Cultural Appropriation & The Expat 


So on-trend right now to be calling out instances of cultural appropriation on any kind of social media but in all honesty, I don’t know how I feel about it and whether it is actually as big a problem as it is made out to be. 

I tried to join the bandwagon on twitter, calling out Ralph Lauren with this article – the cover photo being an obviously Caucasian hand covered in Mehndi. I’m not going to get into which culture this appropriates (Indian or Middle Eastern.. chicken or egg…) but surely this is as bad as Marc Jacobs runway show featuring largely (possibly only, I don’t know for sure) Caucasian models with brightly coloured dreadlocks. But a photo is meant to tell a story. Maybe the owner of the hands just attended her best friend’s big fat Indian wedding, or had a big fat Indian wedding herself and the watch was her present. Or maybe she was travelling and it was a service for which she paid, in which case why the hell shouldn’t she have whatever she wants on her hands. Or if it genuinely is cultural appropriation, where were all the indignant people in the early 2000s when nose piercings and bindis and henna tattoos ran rampant through the lives of every teenage girl in England. And then the biggie, what about all the expats in the world.

I want to learn more Korean. I want a hanbok to take home at the end of the adventure. Raj and I want some traditional Korean furniture for wherever we make our next home. I’m looking forward to a friend’s wedding, as it will be my first Korean wedding and I’ll be able to see how a different culture celebrates this ocassion. All of this is a result of my living here – am I guilty of appropriating Korean culture, or am I just taking this opportunity to learn and appreciate things that I might not have come across otherwise? In fact, as an Indian who grew up in London wearing western clothes – have I been a cultural appropriater all my life? 😬😬😬

I feel like the line is so fine but if you squint really hard, it does exist and it is this: when you look at a situation, is there a larger context/story in which the situation sits. The Marc Jacobs show and Ralph Lauren advert – probably not and in both cases it was a gimmick to sell more stuff. Kids wearing national costumes of other countries to school on international day arguably strives towards a more tolerant society where differences in culture are celebrated. Getting a tattoo in Chinese when I have no real connection to the country – well, this is probably just a bit silly because who knows what the character actually says. Giving my child a Japenese name because the meaning is so beautiful and let’s face it, what’s more beautiful than a newborn baby (Aiko – little bundle of love.. it’s been vetoed in our house but the name still means a lot to me) – not sure how this one goes. Trying to adapt to the customs of the country you are living in – definitely something to aspire too.. nobody wants to be THAT person who clearly has no respect for others. 

It’s not straightforward and even less so when you are a foreigner in the country you call home but the over riding lesson, as always, has to be moderation. The perpetrators of the “crime” needs to be wary that they aren’t being offensive or taking things too far and the judges need to make sure they aren’t being hypocritical or (yes I’m going to say it) overly sensitive on the matter. 

In the meantime, I am going to avoid joining the twitter conversation on this topic for fear that everything I want to say can’t be contained in 140 characters. 

And that’s my thoughts for tonight.. night all! 


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