybe just an ad shoot) and then wandered out.  While we were there, another white tourist came over to us.  He had happened upon the shooting in the same way, thought it looked interesting and been invited inside.  But, he pointed out in a kind of joking way, “they didn’t offer me a chair!”  Being invited in, that was the gift of our skin tone.  But being given a chair, that was because of our gender.

This is what it is to be a white woman in India.  You are welcome EVERYWHERE.  Not just allowed in, but welcomed, offered seats and beverages, fawned over.  Especially if you are a young white woman.  Especially if you are friendly and interested and asking questions about what an Indian man is doing.

I read a lot of journal articles written from field research in Indian film, and this is essentially how it goes.  You just kind of show up, be white (and preferably female), and ask for things.  And people give them to you.  I know any time I wanted to I could meet movie stars, interview them, have direct access.  Not just in the abstract, I know that because it has been offered to me and I’ve turned it down.  Offered to me multiple times by multiple people.  But, I don’t want it that way.

(DON’T want it this way)

It would be different if someone contacted me through my blog.  Or really got to know me before making these offer.  Or offered to help me meet a fellow reviewer or scholar or someone else more behind the scenes.  Any of those things would indicate that they had a real knowledge of who I am and what my skills are and what I am interested in.  But “white girl meeting movie star” is a very different situation.  And I don’t want that, I don’t want to be handed up as a curiosity to a celebrity.

Maybe that’s foolish and short-sighted, but that’s how I feel.  It would just be wrong.  It’s the same reason I won’t do trailer reaction videos on youtube, if you want me to react to a trailer I am going to talk about how the film differs from the director’s previous work and the indications of the themes and so on, I’m not going to play the “white” card and let my skin color do the work for me and be yet another one of those “look at this white girl react the first time she sees _____” videos.  I may not be able to get taxis to stop stopping for me or police officers to stop letting me off with a warning, or the TSA to stop waving me through airport security, or all the other advantages I have as a white woman, but I can do this much.

The other reason I turn down these opportunities is because I am scared.  Because I know that at least part of that white woman privilege, in India and elsewhere, comes from a place of “and then she will have sex with me”.  Or even, “and then she will owe me sex.”  And so I don’t want to accept a favor that would end up putting me alone in a room with an Indian man, especially not a middle-aged Indian man.  Not the movie star so much, but his secretary or manager or local contact who will be excited at the idea of this sweet young white woman.  Who I know is excited (or expected to be excited) at that idea because I am offered this opportunity when all they know about me is that I am young and female and white and sweet.

Middle-aged Indian men scare me sometimes.  Very very rarely, but sometimes.  I traveled all over Bombay on my first visit, even getting lost and wandering through the back alley areas where they really didn’t expect to see a white tourist, and I was never afraid.  People were lovely to me, kind and friendly and helpful and respectful and there was never a moment’s sense that I might be in danger.  Back home in America, I live in the Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi neighborhood.  I wander in and out of the sweet shops, see the young men sitting at tables watching me, and there is no fear.  Sure, they like seeing a young white woman there, but they won’t do anything to me, and if I speak to them, they will smile and be polite and kind.  Joke and flirt a little maybe, but no more than that.

The only time I have felt afraid around desi people was a few years back when I went to an academic conference that, eventually, I realized was funded by a Hindu religious organization interested in spreading “Indian culture” (meaning Hinduism).  It was very weird.  I got there and I was the only white woman in a room of primarily middle-aged Indian men.  That sort of “gut check” safety feeling immediately went off.  I just somehow did not feel safe.  I’ve been the only woman in a room of men before, and that hasn’t scared me.  Because, I’m white.  And I’m tall and have a loud voice and just generally a confident demeanor.  And I’m American, and within my own country I know how the norms are supposed to be and what is supposed to happen so long as I am with other Americans.  But there is something different about being with a bunch of upperclass middle-aged men who were born and raised in India and being the only white woman, a young white woman.  So I excused myself from that room as soon as possible without being rude* and for the rest of the conference I stuck close to the 3-4 other women and double-locked my door at night.

Probably nothing was ever going to happen, but there was something about the way they looked at me and interacted with me, like even a glance was exciting, like they wanted an excuse to talk to me directly, or touch something I had touched, that made me feel “exotic” in a really ugly way.  And that, finally, is what brings me to white female characters in Indian films.  They are “exotic”.  It is exciting just to be near them, just to show them in the background gives the male audience an immediate high.  They are there for that, their white skin and the thrill it gives, not to have characters or personalities or even act.

It is a rare film that lets the white woman be a person.  And a truly remarkable film that acknowledges her whiteness and moves past it.  One of the many things that Rang De Basanti did well was how they handled the interracial relationship.  It starts with Aamir talking to his friends in Hindi in the usual way about this hot white lady.  But then it moves past that.  He learns to appreciate her passion, her sense of humor, her strength.  By the end of the film, he is joking about whether their children will be white or brown, so far beyond the color that it is funny to even pretend it matters.

That’s what I want for myself.  I don’t want to be “white and sexually available”.  Or “smart for a white girl”.  And definitely not “white and therefore automatically smarter and better”.  I just want to be smart and good for myself and get ahead that way.  Maybe it’s idealistic, certainly it is making my life a lot harder than it needs to be, but that’s how I feel.

 

Which doesn’t mean you have to feel the same way.  But I think we can all agree that being a white person, and a woman, who is studying a non-white culture, is a complex situation that requires constant thoughtfulness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I just noticed the “without being rude” that I put in naturally when describing what happened.  Because it is always my first thought, how to avoid hurting other peoples’ feelings, how to not make a scene.  And that is why I probably shouldn’t risk some situations.  Because that well brought up little white girl “don’t be rude, always be nice” instinct could get me in big big trouble if I let it.  And I suspect the same is true for many women traveling between cultures, white to desi OR desi to white or any other combination, a lot of behavior that is read as “sexy and easy” is in fact “too polite to know how to get out of this situation within a different culture”.

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162 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: White Women, White Privilege, and the “Feeble No”

  1. This is so much why I appreciate your blog and tell all my friends about it. I have had similar experiences, now with the additional quirky nuance of being an older, gray-haired white woman. The sexual interest is gone, but it always feels like the elevation of my status and perceived wisdom is far beyond what might be attributed to age and gender alone.

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    • Thank you for telling people about my blog! And I know you are a very intelligent educated person yourself, which adds something different to it, that feeling of “you are giving an assumption about my wisdom which is actually correct, only you are basing it on wrong things”

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  2. First of all I admire you for sticking with your conviction. I have been called an idealistic fool often enough for not taking advantage of the nepotism route to know how hard it is to stick with your convictions over the years.I am not familiar with the legal rigarmole but cultural differences also have a hand here.For a lot of people, rape equals penetration. If it is otherwise, it is referred to as attempt to rape or assault or harassment.That distinction warranted a lot of discussion back when those rape charge against Julian Assange came out. As such, any woman in that position -white or not- would have a hard time proving that it was ‘rape.’ The onus is on the victim which is grossly unfair.A woman’s gut instinct is always her best friend. However most rapists include friends/family in which case the inner radar might not work. And relying on yourself rather than expecting help from the public is another.Trust me, they wouldn’t lift a finger.Hollywood can’t wash its hands off for promoting the idea that white women are easy. For a lot of Indians who has not met a white woman in person, the Hollywood representation is taken as gospel.

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    • That’s part of what is interesting to me about this story, it got a lot of coverage and she got a lot of support from woman’s groups because it was trying to set a legal precedent for rape as defined including oral. But, first, it wouldn’t have gotten any coverage or support if she had just been a “regular” rape case. And second, there is an odd sort of white privilege/white responsibility at play that I don’t necessarily disagree with. She had the money and the freedom to pursue the case over and over again, in a way an Indian woman might not be able to, in order to set that precedent.

      and then it was thrown out not because of that, but merely because she didn’t say “no” loudly enough.

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      • We haven’t even managed to make marital rape a criminal offense.Never mind forced oral sex.I haven’t (so far) seen any of the Bollywood celebrities take up a stand against marital rape.LGBT yes,abused children yes,cruelty against animals-yes.But marital rape-no. Everybody wants to pretend that it’s not happening.
        On a lighter topic, you might want to watch AIB’s Honest Indian Weddings -part 2. They do acknowledge the Indian tendency to seek validation from the ‘token white dude’.

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        • From the Supreme Court decision, I read it is “marital rape” is not actually possible, because if you are married, it is never rape. And it’s one of the most upsetting things that the films support. The “first night” scene always shows a reluctant bride, and that is right and sexy and expected and all that. Some of them flip it a bit, show the next morning that she is happy and it was just shyness not lack of desire, but its still disturbing!

          Even more confusing, I did some research on this recently, and for a while there was a gap between the statutory rape age and the legal marriage age. So if you are younger than 18, you can’t legally give consent for sex, but you can be 15 and be married, in which case sex is okay.

          On Sun, Apr 22, 2018 at 1:08 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • More thoughts: When I did a podcast recently people responded very positively and I think a big part of that was simply a reaction to an American being into Bollywood how cool! That outside validation. Not because I said anything particularly profound. And I think that’s a big part of why the Bollywood is for Lovers podcast does so well (though to be fair they are also knowledgeable about film and do a lot of work on research).

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      • So true, Alisa! Shah on Split Screen often has non-desi guests like yourself and Matt and Erin on BiFL have been very good about having Shah and other desis on the podcast. That’s why I like both of those pods so much because it leads to cross-cultural dialogues, but also often just emphasizes that we’re all here because we like a good story or a good song hook or a crush on an actor or actress and because we connect over our shared love (and knowledge) of cinema in general.

        I’m also super happy about the new Moviewala podcast because there should be more high profile podcasts out there that come from the desi perspective and the hosts are so fun. I love the Bollywood Project pod, too. And Asim B.’s Upodcast, too, which is great and I’m enjoying their Khan pods. These are all accessible to us, of course because they are in English (and interestingly many are hosted by people in the diaspora). There’s also Bollywood Weekly which is based in India and is really good but not regular! I also religiously watch Film Companion and Rajeev Masand’s youtube channels for their content and interviews.

        The outside validation thing in Jaby Koay’s Youtube videos made me uncomfortable for various reasons (mostly because he initially didn’t seem to be watching many Indian films and judging them solely on trailers which just seems problematic and partly because I’m not sure I get the point of trailer reactions!). I much prefer the actual movie reviews like the ones that Melanie on her Pardesi channel does!

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        • Just a clarification, I like discussing reactions to new trailers (like Margaret does here) but I don’t get watching other people watch things on YouTube. It’s weird. I’d much rather just watch what they say afterwards and will fast forward through the parts where they are actually watching the trailers or songs.

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          • Watching people watch stuff on youtube feels like putting people in a human zoo a little bit, to me. Just, strange. And have you noticed the most popular ones are always young non-desi women? It’s almost never a man, or an older woman.

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          • Reaction videos are weird but I think it’s a generational weirdness. I watched a modern retelling of Jane Eyre on YouTube done as Jane’s personal video blog and one episode was another character reacting to the blog (so reaction video of a fictional character watching another fictional character’s videos). And the young women watching it loved that episode because they were seeing themselves reflected in the character and they could relive their own emotions watching the series through that episode. As an oldster I was totally lost.

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        • I absolutely love Jaby!!! And his entire team (guests??)

          I don’t think anyone in India is looking at Jaby and thinking “Wow, look at that white person!!” LOL

          No, seriously. One of the reasons why I think Jaby works is because he looks north eastern/tibetan to us and they are highly are fetishized by the “regular” indians. Every college kid seems to have that one northeastern friend who was always the most awesome everything. I can’t explain it but even I’ve yet to hear of a northeastern “friend” who everyone didn’t say was the best of everything!

          Trailer reactions and video reviews on youtube work for Indians on youtube because, well, there’s nobody with a proper show on indian TV talking about films on a regular basis in this informal, “cool”, friendly way! Jaby doesn’t get too heavy, he just tells you what he likes and what he doesn’t like. Same with Melanie. It’s like the AV Club people but only not pretentious and obnoxious!

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          • I get your point about Jaby. Obviously he’s not just another white guy on YouTube and his guests are diverse, too. It was just that early on he seemed so intent on getting subscribers and making money and it’s still just the trailer reaction thing…I don’t like the “genre.”

