"

While cultural studies scholars such as Hall, Edward Said, and Paul Gilroy have written about the “pitfalls of identity” that arise when examining the Other, it should be noted that cultural identities – particularly those that have been traditionally disenfranchised – have become commodities in the same way as cultures themselves. Identities have become marketable, as exhibited by large media corporations seeking to brand multiculturalism and “sell” Others as products in the global mainstream. As John Fiske writes, “while the multiculturalist will talk of diversity and difference, the multinational CEO turns the coin over and talks of product diversification and market segmentation.”

Conceptualizing diasporic populations has also become problematic, both for scholars of identity and corporations seeking to use identity politics as a means of cultivating consumers. As Jolanta Drzewiecka notes, “Diaspora groups play an identity game legitimating their in between position in two different national contexts,” which helps to bolster their claims of collectivized authenticity in both their “new” land and their “homeland” – the latter being either a physical or psychological one. Diasporic identities have emerged as a battleground in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, where media corporations have sought to commodify marginalized groups such as Asians and West Indians while presenting discourse on homeland as a seemingly monolithic experience.

South Asian American identity is a contested terrain because of its diversity and its uniqueness in experience from other Diasporic and immigrant populations. As Yoav Hammer notes, culture can be both consuming and limiting to those who identify with a certain label. “Culture has a largely unconscious enveloping effect on members of the cultural group, defining the horizon of possibilities open to them, from amongst which to choose their course of action. Culture is a type of language shared by members of the cultural group. It defines the meanings they attribute to objects and actions and forms their identity.” Using this meaning, it is nearly impossible to define a common South Asian American culture. Though the very idea of a culture of Desis (the Hindi colloquial for “local”), in many ways, is an aberration – cultural critic Vijay Prashad would argue further that culture itself, at least the notion of cultural purity, is a fallacy – the prevalence of consistent images relating to Indian and to Indianness have led to a media-created notion of identity.

"

— Murali Balaji, The Commodification of the Other and MTV’s Construction of the “Ideal Type” Desi (via sitaronse)

(via alscientist)

Cultural Appropriation

themindislimitless:

Best defined as the ‘adoption’ a.k.a. theft of specific parts (icons, traditions, rituals, behaviour) of a culture by a dominant culture where the significance of the parts of the original culture are not acknowledged, eventually leading to the ruin of what’s appropriated. The items become meaningless and lose their original spiritual, cultural, and historical significances and simply becomes stereotypes of pop culture.

In racial dynamics where white supremacy was started with colonialism and currently upheld and maintained, appropriation is usually done by white people of the cultures of people of colour. Cultural appropriation is in fact a by-product of imperialism, colonialism, and the oppression of people of colour wherein PoC (people of colour) are shunned for celebrating their culture. This is not a post-racial society, and there is a very definite imbalance in the cultural, economic and territorial relationship between people who are white (dominant culture(s), the oppressors in a world that upholds whiteness) and people of colour (minority culture, the oppressed). The imbalance between the two is maintained by extracting everything of value from the oppressed (people of colour) for profit and in this case, culture is very much of value.

And cultural appropriation is very much profitable. Objects and traditions of a culture of marginalized people are seen as trendy, exotic, edgy and desirable, which means profit. The media industry profits off taking parts of marginalized cultures and portraying them in ways that degrades them from their original value. In the meantime, the people those traditions originate from are oppressed and treated inferior for the celebration of their own culture.

And because of the history of colonialism behind white people and the continued oppression of people that exist today, white people have no ‘ethnicity’ because celebrating whiteness is racist. People of colour are the only ones with ‘ethnicity’ and white people, ‘without an ethnicity’ try to take on aspects of other cultures to appear worldly.

One of the worst things white people do is treat everything like it is theirs to have. But they do, and it is maintained by white supremacy, which means even a lot of people of colour are willing to allow whiteness to consume all of their culture in an effort to be accepted. It has not, does not, and will not work.

So culture is then treated not as a part of existence of people of colour but as a ‘thing’ in this capitalist society where individual people with differences are not treated as such but as identical workers, parts of a machine. So culture is not seen as maintained by the people, but as maintaining the people. This is best seen as when people of colour are informed and treated like there is a ‘right way’ to be of their culture/race and thus moulded into stereotypes that are very often mostly inaccurate and originate only from pop culture.

But things from a certain culture? Have their meaning BECAUSE of the people of that culture. It is given meaning by the people, and not the other way around, those objects have meaning when particular people of that culture wear it/do it, partly because of the history of the people and that part of a culture, and the people fiercely holding on to their culture despite the years of oppression.

