When I was growing up right outside of Ann Arbor, I had neighbors who were Indian. That really wasn’t that different as Ann Arbor is growing in cultural and racial diversity, but they were the coolest people I knew. Practices they had, items in their homes, sometimes even the clothes the grandmother living in the home wore were so far removed from anything I knew that it fascinated me. I loved to learn about other people and the things they did. But above all, the item that was most fascinating was the bindi that my friend’s mother wore.
A bindi, according to the Webster Dictionary, is a decorative mark worn in the middle of the forehead by Indian women. But if it were just simply a mark that were worn for decoration, it wouldn’t at all be cultural appropriation if a non-Indian wore one. It would be comparable to Japanese women wearing jeans despite the fact that jeans did not begin their life in Japan. However, when we look more deeply at the issue, we find that most commonly, the bindi that we see is one that is red, worn by married women in India according to InnovateUs.net, which signifies their being married. A Bindi of any kind is worn in India traditionally by Hindu people. Different colors indicate different things, but at the heart of it all, the bindi is a function of Hinduism as well as the Indian people.
It doesn’t feel good to say, but white people have been stealing things from people of color for centuries. From Chinese gunpowder and silk to Africa’s gold and physical people, there has been the rape of peoples as well as their lands for well over 600 years. Despite the fact that many of the practices which were done in the past are now illegal and largely viewed as immoral, and the majority of the people who were encouraged and rewarded for committing these heinous acts are dead, there are still the remnants of that, and they are connected to races of people who live today.
How does this tie into why people who are not Indian should not wear a bindi? And why is choosing to wear a bindi as a non Indian person function as cultural appropriation? Well, as a non-Indian person wears a bindi, they take away the significance of a religious symbol that is largely isolated to a group of people, a symbol that functioned as a large part of their culture and turn it into a fashion statement. Rather than being a symbol of a significant part of who a person is, it becomes something that someone can simply take on and off, while cultures, for the people who participate in them, do not come on and off. They do not get to be part of the culture one day and change to be part of a more desired culture another day that is more accepted by the people in charge. Not only does wearing a bindi as a white person snatch away significance, but it allows white people to yet again, as a whole, take something from some group that it should solely belong to, and historically has.
If I could rewrite history and control everyone’s actions, the idea of races would never exist. There would not be isolated cultures, but instead we could function as an entire human race and be the same. We wouldn’t have to understand each other because we wouldn’t think we are different from each other. However, in the world that we all live in today, we have separate and distinct cultures and races. People who belong to groups who have been historically oppressive must understand that and must not believe that because they as individuals are not trying to be harmful that there is no harm in their actions. The bindi is beautiful. I still think so today. But don’t wear one if you’re not Indian.