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          • It is sort of obnoxious. Especially when people reacting don’t even react. Or have anything to say about the trailer. And we’re supposed to be entertained by their expressionless faces! 😂

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      • What bothers me about that outside validation is that I feel like I am somehow feeding into a cycle of cultural low self-esteem. I’m not going around feeling good when people from other cultures appreciate Hollywood movies, you know? I am happy because I, and my fellow Americans, like them. I don’t mind in a one on one conversation when people feel good because I like the movies, but I try to shift it as soon as possible to “and what movies do you like?” turning it into a level playing field. Which is hard to do when there is no way to have a real conversation, another reason I like blogging, I can actually respond to people here, feel like I am talking with them and we are all learning together.

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          • Yes, but it also feels like outside validation when anyone tells me that they love what I have created on this blog.

            On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 9:16 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • So what’s the criterion to qualify for telling you I love what you’ve created on this blog? Do I have to be white and American and female for that? Also, where do you draw the line between audience/follower and outsider?

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          • Anyone can tell me that. You are talking about something I have created, no reason not to complement me. But if you say “You should be so proud of McDonalds”, my reaction will be “huh?” because that is just part of the general American culture, nothing to do with me, and I don’t feel the need for outside validation to tell me that my culture is good.

            On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:41 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • That’s a real funny example to use because a) you really don’t want to know what we’ve done to McDonald’s, and b) I have no clue what side of the outside validation thing you’re on anymore.

            Also, you studied this and you’ve continued the study through this blog so I don’t think you qualify as regular white person feigning curiosity about Indian films anymore. You would have been that had we had a gazillion similar blogs being run by desis. But we don’t. The desi audience here isn’t here looking for validation from an outsider. We’re here because there’s literally noone else doing what you’re doing with the same consistency. I hope the nuance isn’t lost on you.

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          • Yes, that’s why I like blogging. I can write in detail and prove my sincere knowledge and interest. It is in casual conversations in the “real world” that I sometimes have a different feeling and try to steer it quickly away from a simple “I am white and like Hindi films, aren’t I awesome?” and into more of a “let’s have a real conversation about this”.

            On Tue, Apr 24, 2018 at 9:48 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • You need more desi people in your life IRL. Maybe then you’ll see how good you have it being able to have the distance of being an outsider and liking this. Or maybe you should just marry an Indian guy. 😂

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    • That’s part of why I like writing this blog. The underlying assumption is “Don’t Call It Bollywood”, meaning, don’t pretend it is some kind of kitschy imitation of something else, treat it as its won thing. What I’ve found, both here and talking with people in the real world, is that the best way to avoid exoticizing something is by treating it seriously and teaching by example for them to treat it seriously as well. I can change the conversation, just a little bit, and try to pay forward all the joy I have gotten from this other culture by contributing to it.

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  3. As you know (but not sure if everyone here does), I’m also a white American woman who is also a mega fan of Indian cinema and someone who avidly reads South Asian literature (fiction and non-fiction) and enjoys learning about South Asian culture. Also have always been obsessed with all things Irish (which has always been so much less fraught since I have Irish ancestry!). But I do believe these two lifelong interests are linked in many ways (but that’s another story).

    In this post, you’ve touched on so many issues that I also struggle with and have to remain constantly vigilant about in order to avoid becoming a cultural tourist or unintentionally fall prey to exotification and appropriation. In these turbulent times where people like us with white privilege are waking up to all of the ways that that affects how we consume media, how we do our professional work (I’m in the special collections and archives field and “decolonizing the archives” has been a battle cry for a while now), and how we live our lives in general. It could be really easy to just say “well I’m a bleeding heart liberal with progressive social justice political views and therefore I’m immune to all of that,” but we all know that’s not true. I have to constantly question my own motives and reactions to these things. That’s not to say I (and we) can’t just enjoy something for enjoyment’s sake, but there will always be a little part of me that will be uncomfortable when I go to see an Indian film in a theater where the space has traditionally been a kind of sanctuary for the South Asian community or walk into an Indian grocery store to pick up some Filmfares or when the topic of Indian films comes up when I’m talking to someone of South Asian descent and I wonder if I should mention or not my interest in Indian cinema and literature.

    I’ve also experienced the kind of white woman privilege you describe in your visits to India but on a much smaller scale, specifically as the maid of honor in my Punjabi Indian American college friend’s wedding festivities several years back. Her family members (aunts and uncles, etc) born in India/Pakistan definitely treated me differently than her cousins born in the States. Nothing bad happened at all (they were all lovely) but I did have that weird feeling of being a novelty or being deferred to sometimes that was odd.

    There’s also some very interesting discussion and critique happening in the romance reading community around issues of white privilege and inclusivity that I’ve also been watching and reading lately. It’s all connected!

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    • Yes, I am always aware of how I am in the desi spaces. What is easiest is when I am going to places that know me. At my favorite DVD stores, where I have been going since I was 19, I am not a “gora”, I am me, Margaret, who they have known for years. And the same with the movie theater here. I don’t feel like I am invading, or like they are starring, I feel like I am just being accepted as myself. But on the other hand, I am very uncomfortable striking up conversations with people in the theater or the bathroom afterwards, because it feels like either I am demanding they give me credit for my openmindedness and so on as a “good” white person, or like they want to put me on display as a curiosity. On the other hand, if they ask me something like what I thought of the movie or where I got my bag, then it’s fine. It’s just two people talking about a shared interest, not specifically related to my whiteness.

      It’s complicated!

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      • That reminds me of when I saw PadMan and had to run to the bathroom mid-movie and when I got back the young Desi man sitting next to me leaned over and told me what I’d missed. It was a very polite thing to do and I appreciated it. It didn’t come across as condescending, more like these are long movies and people have to pee so as a common courtesy we’ll catch you up when you get back.

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        • Yes, exactly, I love those moments because it feels like the films are erasing all of our divisions. We are all just audience members together.

          On Sat, Apr 21, 2018 at 5:46 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I very much can relate to your wish to meet certain people not as a fan but on a professional base…and not because of the colour of your skin but because of your genuine interest and a certain ‘goal’.
    When I went to Mumbai (and only Mumbai) the first time, I wanted to meet four people from the film industry for a book I wanted to write…I met all four without any help but interestingly, the two ones where I subsequently had to take the ‘official’ way (secretary/assistant/manager) didn’t work out the way I initially had thought of. (maybe I wasn’t young enough…well, just kidding).
    Nevertheless, what I lived during these ten weeks made me not only write my first book but it lead – during the years – to professional encounters I only had because I did what you felt being right to do: stick to what one considers as important and honest.
    There was a strange feeling going with my behaviour…I rarely was conscious of my white skin colour. I just tried to blend into the daily life being another white-skinned women in the melting pot of Mumbai, walking a lot, taking busses and trains and becoming a known face in the area I lived. I was given the somehow split feeling of being a tourist/stranger (to exploit) and the accepted (even admired) woman with a certain goal.
    During my stay, however, I go to know two white German students living in Mumbai for three months in a shared appartment and what they told me confirms what you write. They always kept together to double their strength to say ‘no’.

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    • Your experience matches mine in that I never felt in danger outside in the city. It was in private situations where I would feel uncomfortable, meeting people in their homes or similar. maybe that’s the difference between being white and desi, I don’t think I would have been molested on a bus (for instance), because you wouldn’t do that to a tourist. but if I was in your home, it would feel somehow more acceptable to do something than if I were a desi guest.

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  5. Are you sure you’re not over thinking this?

    If I was on a plane to Chicago and a desi male next to me mentioned that he was interested in baseball, I would be eager to do what I could to fix him up with whatever baseball stars/events/access I could manage.

    If I was on a plane to Chicago and a white guy from Ohio was sitting next to me and mentioned that he was interested in baseball, I would say, “Oh, that’s nice.” — even if the guy from Ohio was much more involved with baseball and had studied the subject for years and would have loved assistance and access.

    My difference in treatment was due to the excitement of coming across someone who (admittedly due to stereotyping) I would not expect to have that interest and who I would (again, stereotyping) assume would need and appreciate assistance.

    No white privilege or gender privilege involved.

    Or, am I missing something?

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    • If the desi person, in this example, was a baseball fan, then they would be delighted with your assistance. But if they were a serious person trying to get a job in baseball, they would have that moment of deciding “should I take up this offer that I know is because of my skin color, or should I wait and prove myself on my own merits?”

      Or the more direct example, if you are an African-American who is a brilliant concert musician, would you want to be offered a job without even trying out just because you are Black and that is a curiosity, or would you insist on going through the application and audition process just like anyone else to prove you could make it on your own merit?

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      • So, then, you’re really not talking about specifically “white” privileged or “female” privileged, but rather being offered access for reasons other than merit? — whatever the reason or combination of reasons?

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        • Yes, only in my case that reason would be “white” privilege. This is part of what is fascinating about studying another culture, it’s a great leveling of the playing field, I can see that I am benefiting in some ways from the color of my skin, but those are not the only benefits available in the world, in other places other people my benefit from having a different skin color.

          On Sat, Apr 21, 2018 at 5:32 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Then how come you don’t associate that with nepotism someone being offered a movie just because their a privileged star kid versus those who actually struggle and work hard and prove that their worthy of deserving that same role

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          • My first responsibility is to do what is right in my mind. Maybe for the star kids, they don’t see or feel a problem, so it is right for them.

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          • I think you’re talking about two different things. Margaret appears to be talking about how SHE feels when confronted in a particular situation SHE is in. The star-kids privledge is sort of a different discussion.

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          • I think you’re probably too concerned by what other white people think of you viz a viz your work rather than what actual Indian people think about you and your work. In which case the problem isn’t white privilege, the problem is racism. Like I said before, a white brit being interested in Indian films wouldn’t evoke gasps from their fellow white brits as much as a white American being interested in it.

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    • You’re not. I think the natural human connection and feeling special about meeting someone from another culture is getting confused with actual white privilege which would look like people going out of their way to hold doors open for you, businesses and services waiving off their fees for you and people just really going out of their way for you. I wonder if any of our gals can claim they got a discount on their cab fare because they’re white 😂 from what I know it’s actually the opposite! 😂

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      • Totally lost track of what this is a response to, but I can tell that I’ve gotten a free cab ride once (it was 1am and I was going 3 blocks, he felt bad and just took me home without charging me) and a discount I literally cannot remember how often because it is so common (most recently I left my phone at a friend’s apartment, the cab drove me back and waited 15 minutes for my friend to come home all without starting the meter). There’s a whole complicated layering to it, a cab driver in an American city is going to want to pick me up because they see me as unthreatening, and they may give me a discount assuming I will tip higher (which I do), and I am a naturally sweet and smilely and polite person, but it all plays into my being a white young woman. Honestly, being a white young woman in America is really awesome. In a very unfair way.

        On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 9:24 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. It’s a documentary novel about an episode in a woman’s life which she starts with a certain objective realizing that eventually it was more important what she did and lived to achieve the objective than to achieve it…it is also a book about the influence which ShahRukh’s persona has/had on his fans.

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  7. I have had a similar experience the difference is me being brown and Desi travelling to rural parts of a predominantly “white” country where the people mostly stared at me and my family but we didn’t receive any special treatments for being brown only lots of strange stares and glances part of that being my mom wearing a Hijab on her head also one of the incidences where I felt quite odd was in a restaurant a waitress was being rude and attitude while serving us but to the white people being all smiley and nice then when we entered a rich hotel store the employee saw that we were brown and glared at us weirdly and didn’t even greet us compared to the white people I guess these things happen being an outcast

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  8. Okay, here goes. First, if someone offered me access to Shah Rukh Khan, I would take it no matter why they gave it to me. I would take advantage of any privilege coming to me. That being said, I always want to talk to people after I see an Indian film, but I don’t unless they speak to me first. It does feel awkward. However, in Mumbai, that was not the case. The fan club we met could not have been more welcoming. We were treated like the avid fans we are and nothing else. On the street, shopping etc, no one stared, and no one gave better or worse consideration to me. I was only in the neighborhood two weeks but if I’d been longer, I’m pretty sure I would have developed welcomed customer relationship with the various venders. If I met an avid baseball fan on a plane, desi, white or whatever and I had access to share, I would. On the other hand, it is problematic loving a culture (and frankly knowing a lot about it) that is not your own. In Mumbai, we would say something and our Indian friends would say how do you know THAT? And it did feel odd to say, “because of the movies.’

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    • White Privilege is one of those things that kind of feels like “to question truly is the answer” (a line from a UU hymn which is about the most UU thing I have ever heard). It’s a constant balancing act that everyone has to handle for themselves on a case by case and moment by moment basis. The only wrong answer is to pretend it doesn’t exist at all and never think about it. Which I think is what you are getting at, and what I was getting at, and some of the other comments here. We each have our own stories and experiences and moments that felt okay and moments that didn’t feel okay and decisions we had to make in the moment.