When a white person wears something from a marginalized culture, they ignore the years of oppression PoC endured, and still endure, because of their culture. It becomes a mockery, makes it seem like all that hardship suffered doesn’t matter. When PoC wear or do something, they do it in defiance of white supremacy and the ideals of whiteness. When PoC celebrate their culture, they suffer, but it is done in defiance. White people do not have to suffer, because they are not oppressed for that culture, instead, white people appropriating culture strip the original culture of its meaning and the years of oppression that culture has borne. And most white people do not wear/ do something of another culture of another culture with its historical, cultural and/or spiritual significance in mind. Which is why it’s not okay for white people to wear/do things of PoC culture, even if particular people do know the significance. (See the post through the link)

There ought to be a differentiation between cultural appropriation and cultural syncretism , the latter of which is defined by “the process of reconciling or melding of differing views or beliefs or uses. This can happen intentionally, or by a natural, unconscious process. More or less discrete cultures that come into contact with one another, either through geographical proximity, migration, conquest, trade and exploration, or in other ways, will start to syncretize aspects of each culture. This is inevitable, and neither undesirable nor preventable. Cultural items tend to get taken on in a new culture if they are useful, convenient, resolve a problem, or appeal to a value that already exists in the host culture”. (From the article through the link- read more there to better understand syncretism.) Cultural syncretism, however, IS how cultural appropriation (degrading of a culture, loss of significance) happens eventually.

Things confused with cultural appropriation often: cultural exchange or sharing, which suggests an equality between the cultures. However, sharing can only be cone when parts of a culture are ‘offered’. Like when cultural food or art is offered by the people of that culture, or learning of a culture from materials given to you by the people of that culture. That’s based on syncretism. An example would be when a native martial arts master offers to teach others. Here there is a willingness to share, and it is a skill given freely (or sold) by a member of the original community. As in, their culture belongs to them and they can do whatever with it, but other people learning Japanese martial arts doesn’t make them Japanese, nor does it allow them to adopt other parts of Japanese culture, which is downright appropriation.

And cultural appropriation is stealing, and degrades culture. It is not okay for white people to take from a culture that does not belong to them, which is racist.

prettyindian:

 *Here you have various WoC (women of colour) wearing their traditional, religious and cultural head-coverings. Please try and persuade me that all these women, from various continents are oppressed because they choose to wear traditional/religious/cultural garments. 
As a woman of colour, I preserve the right to wear my garments religiously and culturally. I will not take off my headscarf or any form of head covering because your ignorance has let you to believe that I am ‘oppressed’. I will wear my culture and religion with pride, and shouldn’t have to be afraid I will face discrimination because of your lack of knowledge of my culture or religion.
*Please reblog*

prettyindian:

 *Here you have various WoC (women of colour) wearing their traditional, religious and cultural head-coverings. Please try and persuade me that all these women, from various continents are oppressed because they choose to wear traditional/religious/cultural garments. 

As a woman of colour, I preserve the right to wear my garments religiously and culturally. I will not take off my headscarf or any form of head covering because your ignorance has let you to believe that I am ‘oppressed’. I will wear my culture and religion with pride, and shouldn’t have to be afraid I will face discrimination because of your lack of knowledge of my culture or religion.

*Please reblog*

(via themindislimitless)

"Thought to be ‘Muslim’ by some, but originating in the land of the five rivers — Punjab, east and west — the salwar kameez has nearly completed its conquest of the South Asian clothesline. What politicians, diplomats and activists have not been able to do, this piece of stitched cloth has."

The S[h]alwar Revolution.

The building of the nation state in South Asia manifested itself, in quite important ways, in the evolution of official cultural codes, including those concerning national attire. So long as such concepts evolved as a mark of political rebellion against the indignity of cultural dictation by the colonial power, there was little to cavil about. But in the post-independence period, the matter of clothing and attire has become enmeshed in competing communal and ethnic politics, majority-minority stresses and competitive nationalism.

[…]

In a whisper then in a rush, as the Subcontinent’s middle and upper class women make their way out of the home and into the marketplace, they will obviously experiment with more than one form of dress. And what they will wear tomorrow is what they would like to be seen in and what is comfortable. The variety of wear is bound to increase. But there is no question that the salwar, while it may have to share cupboard space with an ever-increasing variety of dresses both Oriental and Occidental, will remain a critical aspect of hundreds of millions of South Asian women for a long time to come. Besides, it will always have the pride of place of being the attire that helped in the process of the liberation of the South Asian woman.

It’s not just a piece of cloth, remember. It began as a statement against colonial powers. Which is why I, excuse me, fucking love my shalwar kameez.