      From your example, I think if I was directly offered a chance to meet SRK, not the sort of sidewise offers I’ve already been given that weren’t guaranteed and would mean a complicated series of favors before the end result but a direct connection, I would take it. Just because SRK is the only movie star that I could honestly meet as a fan first and a career person second, and I have no issues taking up that offer as a fan. But if I were given the same offer for Amitabh, I would feel uncomfortable, because in that case I would be going under false pretenses, seemingly just a white woman who likes Indian film, but in reality someone who would use the meeting for a career advantage.

      On Sat, Apr 21, 2018 at 9:44 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  9. I won’t comment about the actual post, because I think it falls into the category of personal ruminations, like your dog posts or family posts.

    My one question is: Why have you put it under “Hind Films 101”? You hardly say anything about white characters in Hindi films. Most of it is about your personal experiences and reflections. So here are a couple of thoughts: 1. What’s your take about all the background dancers in songs now being all non-Indian, and frequently white? What does this reflect about what the songs/films are trying to portray or convey?
    2. How about doing a compare/contrast post about white characters in Hindi films and Indian/South Asian characters in American films and television? With the current “controversy” over the Apu character in The Simpsons, this may be very topical. Further, say as 2a.. what do you think about the kind of roles that mainstream Hindi actors get in English/American films?

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    • For the background dancers being white, I’m not sure it’s universal yet, I’m watching a Telugu action film now and all the background dancers are desi. But it does feel like when it is the case, it is showing a sort of wealth and globalization on the part of the characters. “Shava Shava” would be the classic example, the wealthy family has white dancers at their party, the poor family has local girls doing a sweet traditional style dance in Salwars.

      The white versus desi isn’t really a one to one, because there is a different ind of stereotype present in the two cultures. Like, in American culture the sexy Indian woman is very traditional and knowledgeable about spices and massage and natural medicines and so on and so on. While in Indian culture, the sexy white woman is the one who is very modern and free thinking. It’s mostly a reminder to me that you can’t say a universal besides “every culture uses stereotypes to understand other cultures”, but the stereotypes seem to vary widely.

      I just watched a Malayalam film about a Nigerian which was fascinating for showing a different kind of stereotype and breaking it down.

      On Sun, Apr 22, 2018 at 1:18 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Oh, has that Malayalam film released already? I read about it. The Nigerian actor had a lot of complaints about the filming process.

        Indians’ views about black character/people are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish! 😦

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        • The movie itself is lovely, writing the review now. Does a very sincere job of trying to deal with the issues that might drive someone to coming to India for work. I just did a quick check on the story you mention, it has been resolved now, full compensation paid. And Robinson clarified that the director was respectful and caring, it was the outside investors who were holding back on paying him a just compensation. Which he learned by talking with other actors and understanding what was a standard rate. Which seems to imply that his fellow actors were also honest with him.

          Makes me feel better, because I would have been very surprised if the people working on this sincere film about issues with African workers, who gave him the hero’s role, were racist. But I can certainly believe the producers and money people who weren’t directly involved, were.

          On Sun, Apr 22, 2018 at 7:14 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Racism in India is confusing, and it has popped up in other comments sections before this, because of course it’s not the same flavor of racism as you would get anywhere else. Just like racism in Britain is different from America is different from Argentina and so on and so on. There have been a few moments in films that I had a strong feeling of “if this were an American film, this would be racist, but in an Indian film, it isn’t”. And then there have been other moments that were a different kind of racism than America. Truly, the world is a rich tapestry of difference!

            On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 2:41 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • It’s because racism in India just isn’t limited to skin color. It’s also region/culture based, language based, gender based, class based, caste based, English speaking ability based and so on.

            Basically, we don’t have racism so much as an elaborate caste system where you yourself are always at the top rung everyone else is from a lower caste than you. That’s how it feels psychologically.

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  10. To make the issue even more confusing the legal age for marriage for girls is 18.Now about the reluctant brides in Hindi cinema being coerced to consummate the marriage on the first night itself.There are any number of Hindi films which show the opposite. Shahrukh in Deewana does not force the issue and leaves Divya Bharati alone on their wedding night.So does Arjun Rampal with Katrina in Rajneeti. Rajendra Kumar in Humrahi has to wait for more than a year before his wife agrees to consummate the marriage. But then these are brides who have been coerced to wed.Not exactly happy brides.On the other hand there is Poonam Dhillon in Teri Kasam who’s madly in love with her boy friend Kumar Gaurav. She turns up in a sexi nightgown on her Suhaag Raat and literally jumps him.So we have all kinds of brides (and grooms) in Hindi cinema.

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    • Have you seen Mouna Ragam? I really liked how they treated the issue there, she wasn’t old enough or ready to get married and the “first night” idea was terrifying. which her husband was kind enough to recognize, but there was still a social and family expectation that she would go from a 16 year old school girl to happily having sex with a stranger in no time at all. And then of course there was a twist to it which made it not nearly as good, but I liked the initial set-up of pointing out the artificiality of the whole “first night” idea.

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        • No, she’s a school girl. College maybe, but still in school. It starts with her in classes with her friends. She did have an affair, yes, but at the start of the film she is introduced as just a happy school girl who doesn’t want to get married. The affair revelation comes later, and retroactively makes her reluctance to get married less about not feeling ready and more about still being in love with her boyfriend.

          On Sun, Apr 22, 2018 at 10:35 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • In the flashback scene with Karthik, he goes up to her college & try to use the Principle’s intercom. Even before that he tries to get her out of the class by saying her dad met with an accident. That’s definitely a college. Outsiders can’t enter into a school like that & teachers don’t let go of school students that easily.

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      • the idea that a girl is expected to be ready for sex as soon as the marriage is over, that it is no longer rape, no matter what kind of a person she is or what kind of a person the husband is or anything else about the situation, marriage equals consent.

        On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 9:38 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • That’s why an arranged marriage is set up to have between 7 months and a year between the official engagement and the actual suhaagraat.

          Also, it’s hilarious that you think an arranged marriage has anything to do with real actual consent. If you want to dissect the problem maybe start with the lack of consent at the “setting up the match” stage. That you accept it as a cultural norm and then wonder why consent isn’t explicitly depicted on the wedding night is very confusing.

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  11. It’s both interesting and confusing how you say , you have ben treated in India and how indian movies treat white women. Like: It’s cool to have white girl as attraction on your son’s wedding, but never as a bride for your son.

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  12. This self-consciousness in white people, especially white Americans, to me as a desi living in India, seems quite absurd. Because, we feel no shame in liking and discussing western, “white” cultural things. Even when we don’t know anything about it. It’s something that’s been on my mind a hell lot lately IDK why and I think I may have a theory. It’s not a great theory but something that made a little bit of sense to me. Here goes:

    So, I don’t know if any of you white American girls have noticed this, but there aren’t a lot of white non-american people talking about cultural appropriation and anxiety over being cultural tourists, etc. According to the half baked theory in my head, that has a lot to do with the general identity crisis that we, as outsiders, can spot in all Americans. It’s a country with, what, like 300+ million people overall? Compare that to India. The state that I live in, UP, has more than 200 million people by itself and at least three to four separately identifiable cultures. And this is just one state. We have 29 more states each of which has its own unique history and culture and is only part of “India” because of what happened 80 years ago. Point being, as part of this multicultural setup, we feel no anxiety about liking another culture or wanting to be immersed in it. Or feeling like it IS a part of our own culture. The same extends to all the other non-indian cultures that we “like” or get immersed in.

    White, non-americans, also, display the same sense of ease with multiculturalism. Do you see any Brits feeling ashamed of what they’ve done to our chicken tikka??? No you don’t. Because they don’t think of it as cultural appropriation. They’ve accepted it as a part of their own culture.
    White Americans, on the other hand, somehow have always had this anxiety about their cultural identity. And it shows. I just do not understand this. Maybe it originated with the Native Americans and black Americans “claiming” rights to certain cultural elements which should have been considered part of the culture of the entire country to begin with.

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, desis have ZERO problem with non-desis liking our culture. And frankly, it is VERY ANNOYING when white Americans interested in our culture, Indian culture at least, tell us we’re worried about looking like we’re appropriating this culture!

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    • This is also an issue (maybe even a bigger issue) in Canada, again among white people mainly. But here it’s everyone else telling them they are guilty of “cultural appropriation” for every single thing.

      How come nobody ever gets accused of appropriating “white culture” for adopting democracy, science, heck, even blue jeans? The only time I see here (in North America) that someone is shamed for adopting “white culture” is when a member of a minority community tries to educate himself (it’s usually “himself”, as minority girls pursuing education are not shamed as much) or get a regular job, or otherwise tries to improve his life.

      Asmita, the only caveat I have to your comment is that all those diverse parts of India didn’t come together “accidentally”, nor was it 80 years ago. Otherwise, I agree with you.

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      • That’s the accepted history part. My theory is that had there been a real choice and had we had time to really think about it, many states, including the ones where boots needed to be sent in to get them to join the union, might have preferred to gain independence. It wasn’t for nothing that the secession was outlawed.

        I don’t think democracy, science and blue jeans are tenets of the American culture per se but I get what you’re trying to say. If I did have to mark white American culture, I’d probably go with the superhero culture. That’s a uniquely American invention.

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        • Interesting to think about superheroes as an example. Because if that is your example, OH MY GOSH do people get angry about it leaving white culture.

          On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 8:31 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Did you mean white people don’t get upset about superheroes not being white? Because that is very much not the case, it is in fact one of the biggest pop culture stories in America and has been for almost ten years. Luckily, we seem not to have exported it if you are unaware, but there were protests and angry rants and apologies and all sorts of things. Here’s a tiny article about one small battle:

            http://comicsalliance.com/racists-batman-muslim-paris/

            On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 9:21 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • This is completely different debate. Had France viewed Algerian Christians as the “others” responsible for the actions of their successive fucked up governments, they’d be outraged about Algerian Christian batman.

            Btw, the most outrageous and hilarious bit about how possessive Americans are about their superheroes is a whole bunch of people getting upset that the latest spiderman isn’t an American! 😂

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        • @Asmita — I was talking about “white culture”, which is not limited to Americans (as part of the criticism of “white culture”, all European culture is included, too).

          Re the “80 years”, even if you want to date “India” only from 1947, that’s 70 years, not 80. 🙂

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          • I think I understand what you mean. But to be honest, white culture countries ie English speaking white countries who exported their culture everywhere, apart from America, fall under a sovereign. And I hate that they pretend they still don’t have a queen and are “democratic”

            But that’s material for another one of my favorite theories- why democracy is a globalism conspiracy! 😂

            Anywho. I think we give white culture too much credit for science and modern culture. I think everyone would have discovered or rediscovered these things eventually without imperialists bringing it to them. But that’s the propaganda everyone chooses to believe. It’s the same thing as people believing the US defeated the Nazis.

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      • I cannot talk about other white-skinned Europeans but I for myself can relate to your observations, Asmita. Self-consciousness was only something white people asked me about (in Mumbai)… the only thing that mattered for all my Indian collocutors were my impressions, my interests, my personal life…and that I felt safe and cared for 🙂

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        • In your future travels, you should look out for the difference in treatment received by white Americans, white brits and white Europeans. My observation is that locals here tend to feel more open towards brits and Americans rather than non English speaking white people. It’s the language barrier and also the unfamiliarity with non English speaking cultures. You meet a brit and you’d know something about British culture and you can feel like you know them a bit. You meet an American and you think you know what kinda person they are based on what we know from the entertainment originating from that country. It’s what people living in multicultural countries do. Compare this with how much stereotyping goes into how we treat people from other parts of the country. The north-south divide is real and everyone thinks they understand punjabi culture.

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    • Let me flip this a little. You are talking about sharing equal cultures through out the country. But would you feel it was right to, for instance, dress up like a dalit for a costume party? Or would that feel wrong?

      White privilege is a white problem. To me, it is more about what we are saying to each other than what we are saying to others. If I dress up “Indian” for Halloween it is inviting other white people to laugh at the weird brown people, which is a slippery slope to committing atrocities against the weird brown people. There’s a dehumanizing factor there. And there is also the assumption that all cultures are not equal, we are the “better” culture. And it’s not a problem perhaps for Indians living in India, but it can cause big problems for Indians living within white cultures.

      It’s not always there, that’s why there is a constant personal assessment required, but it’s also not something that can be overlooked.

      As far as the British go, I think “cultural appropriation” started as a term there, although I am not sure. Coming from all the many many actual artifacts (along with Chicken tikka) that they took from other places. India is no longer a British colony, but England still has your artwork in its museums.

      On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 8:02 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • But the question is a person would dress up as a dalit from which part of the country for it to be offensive to everybody??? If you dressed up as a malayali dalit, and others laughed at you, they’d be laughing at your dressing up as a malayali.

        That’s what I mean by multiculturalism. If you have 10 different cultures in a room and one is being laughed at, the other 9 know they’d be the one getting laughed at some other day. Maybe that’s why it’s impossible to offend Indians. You offend a sardar and the rest of the country will laugh with you. Including the sardar!

        As far as countries keeping valuables from other countries, well, that’s what happens when you have shared the same physical space at some point in history. Even if it was unpleasant. America has almost no cultural equivalent of that.

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    • Frankly as a white Polish person I had a big problem understanding what cultural appropriation is and why it is such a big deal. I just don’t get it, because isn’t it a good think when others appreciate our things? I would not be offended if e.g Beyonce wore traditional polish pattern.

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      • It’s all about context. I’m trying to remember who abused the Polish people in the past. Germans, I guess? If a German came to Poland and admired your fine textiles and so on, that is totally okay. If they bought your textiles and went back to Germany and set up a store selling “real” Polish textiles with made-up histories of where they came from and why, indicating that the poor Polish people were grateful for the strong rich German who understood the value of these things they were too uneducated to appreciate, if he then turned around and made a massive profit but only gave a small amount back to his Polish sources, and if a rival Polish store tried to get a foothold in the market but failed because it was dominated by German faux-Polish stuff, that would be unpleasant.

        That’s the sort of thing people worry about with cultural appropriation. It’s a slippery slope and you need to question yourself as you go about your day as to whether you are doing the right thing or not, constantly.

        On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 8:40 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I think in general poles are more offended by Russians than they are by Germans today. Also, I think poles are smart in knowing that German isn’t exactly the same as nazi. Also, if a German bought Polish textiles from Poland from a real Polish person and sold it as real Polish textiles, technically it wouldn’t be deceitful. Also, that’s how trade works. Another problem with the example you give, though I understand what you’re maybe getting at, is that both the German and the Pole would have enough mutual understanding of each other’s cultures and enough people from the other’s country/culture in their own country that it wouldn’t amount to cultural appropriation. It would be a mixing of cultures. Because that’s what it is like when you’ve shared a physical space plus history with another culture.

          Maybe you should think of it with a culture closer to you. Do you feel equally as bad about using Canadian or Mexican culture? Do people get offended if an American does a Canadian accent? Or if they say they love Mexican food or they listen to Mexican songs every now and then or have Mexican souvenirs in their homes or have like a piñata at a party? Seriously, does eating a taco feel like cultural appropriation to you as a white American?

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          • Someone in the comments talked about the power relationship. Yes, there is a massive issue with how we treat Mexicans and other Latinos/Latinas in America. And no, there is no issue with how we treat Canadians.

            On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 9:57 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • But do you feel guilty about liking/indulging in Latin American culture?

            Also, maybe the Canadians are appropriating American culture when they’re in America and nobody can tell the difference 😂

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        • Unfortunately what you described Margaret is something real and exsisting. Not exactly with textiles but with a lot of other things in all Europe. Think that it’s very hard to buy real italian mozzarella in Poland, but you can find the german one without problems. Same with other italian products. And European Union works on new law now – writting country of origin will be not obligatory anymore. So they took something italian, forged it and sell as something theirs, and now we won’t be able to distinguish it. But nobody calls it Cultural appropriation, it’s Economy 😦

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          • Wasn’t it like that the American free trade trade deal with Europe that got scraped when trump came in was supposed to make it so traditional European items like wines from particular regions would no longer need to originate in Europe to earn the label? I remember this because Russia reached their import substitution goals and they were all like haha, how do you like them sanctions now, Europe? 😁

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    • Asmita, as always I appreciate your candid responses:)! I stand behind my initial feelings and thoughts about the subject, but I do think you’re on to something with it being a white American thing. I’m more concerned sometimes with how I am perceived by judgmental, politically correct liberals who would be quick to call my “obsession” with Hindi films appropriation and I hate that, too. Also the English and other Europeans have had centuries to get over their hangups about the Empire, whereas Americans have only recently been dealing with our own brand of cultural imperialism.

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      • There’s also the odd thing with America that we are not connected to the world so much (being so isolated geographically), but the world is within us. I’m concerned not just by how I am perceived by desis still living in India, but by those who are my friends and neighbors in America.

        On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 1:28 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Exactly, I would feel much less demonstrating an interest in Indian film and literature if I lived in India as a white woman, but because the South Asian community is still a minority group here in the US, I feel like I need to have that cultural sensitivity when it comes to representation and appropriation. From The Simpsons and the problem with Apu to Ashton Kutcher antics to pop stars with bindis and myriad other examples, the average American (and not just white Americans) are not great at being knowledgeable and therefore sensitive to South Asian Americans. We’re getting better, that’s for sure, and who knows our first female president could be of South Asian descent! Just please don’t let it be Nikki Haley…Kamala Harris/Tammy Duckworth 2020!

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          • I love Tammy Duckworth! I have been rooting for her to be elected to SOMETHING since I was in college, and it makes it worth it that she kept losing congressional races since she finally landed in the senate.

            Sorry, just a bit of home town pride there.

            On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 1:43 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Would you rather everyone treated it like it doesn’t exist? BTW, south Asia is more than just India and nobody has had any problems bashing up pakistan in popular culture and Pakistanis IRL. Which is wayyy more problematic than a white celebrity putting on a bindi.

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        • It may be because nobody belongs to America and nobody can claim they’re from there and so everyone needs to preserve their historic identities and sometimes they bend over backwards trying to prove how connected to their roots they are. Which again is stooooopid because you’re working with films made in India by Indians. You can worry about offending NRIs when you review NRI made films that talk about NRI problems only.

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      • Then the problem, as you put it so aptly, is that you’re worried about offending other white people and not so much people from the culture you’re interested in. Maybe hit them with the multiculturalism argument. Or tell them it’s racist to not appreciate other cultures as one would their own. Or maybe just drown them with your incredible knowledge of the industry.

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  13. Dress like a Dalit? But Dalits dress like everyone else around them.Depending on the finanacial status, where they are rural or urban. It’s not as if you can immediately recognize a person on the street and immediately tag them as Dalit.Maybe you meant a tribal? You can find any number of ‘tribals’ at a children’s fancy dress party.Adult fancy dress parties usually have standard conventional themes.You won’t find many people willing to wear a sari without a blouse.

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    • Fancy dress at school always mean people dressing up as tamil, sardar, tribal, gujju. Heck, we used to have these national unity skits for annual day where the junior classes were MADE TO dress up like people from all over the country. If someone told them that was was cultural appropriation, they’d be charged with sedition and called an anti national! 😂

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  14. Oh I forgot about the other parts of your post.

    Re white privilege: not saying that definitely doesn’t exist but maybe you’re really overestimating it. Pakistanis visiting India get bigger receptions than white people do. We had this Pakistani singer dude that was in the city for some music thingy and people treated him like royalty. And it got to his head. Pakistani is the new prized exotic “friend” in society.

    If you ever want to feel like a regular white person in India, go to Goa. Or the pilgrimage centres-rishikesh, banaras or the weed centres- malana, dharamshala.

    If you choose to go to places where other white people don’t go,of course you’ll be treated as something special.

    And all women get stared at in public spaces in India. Just as an experiment, the next time you’re in India, cover yourself up completely. Wear the sun gloves, face covering, shades, a kurta and jeans. And then see if you don’t get stared at still. Because thats what indian girls that ride scooters face every freaking day. Even burqa clad women aren’t exempt from the looks. And it isn’t an India thing, it’s a man thing.

    Also, and this should be a no brainer, you’re not supposed to visit men you don’t know in places that aren’t “safe”. No matter what country you’re in and even if that’s a celebrity you’re meeting. If nothing else, there’s always the chance that they’re a serial killer!!

    Re the feeble no. Well, have you ever been to a posh cosmetics shop and walked out with a bunch of stuff you couldn’t afford and didn’t really need?? Or went to a restaurant where you couldn’t send back a bad dish because the waiter was rude? That’s the feeble no in action. It’s a nightmare for shy folks. BUT, the extroverted outspoken people don’t seem to have a problem saying no. It’s a personality thing. I suppose like the sly cosmetics salespeople, sexual predators instinctively know when they’re around a timid person. Maybe they anticipate the feeble no. And to be honest, it’s impossible to prove the lack of consent and there isn’t much the law can do about it without setting horrific precedents.

    On this bright note, have you heard about the Ali Zafar thing??

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    • Picking up on your “predators can tell thing”, when I first graduated college I had this string of really terrible jobs. Not sexual harassment horrible, just bosses who would login and dig through my personal email and minimize my work and not trust me with anything and blech. And then I heard a bunch of my friends tell similar stories, their first jobs were always horrible. At first I thought “well, it’s because we are spoiled kids who don’t know how the workforce works”. But then I realized no, it was because the bosses could sense weakness. If you are a terrible abusive controlling boss, you will hire that shy bright eyed little college grad knowing she won’t complain and will put up with stuff.

      Anyway, that seems to be the same thing with people who become victims. It’s not their fault, but there is something that predators can sense.

      And as for Ali, I am waiting for it to play out a bit longer before addressing it, although I did remove his photo from Dina’s birthday post (he is/was one of her favorites). So that’s my strong stand so far 🙂

      On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:24 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • With someone like Ali Zafar, and I don’t even know if you’re following what other Pakistani male celebrities are saying about it, it seems like he’s basically just been acting like what a guy of his generation would “normally” act only the women around him seem to have stopped wanting to participate. Almost like what happened with Friends. It’s all completely unpalatable in hindsight. Maybe that’s what happened with Ali. He was as brash as a man in his position would be. Except he never thought there would be a day when he wouldn’t have the advantages and some woman would decide to speak up and other women would join her and believe her.

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    • I’m not surprised about Ali and suspect that he’s not the only guy who uses his fame to be extra obnoxious to women and get away with it. There are multiple examples in the entertainment industry and beyond. I don’t think it’s just a generational thing or even a cultural thing. I think it’s an inherent misogyny in all societies that knows no boundaries. Though there are plenty of men that are considered decent guys in the entertainment industry, so I don’t give Ali a pass. I’m sad because I’ve always liked his cheesy music and his great voice, especially his speaking voice, and he’s handsome (in an albeit sleazy way), so I might not be as excited about his future projects, but I will still like his work if it merits it. I mean, MBKD is one of the best Indian films ever made;)

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      • I hope you’re not confusing Ali Zafar (Pakistani singer/actor who acted in some Hindi films and is the subject of these current accusations) with Ali Abbas Zafar (Indian film director who directed MBKD, Gunday, Sultan, and Tiger Zinda Hai).

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        • I don’t think so, Ali Zafar (the actor) also starred in MDKD. That must have been so confusing on set!

          On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 6:51 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Right now, if he comes out and says “sorry, that was me then and I wasn’t really thinking and I’m more sensitive about this now and I promise to remain sensitive about this” maybe it would be ok. But from what I’ve read so far he’s being defensive about this.

        I think men, especially the ones that still had the good graces to not rape, should try looking at the reform defence. Instead of victim shaming etc. If they just admit they did it, and there’s very little chance they didn’t,and they apologise to their victims (again, not in case of rape or actual molestation) sincerely and become a part of the change needed in society, it might be the ideal middle ground.

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  15. Doesn’t one learn to say a resounding/feable ‘no’ in childhood by watching how the parents act out conflicting opinions? I think the amount of fear one feels is playing an imminent role for what one emanates. Maybe a rebellious mind is harder to intimidate than a docile one… and so on.
    It is remarkable that the gang-rape seems to be very ‘en vogue’ (in Indian media f.ex.) because, probably, the ‘single’ rape is something that happens more in families or work relations where the imbalance of power is a given. The younger the victim the weaker the real power of the predator, the more participating in a rape the lower the obstacle of hesitation. (and I am not differentiating the gender of the victim…the same mechanisms also apply to other kind of violence)

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  16. Weighing in on appropriation: the big issues is when someone with more power–economic, social and political power–adopts pieces of other cultures and uses it to reinforce equities that exist in the system. The most well-known example being white people playing African American music, sometimes outright stealing the songs from the original creators with no payment and no acknowledgement. For example, the Rolling Stones recorded “Love in Vain” but didn’t credit Robert Johnson as the song’s author. Led Zepplin stole Whole Lotta Love from Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters and had to be sued to pay royalties. Black musicians died in poverty and obscurity while white artists became rich off their music.

    With regards to white Americans and their relationship with desis, it’s very complicated because in the US the desi community is small and has little political power (though they have a decent amount of economic power). So characters/caricatures like Apu are problematic because it’s the more powerful community mocking the less powerful community and making a lot of money doing it. It also makes it tougher for desis to be taken seriously at work and opens them up to ridicule, among other problems.

    But a white American visiting India is in a very different power dynamic than they have at home. I think that’s why Asmita is dismissive of the issue, because she doesn’t experience white folks wearing saris as something that disempowers her or people like her. But in the US that’s exactly what’s happening, white people wearing Native American headdresses, or saris, or performing rap music further disempowers groups who are already marginalized.

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    • Just to add on to this, I think that is why for myself personally I never much worried about cultural appropriation in my Hindi film watching, because I started at a time when I was within a bubble of being surrounded by desi culture within America (at my school, where I was one of only 2 non-desis on the floor of my dorm). The equivalent of a white person in India. It’s something that becomes a concern when you are going out into the wider White culture and suddenly find yourself representing something that doesn’t belong to you, instead of being part of a whole group of people of all colors jointly sharing an experience. Again, another reason I like blogging, the internet is an extension of that multi-color experience, white people don’t necessarily dominate here because it is a global medium. On this blog in particular, I can tell you that about 50% of my readers are from India on any given day. I’m not speaking for anyone, I am speaking to them.

      On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 2:57 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I would like to add to this the second part of my theory about American identity crisis. And I have to tell you this came from the news about Ben Affleck trying to have the record of slave owners in his ancestry wiped off that finding your roots show.

      So, white Americans are mostly documented immigrants. More than 95%, of those that can accurately recall details about their grandparents, can trace where they came from. So if you ask a white American where they’re from and the answer is more likely to be “place within America” and then European ancestry.

      Black Americans don’t have that. And I don’t find many that are even interested in finding out. No black American is out there trying to find what slave ship their ancestors came off and what part of Africa they were dragged off from. It sounds bad I know but that’s a fact. Black Americans didn’t originate in Europe but somehow everyone pretends that they did. Including thr black people. And the height of ignorance and hypocrisy is that the black American community gets offended when a white American, say wears an African headdress. I’m like, first of all did you just assume the whole of Africa has a homogenous culture? And can you, as a black person, tell the difference between the cultures of say Nigeria and Sudan? If you can’t, you’re an ignorant fuck and you don’t get to tell people they’re appropriating black culture because you yourself are doing the same when you think the entire continent of Africa has a single culture!!! 😂

      Black Americans crying about appropriation are almost never offended by white people indulging in south and Latin American culture even though they share more (DNA and culture) with south and Latin Americans. Again, it’s this whole identity crisis thing.

      The only genuine case is of course the native Americans because in their case the invaders carried out a genocide and stole their land and continue to infringe on their rights without reparations so white people stealing their culture and using it without an understanding of it is inexcusable because hello you’re on their land, in their historical country and the onus of making an effort to understand them is on you being how you’re the immigrant/invader that had the option to go back and they don’t.

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      • Please don’t say this ever anywhere again. The lack of a cultural heritage is one of the greatest deepest wounds of slavery. If you think Black Americans don’t care, it is because they care so much they don’t choose to talk about it to outsiders.

        I could list off dozens of popular culture and historical examples to explain what I mean, starting with Roots, the most successful mini-series of American TV history that was exactly about someone going back through plantation lists and slave ship lists to try to find their ancestors, but it really doesn’t matter. Just know that the lack of a cultural heritage is a massive gaping wound in the African-American community and to imply they “don’t care” is as hurtful as saying that a rape victim should “just get over it”.

        On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:28 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Because I got curious, I did check if there was something specialising in helping people find their African roots. Turns out there is. African Ancestry. And a whole bunch of black American celebrities have found their origins through it too. So people who are curious genuinely did make the effort. No excuses for those that can afford it to not make the effort.

          And I don’t think the rape defence can or should be applied to anything to make it impossible to critique. It is lazy and inappropriate.

          But by pointing out that there is a definite lack of cultural heritage from African roots for the black American community, I suppose you’re only proving the fact that it is ridiculous that they’re claiming immigrants from another race who occupy the same country as them are “appropriating” what they claim is “their culture” because again, Africa doesn’t have a uniform culture and African headdresses and African hairstyles are free for the entire world to copy including white Americans. And it technically isn’t “their culture”. It’s the culture of the Africans. They can make that claim over whatever culture they invented themselves but not what others continue to have in developing which they had no role to play at all just because they’re the same race. Like Muslim Americans don’t get to dictate what Muslims in the gulf should have as their culture.

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          • If you are truly interested in learning more about African-American culture, meaning the culture of descendants of slaves (which is uniquely different from that of more recent direct African immigrants), there are many resources you can use. You might want to investigate them a little more, it is a unique situation that really cannot be compared to anything else anywhere else in the world.

            On Tue, Apr 24, 2018 at 9:37 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • And the entire world sees that. And that’s what makes their appropriation claims seem nonsensical. Because their culture evolved in the space they shared with the white immigrants. Not exclusively. You can’t appropriate things inside a multicultural setup. That’s what I meant when I said it’s different for the natives. Their culture was systematically eradicated and a new culture was imposed on them.

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          • I’m going to second what Margaret is saying. You’re coming from a place of not understanding at all the unique history and status African Americans have in our culture and how that influences their relationship with Africans, with white Americans, and with other non-white people in the US.

            The rape reference is completely appropriate given the horrific history of white slave owners raping their slaves. Something that has come up now that genetic testing is widely available to the public is that 25% of the African American genome is European.

            You just need to look at how Black Panther was received by the African American community to catch a glimpse of how deep these wounds are. The community embraced this fictional representation of an advanced African society because African Americans have been so profoundly exploited and devalued in the US.

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          • Again, does that entitle them to claim African cultural elements as uniquely their own and get offended about it? Isn’t that appropriation in itself?

            I did say this before and I’ll say it again- African American culture DID NOT develop in isolation from the white world and hence it is a part of the multicultural setup of the country.

            I don’t have a problem with people pointing out historical atrocities and trying to correct attitudes so the said atrocities aren’t repeated again. But seriously, if a white person sporting cornrows is your biggest heartache today as a black African, you’re experiencing first world problems.

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          • Also, black Africans are getting devalued and exploited in Africa even today by white world powers and I don’t see anyone interested in doing anything about it. I’m talking war crimes. But that’s the American army doing it and the troops must be supported by all Americans right?

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          • The cornrow thing is a good example of how complicated this is. African Americans have been fired for wearing cornrows to work because it’s considered unprofessional. And yet a white woman wearing cornrows in a movie became a trend. It’s about blacks being penalized for expressing their own culture while whites are praised for doing the same thing.

            As for US military involvement in Africa (and worldwide for that matter), there is definitely not universal support at all. Again, it’s complicated.

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          • It’s not that complicated. There’s a lot more support for black Americans killed by white cops inside America. The rage for American soldiers doing that to people of other races is where exactly? If I’m not mistaken, everyone hates trump and they loved Obama, who rained bombs on people of all colors. Illegally. That it mattered to noone inside America is American exceptionalism. And black Americans raging about cultural appropriation is another example of the same exceptionalism.

            Again, I’m bit entirely sure how white women wearing cornrows in films is the same as a black women showing up for work in them? It’s a stupid reason for firing someone but if the comparison must be made, surely someone should be able to dig up an equal amount of cases where white women wearing cornrows to work were not fired. Chalk and cheese, you see.

            As an Indian, see it would be easy for me to ally with victims of racial discrimination everywhere. But I’m also a part of a majority where I live and the perspective cannot be ignored. Like, yes Indians get racially discriminated against by white people. But guess what, we do the same to people of our own country and to Africans as well as white people and East Asians and Muslims!! What does that make us? Victims or perps? Or both?

            You can’t really say black Americans are like bound by spells that prevent them from being racist. They’re normal people.

            Actually, victimhood is the new black in America and it is disconcerting to watch. It’s like, you don’t even exist as a people unless you’re a victim of something. Does that move you enough to do anything for other victims? Or people of your own race elsewhere? If it does, it sure doesn’t show as much as the raging about victimhood.

            How many black American stood with and spoke for the millions of black refugees migrating to Europe to eacape American backed wars on Africa? That happened extremely recently. Did those black people not matter? Were they not victim enough? Again, Chalk and cheese but we’re taking atrocities against black people committed by white people as a yardstick right?

            The other end of this is white farmers in south Africa being murdered and generally treated horrifically and the black majority staying silent. Maybe that feels like historical justice but guess what, nobody is protesting for either of those groups. Also, never forget Yugoslavia. A white country got bombed by white powers, just because. Do people, white or otherwise, even remember them? That was just 20 years ago.

            Point is- IRL, actual victimhood exists. But it often gets caught up in noise made by whatever is considered to be the most popular position to take at the time. That doesn’t make it accurate necessarily. And it doesn’t make it inaccurate either. But if one is to be fair, leeways must be awarded for victimhood based on merit. This is 2018. If someone built a timemachine and went back in time and told slaves that their struggles lead to their descendants making white people bad about wearing cornrows, can you even imagine the heartbreak? Forget the slave back in time, tell an African dying of a famine today (that YOUR AMERICA helped create) about the cornrows thing and see if they wanna join your raging party.

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          • I will say there is at least one instance where the cultural appropriation thing really chafes me and that is in relation to accusations of cultural appropriate by US Latinos. Islands in the Caribbean that were settled by Spain (Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominica Republic) have large African populations and cultures that are heavily influenced by West Africa (esp. the music and food). So when African Americans accused Bruno Mars (who is part Puerto Rican) of cultural appropriate I was so mad.

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          • African Americans might be experiencing the same identity crisis as white Americans. Raging and ranting and activism about pop culture elements is another uniquely American cultural element. It’s like after a point all that matters is that you rage and you’re missing out if you don’t participate in it.

            This is where I love British forums. If someone starts ranting about stuff like this, the general sentiment is “calm ya magnificent tits, luv!”

            And then that ranter’s tits do calm up magically. 😁

            Of course you can’t say that to an American without being told you’re being a misogynist and a homophobe and transphobe and disrespectful to women with breast cancer and the association of women with large chests, and to America itself. 😂

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  17. I really appreciate your sensitivity! I used to be one of those people who said people were making a big deal whenever they spoke about cultural appropriation. Because – IN MY HEAD – I was still The Majority. I’d grown up in India like The Majority and I hadn’t yet inhabited the body or the life of a minority. That was when I was still very fresh off the boat. I WAS a minority; in fact, I was the kind of minority that stood out because she was so obviously new and clueless and got annoyed glances from people. But I hadn’t yet learned to empathize with the minority. I wonder if things had been different had I grown up Muslim in India or a Dalit, but I can’t say for sure because class privilege does really transcend all barriers pretty much everywhere in the world.

    It took me forever to understand what cultural appropriation meant. I think it was the year Thrift Shop came out, or the year that infamous Miley Cyrus performance happened.

    That’s because another blogger (ninjacate/ninjakate) spelled it out in a very articulate manner. So…thank you. For everything you write and share.

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    • Thank you for your interesting perspective! It is something I have seen from the outside many times but wasn’t sure I was fully understanding it. The journey of “of course everyone will trust love and respect me, I am on the top of society” to “wait, I’m NOT treated as the top in society??? This is the most unfair thing ever because it is happening to me in particular!” to “oh, okay, I am part of a vast community of People of Color, all of whom equally deserve respect from the majority and I need to work with them to make sure we all get just treatment.”

      This is also why Ta Ra Rum Pum Pum is my least favorite Hindi movie ever. Because the characters/filmmakers never reached the third step, going from the wealthy upper class/caste world of immigrants to the regular world of immigrants was the most tragic thing to ever happen because it was happening to them.

      On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 8:37 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  18. @ The Wild Child: I don’t know why this comment wouldn’t post as a reply to your comment but here it is.

    I think you’re absolutely right in asking if Muslims in India feel like the majority is appropriating their culture, especially in film and TV, when we use Islamic elements just because or how every Muslim man on TV is supposed to wear the topi, pathani suit and surma and say ASA (even though an actual Indian Muslim would use ‘aadab’ IRL). If there’s a case for appropriation to be made, it would be there but it might run into some trouble with the 800 year of muslim rule.

    But then we also have the stereotyping around Sardars and punjabis which is along the same brand of appropriation. And at what point do we go from “shared cultural elements” to “appropriation”? I’m really interested in looking at it from the POV of the Punjabis because they’re a real minority in terms of numbers, both in India and abroad, but they also culturally dominate and overshadow any other Indian culture, again both in India and abroad (street signs in Punjabi in Canada make me feel things I cant even explain!)

    Case in point would the blaring of Punjabi music at weddings and clubs all over the country, observance of karwa chauth all across the country (that’s a real WTF because at least in eastern UP/bihar/awadh, teej is the fast for the husband not karwa chauth but somehow everyone is expected to do that now), and the invasion of punjabi cuisine (south indians, bengalis and gujjus think punjabi food is what all north indian food looks like. IT IS NOT!!)

    And we do use a whole lot of punjabi cultural elements without knowing too much about sikhism or the religious significance of those symbols. So at what point do we make the distinction? At what point do we say “your naan and tandoori chicken lunch is actually punjabi and it is native to pakistani punjab as well and you refusing to acknowledge it as a distinct culture is insulting to both punjabis and indians and let’s not even go into how offensive it is to the pakistani punjabis that you won’t even allow them the courtesy of calling their native cuisine pakistani”? And can we say that without looking stupid?

    As an immigrant, and I don’t know what part of the country you’re from, do you think you can call someone out for appropriating culture of the Indian region/culture you don’t belong to? And do you think you are qualified to do that if we’re talking strictly about cultural appropriation and we know for a fact that India does not have a homogeneous culture? Do you believe you yourself aren’t guilty of appropriation when you claim offense on behalf of an identity which may not necessarily be yours in the truest sense of the word?

    I think M and a few other girls here were concerned about wearing kurtis and it coming off as cultural appropriation in another discussion a while ago. I stand by my view that it isn’t offensive to us. BUT, if the case were to be made for the sake of making a case, the only people that need to feel offended by it and claim appropriation would and should be the Punjabis. Because, let’s face it, that’s the culture kurtis belong to. Not to Bengal, not to the south, not to east, not to Rajasthan or UP or Kashmir. BUT, given how it has spread all over the country in just the last 30 years (that and the rest of the MINORITY punjabi culture), outsiders can’t tell what part of the country it belongs to and who exactly they’re going to be offending by wearing it. THAT is what my point about multiculturalism is. That is incorrect to claim appropriation when your own culture is a mixture of multiple, still unique, living cultures and you can no longer make clear and accurate distinctions between them.

    You, as an Indian, get to feel offended by a non-Indian “appropriating” (if you believe that applies to our uniquely adaptable culture) any part of Indian culture even if you’re not from that part of the country yourself. You get to represent the whole of India. But if you really want to stand with the “appropriation applies to Indian culture” crowd, don’t you think it is only fair that you make a disclaimer about the exact part of India you’re from and how it might be distinct from the part that the offender is offending?

    I’m genuinely interested in knowing if you make those distinctions known to others IRL and I hope you don’t see this comment as being too aggressive. I just want recognition for all Indian cultures and I hate that they get blanketed under a single generalization in conversations that are about respecting other cultures. Imagine a Scandinavian getting offended about someone appropriating Greek culture or how wearing the cross as a fashion statement is offensive to all Christians everywhere. That’s exactly how bizarre it is when people talk about Indian culture getting appropriated!

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    • I think your underlying assumption is what Wild Child (who is Punjabi, by the way, she has mentioned it many times in other comments so I don’t feel like I am telling secrets :)) identified as the arrogance of the new arrival who doesn’t realize yet what it means to be a minority.

      You don’t get to choose your identity in America. It doesn’t matter, once you enter our borders, if you identify as this culture or that culture. The majority gets to label you and you are stuck with that label. You have no control, and the sooner you learn that, the easier it will be to survive. Literally survive, there was a massacre at a Gurudwara a few years back because of someone who wanted to shoot “Muslims”, and last year two Hindu (I think) engineers were killed in Kansas for being “Muslim”. All we, the majority, see is the color of your skin. Those are just the more famous incidents, there are hate crimes taking place every day against people who look like you just because they look like you. Brown skinned people are “Bollywood”, and crazy sex Gods, and Muslim, and there isn’t a lot of understanding of anything besides that. So you need to learn to hang together or hang separately, as it were. An attack on one group is an attack on all of you, because it is meant to be an attack on all of you, the attackers don’t see a difference between you.

      My “white privilege” works the same way. People don’t look at me and see “German” and I don’t expect them to. They look at me and see “white”, everyone lumped in together. I don’t ever get offended (because I am the majority, I don’t have the right to get offended), but I do take responsibility for “my” people no matter what their heritage is, if it is something done by a white person in America, I’m not going to say “oh, that’s not me, because they are white of Irish heritage, it’s totally different”, I’m going to know that in America everyone is just “white”.

      On Tue, Apr 24, 2018 at 1:17 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Of course as a non-Jewish German you should forever hang your head in shame for what your people did all across Europe and apologise to everyone you meet for it in every single interaction because that shit affected everyone everywhere. We lost millions of people to starvation because your German ancestors waged a war and made Churchill divert our food supplies to stock up for that war.

        You can totally feel that way because it’s your heritage even though as an outsider I feel it would be ridiculous to do that.

        The Nazi swastika btw is the perfect example of cultural appropriation.

        Also, how is a white person wearing a bindi without knowing its religious significance the same as someone confusing a Sikh for a Muslim and gunning them down? Chalk and cheese, don’t you think?

        I feel like this is the point at which the distinction needs to be made between Indian American culture and Indian culture. Clearly those are two different things. I would have said NRI culture but apparently white people in the old world and down under are more relaxed about multiculturalism. And as someone talking about Indian films and your experiences with white privilege inside India, your taking the NRI sentiment as a reference point makes no sense. I’m honestly confused about what Indian people you’re talking about anymore.

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    • Oh God I have so much to say! M, what have you unleashed?! I apologize in advance for the length.

      I don’t pretend to know what Muslims in India think about the majority appropriating their culture. My point was that I’d never been one. I’d never been anything BUT the majority when I moved to the US. So I had no idea what the minority experience was like. Not minority experience in the US, but minority experience ANYWHERE. First, I had to become a little less blind to it; then, I had to figure out all the different forces at play to even make sense of what was happening; then, I had to look at how this was all systemic and part of a bigger phenomenon; and finally, I had to understand and empathize with people and communities other than me and accept that they move through the world differently than I do.

      A few examples of the behaviors that make up the minority experience: having people make assumptions about you, thinking one of you could speak for all of you, being reduced to a caricature at worst or the lowest common denominator at best, reducing YOURSELF to the lowest common denominator because of internalized racism, etc. And these are not even the most obvious or blatant examples. There’s much more where this comes from. The last one tends to fly under the radar so I’ll give an example: If I went out and saw an Indian guy behaving like an asshole or being rude to the wait staff, I’d curse him under my breath for “making all of us look bad” etc. Why? When did he sign up for making me look good? Did he ask the majority to think that he and I were similar in any way or that his behavior reflected on mine? Is he responsible for the fact that THEY choose to define any minority demographic by its lowest common denominator? Not that being an asshole should be commended, but my point is that his being an asshole has repercussions on ME and how I’m perceived, which in turn affects his own experience and that of so many other Indian people – in that we’d enter a room and avoid all the Indian people because it comes with so much baggage. Not always; I’m talking of a certain kind of room. Wouldn’t apply to an Indian movie theater, for instance. Doesn’t even have to be a room. I’ve had it happen at Disneyland (happiest place on earth etc). We’d all be cognizant of how all the other Indian people made us look, or how we made them look. We’d be aware of all the disapproving or judgmental glances that came our way from other Indian people. It only stopped bothering me when I realized they were all coping and so was I. With the majority’s tendency to not see us as individuals. Something I’ve found myself saying to LOTS of people over the years is, “In India, you’ll see all kinds of Indian people (not just the 2-3 kinds you mentioned).” Meaning, there are lots of them that participate in behaviors that you don’t associate with their stereotype. That it had to be said – so many times – is still a little unbelievable to me.

      Shared cultural element vs appropriation: It’s all about the power imbalance. As far as I know, Punjabis enjoy the same kind of power and status in Indian society as the demographic of any other state/regional community, if not more. So it doesn’t hurt them collectively if people make jokes about them. It depends on which people, though. People who’re my socio/economic/cultural equals – go right ahead. White people – how racist of you if you do. ALL people – you could be my equal and could have meant it as a totally innocuous joke but if I’m upset, stop. Don’t repeat that behavior with me. And if you get that same reaction from lots of Punjabi people, maybe spare a thought for whether that joke was all that innocuous in the first place. When I say ‘I’ here, I mean everyone. We don’t have a fundamental right to hurt people, whoever they might be, whatever our power equation might be. Being racist or hurtful out of cluelessness is one thing, but there’s no excuse for repeating that behavior or insisting on your RIGHT to indulge in that behavior. If the person(s) the joke is on doesn’t find it funny, the joke is not funny. The rest of the crowd, if they’re laughing, are laughing at that person’s expense. Punjabis making fun of “Madrasis” – not acceptable. Punjabis making fun of “South Indians” for their skin tone – not acceptable. Rich dark-skinned people making fun of poor dark-skinned people’s way of life – not acceptable. The same people joking with each other about the color of their skin and what that means in India in terms of life experience – sure, that’s called bonding! Punjabis making fun of East Indian people / “chinkis” – not acceptable. A non-Dalit making fun of a Dalit – not acceptable. Punjabis making fun of Punjabiness – bring it on, nothing like self-awareness! Being light-skinned in India makes life easier, as does being part of the dominant culture (Punjabi). And my point here is: privilege is as intersectional as oppression is. My other point is that power is dependent on the context. So the average Punjabi’s power changes when they’re the cool Delhi kid with the big car and the ‘kothi’, vs when they’re a fresh off the boat immigrant in the US speaking strongly accented English.

      I guess living in a country where the majority is clearly more powerful makes it easier for me to say The Majority, colloquially, but I’m sure you get what I mean by the examples above: those with power don’t get to make fun of those without. They especially don’t get to make fun of those people *for not having access to said power*. Equals joking about their shared experience is bonding, equals joking about their differences is like “We’re so different, haha so funny!” A power imbalance changes everything, because then it’s like, “You’re LESS THAN me, haha let’s laugh AT you while you spend your whole life paying the price for being less than.”

      All that said, we cannot equate Punjabis in India with Caucasians in the US. The power imbalance isn’t nearly comparable. Punjabis in India don’t occupy a vast majority of powerful positions in politics and in industry, don’t make up all the ‘experts’ on panels at conferences and on the news media, didn’t get to write history and speak for everyone else in the country, and don’t get paid much more than other Indian people for the same work. They do enjoy OTHER privileges (#intersectionality) but not these specific ones which give them the power to rob others of their voices or their livelihood or put them behind bars.

      Punjabi culture being the most dominant – believe me, I’m sick of it too. It wasn’t that way when I was growing up. (Technical detail: I’m not a “pure” 😀 Punjabi, and the non-Punjabi side of my family were certainly not reflected any less in popular culture or media.) Growing up in the 80’s, I saw all sorts of customs being performed at weddings and all kinds of festivals being celebrated. Then, suddenly, every wedding became the Bollywood wedding. I’m nowhere near an authority on why and how this shift happened, cos I wasn’t living in India when it did, but I’m definitely not happy about it.

      Punjabi culture and Sikhism – Not the same thing, and as far as I’m concerned a knowledge of Sikhism isn’t pre-requisite to enjoying or partaking in Punjabi culture. I see your point, though, in that the respectful way to do it would be to learn more about the Punjabi people you come across, many of whom might happen to be Sikh. But if you choose to stay away from the topic of religion, or if they’d rather not go into it, that doesn’t mean Punjabi culture itself is no longer accessible to you. Similarly, if an American atheist wanted to learn more about India but didn’t have as much of an interest in Hinduism or Sikhism or any of the other religions native to India, I wouldn’t think they’re being disrespectful.

      Indian Punjabi vs Pakistani Punjabi – LOTS of Punjabi people in India came over or have relatives who came over to India during the Partition, my grandfather included. I’ve heard the ones I know talk of “Punjab” as a whole, without the border line running through it. The population of Delhi DOUBLED as a result, so I really mean lots and lots of people. I haven’t been gathering data on it, but the ones I know don’t call their food Indian cuisine or Indian Punjabi cuisine, so I don’t know if it’s occurred to them that calling it Pakistani Punjabi cuisine is even a thing. Calling it Pakistani food would be as inaccurate as calling it Indian food, because there is/was more to Pakistan than Punjab. To them, it’s just “food”. I haven’t heard anyone talk about which part of pre-partition Punjab it originated from, and that kind of makes sense to me. If the food came before the border, who cares which side of the border it was from? Over here, I see Indian restaurants AND Pakistani restaurants and each is clear about what they’re serving / neither is offended about what the other calls their cuisine. I

      You’ll notice the common thread in most of what I’m saying is that the respectful way to go about sharing and exploring cultures is to get to know the people and be respectful towards them. Devoid of respect, TAKING FROM a culture is appropriation of it, and it is especially hurtful when it’s used for profiteering.

      Calling out appropriation of other cultures – I call out men for being sexist towards women other than myself. I feel the same way towards other minorities. I am one of them (the larger whole), and racism towards them is no different – in terms of the forces at play and the resulting impact – than racism towards me. I won’t speak FOR them, that’s not my place, but I’m an ally and I’ll do whatever I can to support them. I might not be a mother, but that doesn’t mean I’m NOT ALLOWED TO have an opinion on paid maternity leave or the limitations of the FMLA (which I call the f*** my life act haha). It also doesn’t prevent me from putting in place any man who says that maternity leave is a paid vacation. It might not be about me, but it COULD AS WELL HAVE BEEN. I’m a minority too! I’m a woman too! I consider it my responsibility to speak up, especially because of my privilege which ensures I don’t have as much to lose by speaking up as the next woman who’s an undocumented immigrant working at a restaurant. The question isn’t so much who gets to call out whom on appropriation. To me that’s not nearly as important as the question of who gets to appropriate whose culture. Sure, they could argue that it’s not my place to call them out on it, but I’ll argue HARDER that it’s not their place to appropriate in the first place. To make my point clearer, here’s an example: Have you heard people say someone just “All Lives Matter’ed” someone else’s protest? Same thing. That protest might not have had anything to do with BLM, but what they’re saying is that a similar erasure of it happened, or a similarly false equivalence was established. Can you imagine saying to that person, “You shouldn’t even be saying that cos it’s not like you’re black”…?

      Or, as another example, imagine I go to a Halloween party and a friend of mine shows up in blackface. Am I not allowed to speak up because I’m not black? Or because I haven’t studied enough about black history to be considered an authority on it? My point is that whoever is looking for whether I have the RIGHT CREDENTIALS to point out sexism/racism/oppression, could as well spend time and energy looking for whether the person I’m calling out has the credentials required for being sexist/racist etc. They don’t, unless it’s a black person going around in blackface by way of irony or calling attention to how people STILL need to be told that the color of someone’s skin is not a costume. They don’t get to take it off after Halloween, or when they’re pulled over by a cop.

      Appropriation in a multicultural scenario – I’m not too sure of my own views on this. Thank you for making me think! Hmm…..let’s talk about Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus wearing a bindi. I have no idea where in India the bindi originated from, or how much claim I can sake to it. I don’t wear a bindi, but my mom does. My aunts do. And even if they didn’t, I self-identify as Indian, and I’m perceived as Indian (when not perceived as Mexican haha). In this – very multicultural – society that I’m part of, a bindi is strongly associated with Indian culture. I also know that if I were to wear a bindi to work, it would be a problem for me. If I wore one every day, I could pretty much say goodbye to my next promotion or a senior exec role EVER. An “Indian auntie” wearing a kurti and/or a bindi definitely does not get the best seats in the restaurants she visits, the best rooms at the hotels she checks into, the best customer service from flight attendants on the plane, or the same friendliness from random strangers that she would if she weren’t perceived as the OTHER. Some day, she won’t be perceived as LESS THAN for wearing her Indianness the size of a TINY RED DOT. Until such time, my own position is: hands off. Someone else’s mileage may vary. My mom who hasn’t gotten over her colonial hangover might be flattered, because to her it’s validation from a white person. To me it’s not. I’m already valid. Would you say I’m not allowed this position unless I or my ancestors were instrumental to the origination of the bindi?

      What I do IRL – No, I don’t ask where someone is from or whether they have the right credentials to take offence. At least I hope I don’t; who even knows what I’m like outside my head! It’s not a scenario I find myself in very often, but the last time it happened (someone accused me of being insensitive to their culture), I apologized. Once they accepted my apology, I explained the intent – even though I’m usually of the position that intent doesn’t matter, or at least doesn’t matter as much as the impact, in this case it was a friend and I thought him learning of my intent was crucial to us salvaging our relationship. We’re good now 🙂

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      • I like girls who think and then put that in words. Rather a rarity don’t you think?

        So if you’re a Delhi girl, you already are familiar with that feeling of being out of place when you leave the home base, right? Like when you’re travelling and you stop by a very small dhaba and there’s a bunch of village folks there and they just look at you like what is someone like her doing here?

        I’m a UP gal that grew up in himachal so I always stuck out like a sore thumb and yes the lakhnavi thing got fetishised often. And there were the stares too. And odd questions and what not. But it ended up so that I grew up a multicultural person. So I understood and participated in pahadi, punjabi, lakhnavi, hindi belt middle class and bhojpuri cultures. When I think about cultural appropriation, I just imagine someone telling me I can’t do a nati anymore because I’m not pahadi. That I’m fetishising it. Or that I cannot feel overwhelmed at the sight of a favorite gurudwara because I’m not sikh. I would have a choice of commonly understood North indian words for the person that tells me I can’t have multiple cultures for sure. Discrimination against pahadis is real. But then again, being a part of this shared space, I can’t really imagine having to pick one unique identity and culture. I even have three-four different accents that turn on automatically based on who I’m talking to. If I have to define myself as part of one because that would mean a whole bunch of people in my life would be the “other”. It’s this sense of “otherness” that the concept of cultural appropriation comes loaded with that I have a real problem with. And that’s why I feel angry that the white American girls from this blog a elsewhere feel bad about loving indian culture and films. I wanna know who the fuck made them feel so bad and burdened about my culture and I wanna go punch them in the face. That’s what I as a majority in this country feel like.

        But I’ve been both minority and majority though yes being a Hindu helps a lot in my adult life. As a convent kid, it didn’t really matter. We were all raised Christian at school and college and we didn’t know what being a different religion really meant apart from that we didn’t need to do lent or ramazan but we got to eat the treats and got the new clothes for the non Hindu festivals and did the school functions etc.

        As a secular person, it didn’t matter. Up until 2014 at least. Like you said, it’s important to raise your voice alongside marginalised people. But one cannot assume a “more activist than thou” attitude when doing so. Shaping of society is such a complex process. Taking extreme positions leads to conflict. Siding with erroneous positions with flawed arguments causes more harm than it does good.

        One of the strongest suits of Indian culture, both at home and abroad, is that we don’t get offended so easily. But, and I say this specifically about cultural appropriation viz Indian culture, it seems like our diaspora in America has become more sensitive about their Indianness than Indians settled elsewhere in the white world.
        And somehow they’ve decided to choose being offended over our default of “we love that you love our culture”

        Another big immigrant country is Australia. You never ever hear of white Australians getting upset over Indian immigrants getting offended by a white person wearing a kurti or bindi. And it isn’t like they’re all amazing to immigrants either. They have their share of racism issues but they aren’t having the appropriation rages. Yet.

        If they did, it would be very awkward for their cricket legends to present IPL/mid game shows in Indian wear. So how do you as someone that lived in India feel about having watched them do that? Even at the height of the cheating/racism scandals between the cricket teams of India and Australia, did their former cricketers wearing a kurta and dupatta with the tilak feel offensive to you?

        It didn’t. And not just to me because if it did our political parties would have something to say about it.

        Same with Indians in Britain. White brits using indian culture isn’t a problem. Same with Canada.

        Yes, the merchandise with our gods on them were problematic. But then we looked at our “christ is cool” gear and boom shiva posters and we shut the fuck up.

        So at what point did Indians in America start to identify with cultural appropriation problems of other minorities? And as a multicultural country, can we, in India, afford to introduce this conversation to our already fragile unity? Does it apply to us? Or is it a uniquely Indian American experience. Like you understand it more because other minorities are doing the same? Is it a copycat phenomenon? Because if it is, it would be inaccurate to assume all Indians everywhere are offended by white people using/adopting Indian cultural elements.

        All the other things you mention, respect and not being mean to people intentionally, that’s common decency. You’re just ill brought up if you don’t know to behave like a decent human being. Culture has nothing to do with that.

        I hope this comment appears coherent to you. I’m half asleep 😁

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        • Let’s assume Madhuri Dixit (God bless her!) was walking down the street and some guy made lewd comments at her, and she raised a big stink over it. You could say that –

          A) Such behavior perpetuates rape culture, and every such person should be called out for every such comment that makes women uncomfortable in public spaces. (This would be my own position. This is also the position I take wrt cultural appropriation.)

          B) That worse things happen to lots of other women every day and she should be using her power and privilege to call attention to THAT. That a catcall can’t be compared to RAPE. Of a MINOR. By a GANG.

          C) That she can afford to not walk down the street. She can have people run errands for her or have a chauffeur-driven car take her around. For her to walk down a street is like giving an invitation to catcallers and she knew that before going for her walk. She could have chosen not to.

          Why is (A) my position? Is it because I live on an island, far away from other people? Is it because I’m young and still trying to establish an identity? Is it a copycat phenomenon? Isn’t it incorrect to assume all women everywhere are offended by harmless comments from strangers? Women in country don’t protest against this kind of behavior, and their happiness index is higher than ours – maybe there’s something to that…?

          The short answer is that I see cultural appropriation to be at the ‘harmless catcall’ end of the spectrum. And the incarcerated black population in the US to be at the sexual assault end. Neither is acceptable to me, because it’s all rape culture. YMMV.

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          • See when you bring in a universally problematic concept to a conversation about a phenomenon that is unique to a particular society you’re circumventing the point I’m talking about.

            My specific concerns and contentions are these :

            1) African Americans claiming cultural appropriation are misguided in claiming that victimhood because the cultural elements they’re holding onto don’t belong to them exclusively or even directly historically and they can’t decide for everyone that they own the rights to African cultural elements on account of they don’t live there anymore and in doing so they’re guilty of appropriating the culture of actual Africans actually living in Africa right now and that’s racist in itself.

            This particular contention of mine got a little support by Moimeme in the comments above where the points about Afro Caribbean immigrants and how they perceived the victimhood of AAs came up.

            Nowhere did I say bad things didn’t happen to AAs. Or that things shouldn’t improve.

            2) My other contention is that when white American girls interested in Indian culture and films feel apprehensive about dressing up in Indian clothing or discussing this with people, I as an Indian living in India get to tell them not to worry about cultural appropriation. I as an Indian living in India get to hold that power.

            3) a distinction needs to be made between Indian American culture and Indian culture. And Indian Americans dont get to rob Indians of the chance and choice to allow propagation of our culture to outsiders. The choice is not theirs to make. They can choose it for NRI culture specific to the US but they can’t even choose what NRIs living in Australia or England should be offended about.

            Does this mean I support rape? No it doesn’t.

            Does this mean that I would ask Madhuri Dixit to condemn all lewd catcalling on the same level and with the same vigor as she would condemn rape culture? Well, I would have to definitely go back and pick apart everything she ever said and did and every film sequence of hers to see if she hadn’t covertly been a part of promoting the same rape culture that I’m asking her to condemn. She shouldn’t get an exemption for her historical contribution to the problem just because she belongs to the generally victimised community.

            And I definitely won’t be asking her if she would condemn rape culture or not to clarify her position on validity of cultural appropriation claims by people who have no claim to the culture in the first place.

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          • 1. I’ll have to excuse myself from this part of the conversation.
            2. When they visit India? Sure – assuming you speak for everyone else in India too. Or do you mean even in a place where the Indian diaspora is a minority that stands to be impacted by their actions, because (if I’ve understood your comment correctly) they have less of a claim to Indian culture than you do by virtue of having lived in the country longer? Would you say the same for someone who’s twice your age and who’s recently moved out of India, i.e. after having spent more time in India than you have? I’m having a hard time figuring out who gets how much of a stake in what culture.
            3. I’m of the position that nobody gets to choose what someone else should or should not be offended about. That is a line each person draws for themselves. All we can choose is to not be offensive.

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          • I agree with 3. Make the choice to acknowledge our own minorities when you’re back in India too. We need all the sensitivity we can get.

            As for 2, all I mean is that they have the same rights over the culture of the country they left behind as we those that live here get to have about what kind of culture they get to have there over in another country. Or would you rather have Indians in India set the standard for how immigrants live and what attitudes they should have? Does it work that way?

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          • Have Indian immigrants been setting the standard for the culture that people living in India get to practice and have I somehow been living under a rock this whole time?! Or are you saying that the minute someone leaves their country of origin, they should completely shed their ethnic identity like a piece of clothing? What about second generation immigrants – should they live in denial about what goes on at home with mommy and daddy? It sounds a lot like the anti-immigration sentiment that Trump and his supporters have been vocal about (“Real” Americans vs the ones who were born elsewhere) so I hope I’ve misunderstood your comment.

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          • Nope. Not that at all. Just saying that when you start identifying with a minority culture (like if you were just a tourist, you’d expect not to be the majority there and you’d be a lot less self conscious about being the only brown person in most rooms as opposed to being an immigrant) you become a part of the existing immigrant culture with its pros and cons and prejudices and it really isn’t upto you to decide what those prejudiced are so much.

            Coming back to the cultural appropriation and Indian attitudes and immigrant attitudes, I’m reminded of what happened with Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India. So, for bulk of the time he and his family wore brightly colored Indian clothes. The reception in India to that was “hey is he trying to replace Virat Kohli in Manyavar ads lol” and “wow he’s making an effort and it’s making us feel good”. The reception back in Canada and elsewhere by both Indian immigrants and white people was “you look ridiculous” “indian people don’t dress like that always and it’s inappropriate that you chose those clothes” and of course CA.

            Of course there was a huge lapse in judgement from his side politically too when he invited a khalistani supporter to a reception and that got him a massive cold shoulder. The point is that while his support/concern for khalistanis in Canada is something he’s entitled to do in his own country, it ended up being a faux pas here. Because there’s a difference between attitudes and sensitivities of Indians overseas and people living in India.

            And that’s exactly what I mean.

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          • To add to that, I make these contentions based on the cultural appropriation claims of the native Americans and aboriginal Australians. Who originated in the lands, built a culture in those lands and who have no other cultural base other than those lands and whose cultures were systematically destroyed by white invaders and their populations wiped out greatly and whose cultures continue to be under attack.

            I make the distinction between their claims and the claims of people who themselves are immigrants, whether by choice or not. In fact, by retaining and propagating their own immigrant culture instead of embracing, acknowledging native American culture, immigrant are guilty of oppressing the already victimised natives. Like what the British did. Or like what tourists do in Goa and what Tibetans do in Dharamshala. Compare that to how Muslims assimilated in the then dominant Hindu Indian culture. If an Indian Muslim tells me today I should be sensitive to Turkish traditions from the imperial period, I’d probably tell them they’re insane and that place doesn’t exist anymore and they’re from HERE and they’re appropriating Turkish imperial culture which technically doesn’t even exist anymore.

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  19. I haven’t really been following this thread, but since somewhere above someone talked about “cultural appropriation” in an Indian context, I thought people might enjoy this;

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    • I guess this is deemed too frivolous in the midst of all these profound discussions? But I suggest everyone watch it, because it relates directly to what we are talking about, in more ways than the obvious ones.

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  20. What a thread to come back to after a work/vacation trip which mostly kept me offline. I agree with other commenters that this feels more like a personal exploration post than a typical Hindi 101 post. As a white American lady who has traveled extensively in remote and urban areas of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, at many stages of youth and attractiveness, I find the discussion a bit simplistic. I’m especially disturbed by assumptions that other cultures have an implicit or explicit inferiority complex when it comes to white/Western European/American culture. My experience has been that every ethnic group I’ve hung out with are pretty darn proud of their history, values, way of life, etc, and are quite capable of sophisticated analyses of what is good and not so good about colonial cultures. In the case of Ethiopia, my Oromo friends were much more interested in critiquing and responding to the internal colonizing Amhara and Tigrayan ethnic groups than any Europeans. And of course, China is the new-ish “soft power” in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

    In relation to this, I can’t recommend Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian enough–his issue isn’t Western fascination with India, but the simultaneous fascination with religion, art, and mysticism, while downplaying India’s contributions to science, philosophy, mathematics, and language. Also Barkha Dutt’s this Unquiet Land has some really interesting observations about how an Indian feminist perceives blind spots and shortcomings of American feminists.

    As often as not, when people in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (and yes, it holds true across countries within the regions) have treated me kindly, it has been part of their own proud traditions of hosting guests, combined with pity for this strange woman traveling without friends or family to do some odd work about how moms and babies eat. And they very soon get around to asking me what is wrong with Americans anyway–why are we all such children, why can’t we leave the rest of the world alone, don’t we have enough resources in our amazingly rich, naturally blessed country? Why do we put our old people in unclean nursing homes to starve or die of neglect? Why do we kill poor and black people indiscriminately? And, my favorite question of all, are those people on Reality TV shows really like that, and if so how many Americans are also like that?

    Of course my white privilege, along with my hetero privilege, my married privilege, my currently able-bodied privilege, my educational and class privilege, and my neuro-typical privilege travels with me. And I have found it most embarrassingly apparent in public service type situations, in big cities like Kampala, Dhaka, or Delhi–where waiters, bank personnel, airline clerks, etc, will skip a line of locals to wait on me. And I try to demur if possible, and wait my turn.

    I guess my main point is that I never go into any personal interaction assuming that I know how my interlocutor (love that word, Claudia!) feels about white people or Americans, in relation to their own ethnic, cultural, and national background. My white privilege is much more of something to be aware of, and careful with, in my every day life in the US.

    Also–that was a pretty harsh response to Asmita’s comments about African Americans and their heritage. I’m glad you corrected her perception that African Americans don’t care about where they come from–and in fact many African Americans are exploring where their ancestors were captured from, through genealogy and DNA analysis, and re-connecting with traditions from those places. But she doesn’t live here and can’t be expected to know what a painful issue this is, just like we sometimes mess up with blanket statements about Indian ethnic groups or regions.

    It’s a bit of a tangent, but I live in the DC area, and work internationally, and the relationship between African Americans and recent African immigrants in this region of the country is HUGELY complicated. Just google some of the articles written over the last 10 years about the U-Street corridor in DC to get a sense of the challenges. Issues like this definitely keep me humble about how difficult it is to have a nuanced understanding of ethnic, religious, and regional issues in India or other countries.

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    • Thank you for commenting! I am sure you are more aware of these issues than most of us, thanks to having spent more time traveling between cultures than many of us here.

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      • I’m fascinated by the range of perspectives. And I absolutely LOVE that we have these conversations along with “what hot man looks best lying down” ones, hee! Oh, and talking about movies too.

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    • @procrastinatrix: It’s not only the relationship between African Americans who have been here for generations and more recent immigrants/citizens from Africa that is complicated, it’s also the way “racist” Americans treat them, as well as other non-white minorities. Starting from my earliest days here, when there was still legal segregation, some white merchants, for instance, would make a distinction between black Americans (whom they discriminated against) and international students from Africa at the university (whom they wanted to welcome and show how friendly Americans are). Even people of African descent from the Caribbean have been and are more “resilient”, for lack of a better word, and are puzzled by the way African Americans perceive American society. That’s why the reflexive labeling of people as “racist!” is so useless. The problem is much more nuanced than that.

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      • You’re right about African Americans, and recent African or Afro-Caribbean immigrants being treated differently, for sure.

        I think labeling systems and groups of people as racist is quite useful. Thinking of racism as being about individual feelings rather than different levels of social and institutional power is not so useful. Yes, mainstream, white/Christian dominated culture has been really good at pitting minorities against each other, setting up “model minorities” etc.

        Questions about resilience, adaptability, and economic/class mobility in different groups are fascinating, and a whole other kettle of fish.

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        • But I’m not talking about institutionalized racism, which has been eradicated for the most part. I was referring to the current practice of labeling the holder of every dissenting opinion as “racist!” (the exclamation point is important), even when the discussion is not even about race (which in any case is not a scientifically valid concept).

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          • Where has institutional racism been wiped out? I’d like to move there! Especially if institutional sexism has also been wiped out. I’m basically a materialist–when I see that non-whites and non-males hold as much wealth and power as white males do in majority white, patriarchal countries, like the US, then I’ll believe institutional bias is wiped out.

            Calling people names instead of engaging in argument is a real problem and a way to virtue signal, I agree. But that is different from calling someone a racist who has made demonstrably racist comments or acted in a racist way. I don’t need any more proof that Trump is a racist to call him a racist, for example.

            Liked by 2 people

          • I’ll add to procrastinatrix’s comment and say I’ll need to see material wealth, and proportionate population in Fortune 500 executive suites, boardrooms, and the prison system to believe it’s been eradicated.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Do you feel that Americans generally tend to lean on labels and categorising people more than people of other cultures? Somehow, Australians and kiwis and brits don’t really provide categories for people as much as Americans do.

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          • Hmmm, I’m not sure. I haven’t spent much time around Aussies and Kiwis. English folks I’ve hung around with seem to categorize/label about the same as Americans. I think there’s probably a connection between what you’ve noticed and the whole Baby Boomer “who am I?” thing that happened in the US in the 60s and has been exacerbated ever since by advertising types who realized that making us all believe we are super special and unique is a great way to get us to Buy. More. Stuff!

            But I’m a bit too jet lagged to grasp it. 🙂

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          • Maybe, because the US has two forces at play: one is that it’s a very new country and culture and social norms are less well-defined than in other countries and two, we have a constant influx of new people coming into the country with their own social norms and expectations. So it’s more important in the US to explicitly label and categorize people. We don’t have a shared set of cultural or social norms to rely on.

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    • Thank you for your comments, absolutely fascinating. I recently had a discussion with a woman who said that Desis in Silicon Valley are politically conservative as a way to perform whiteness and fit into the dominant culture. And my reaction was whoa, why would you assume that Desis are interested in becoming white or performing whiteness? If anything they probably think white Americans are childish or undisciplined. Also, political conservatism is a thing in India, people aren’t cosplaying that in the US to enter the mainstream, it’s something they are bringing with them when they immigrate.

      More thoughts: you are so right about the conflicts between African immigrants and African Americans, it’s incredibly fraught. I grew up in a community with West Indian immigrants and even they experienced conflict with AA’s I think in part because they migrated from majority black countries and that alone was so profoundly different from the AA experience that it caused a disconnect.

      Even more thoughts: Your comment is a very good reminder to me to shut up and listen and keep an open mind and not make presumptions about other cultures. I’m also jealous that you’ve traveled so widely and did it solo! I’d love to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe your friend was onto something with that comment. Having a clearly marked political ideology is such a white thing. And for once there is a government in India that has those clear defined lines. Unlike the previous ones that more or less stuck to being left of centre, sometimes statist, occasionally something else and generally averse to labels.

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    • I love being corrected. Especially if it is accompanied by a great commentary. Thank you for that. I did well up a bit reading about the old age home thing. Sadly, abandoning your old parents for “living your life” seems to have caught on here too. Yikes!

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  21. I’m a little late to this discussion but this made me think of the brown privilege I had when I was doing postgrad US. Everyone presumed that we were really good at what we did and treated us with utmost respect (except Desi professors). There were very few women in Engineering and people used to always hit on us but there was a lot of difference in what brown and white woman had to face.

    White female grad students were not taken as seriously as Desi girls. We didn’t have the pressure to hookup or not considered easy. The pressure was intense on white girls and I’m not surprised that American women don’t take up Engineering. In fact some told me that a postdoc(white guy) in our lab mellowed down after I joined. He used to sexually harass 2 white girls on a daily basis. That postdoc was always good to me, mentored me well and gave me good reference when I was looking for jobs. The white girls didn’t get this kind of treatment.

    I remember many instances where being brown opened doors for me that would remain close to a white woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Friend following this conversation woke me up to tell me the word that I’m looking for that’s supposed to express what people called a borrowing from other cultures for fun and it becoming a thing in its own right is called bastardization. Apparently, it is “allowed” to exist (like the white people version of Bollywood which M is crusading against) but you, as the parent culture can choose not to give it legitimacy. Like the yoga namaste thing. There’s a bastard bit of culture right there!

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  23. I am loving all the discussion this inspired, but I am also beginning to feel as though it is cycling around and around and could use a little break.

    So I am temporarily closing comments on this post (which I have power to do as Queen of the Blog). I will re-open them in a week or a month or whenever I feel like it, but for now we have this massive ONE-HUNDRED AND SIXTY-ONE comment long comment string for us all to read and mull over and consider.

    Liked by 1 person

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