(via mehreenkasana)

But while officialdom and ethnic politics draw markers that divide and regiment in the name of a constructed identity, there are “a million mutinies” that challenge such sectarian impulses. For women, one of the most visible among them is the salwar kameez or the “Punjabi suit”. It has emerged as one of the strongest signposts for the identity of South Asian womanhood, a dress which has been accepted by women all over, all of it without planning or consultation. At any South Asian ngo conference, you will find most women participants wearing the salwar/churidar kameez—be they Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Indian, Pakistani, or even Maldivian. Evidently, the South Asian ngo stratum has transcended the barriers of national and ethnic boundaries to opt for the salwar kameez, as both a convenient dress and signifier of a South Asian female identity.

But it is not just the ngo world that has been swept by the salwar revolution. Its is fast spreading to challenge the orthodoxies of culture, class and fashion, not only in the big cities but also in small townships and villages, and even beyond South Asian shores.

And may I add: the becoming and evolving of cultural identity. In just a small, but very, very, large part of the world. 

enormousair:

vintageanchor:

“Culture is not just an ornament; it is the expression of a nation’s character, and at the same time it is a powerful instrument to mould character. The end of culture is right living.” — W. Somerset Maugham 

I find this idea both true and ominous. Culture can help teach us how to live well, but it can also narrow our minds and our lives. It does that when it becomes propaganda, when it causes us to uncritically accept an unnaturally constricted notion of what qualifies as a good life. To talk about right living (rightly defined) is the right conversation to be having, but it’s an inquiry fraught with danger. Any notion of “right living” all too easily morphs into a moralizing, totalitizing agenda. And culture can do damage just as easily as it does good.

enormousair:

vintageanchor:

“Culture is not just an ornament; it is the expression of a nation’s character, and at the same time it is a powerful instrument to mould character. The end of culture is right living.”
— W. Somerset Maugham

I find this idea both true and ominous. Culture can help teach us how to live well, but it can also narrow our minds and our lives. It does that when it becomes propaganda, when it causes us to uncritically accept an unnaturally constricted notion of what qualifies as a good life. To talk about right living (rightly defined) is the right conversation to be having, but it’s an inquiry fraught with danger. Any notion of “right living” all too easily morphs into a moralizing, totalitizing agenda. And culture can do damage just as easily as it does good.

(Source: vintageanchorbooks)

Normalcy

I just picked up my sister from her school, and we saw a lady driving her car, and her bull dog sitting beside her on the front seat. We both think she was talking to the dog, too.

Neither of us blinked. Completely normal in the United States of America. And no, I don’t say that with any sarcasm, or stigma either. 

Of cultural identities, boxed in labeling, and identity crisis II - The idea of nationalism

The other day, I had a very interesting conversation with my boyfriend. Before having this conversation with him, I had tried to explain to a close college friend my “identity crisis” that I was facing. But I suppose at that time since the questions hadn’t become very clear in my mind either (or so she said), I was not able to explain myself very well to her. Perhaps I assumed automatically that she’d understand (because for a lot of things, we are on the same wavelength). But alas, I was wrong. 

And then I approached my history professor. Her specialty is Central Asia and teaches courses on Islamic history, History of Modern Middle East, on Afghanistan and such. So I thought she would be right person to approach. And I was glad I did. She seemed to understand what was happening within my head. And talking to her and hearing her feedback helped clarify some things in my own mind, too.

Read More

"Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another."

— Desmond Tutu

Of cultural identities, boxed in labeling, and identity crisis

I am going to list the labels I go by. Bear with me, please, reader. Here goes:

I am a practicing Muslim. This is the first and foremost of my identity. 

I was born in Myanmar. Formally known as Burma. It’s in South East Asia if you were wondering. 

I have spent half of my life in Pakistan. I tell people I am ethnically Pakistani. I dress Pakistani. Certainly, my Urdu is far better than my Burmese.  

I can trace my ancestry in a village in Surat, India. The ancestry is pretty strong, as people in my tribe tend to inter-marry. 

I know four languages in varying fluency. Gujarti (the tongue I grew up with at home), Urdu, Burmese, and of course, English.

I’d like to learn Gujrati. Reading. Writing. So far, I just know spoken Gujrati. And I am not very good at it. Also, I’d really like to Arabic. For various reasons. 

I am living in the United States of America, studying in a liberal arts college. 

I am dating a wonderful, gorgeous person. Who happens to not be Muslim. 

Now, before I go any further, please keep in mind that my actions do not necessarily reflect upon what my culture and religion expects from me. Having said that, I find neither of them oppressive.  I define both by the terms I wish to. 

And this is what this blog is about. I am not sure anymore how I define them. I have friends across the world. What one might find offensive, the other perfectly acceptable. Polar opposites. There was a certain way I grew up thinking about certain things, now, everything is up for questioning. A cultural practice acceptable and enforced in one part of the world is not, absolutely not, acceptable in another. 

So. Who do I side with? Where do my loyalties lie? For really, I understand where both are coming from. I understand the wisdom behind both arguments. Who do I stand with? 

And what would my choice make me?

…..

And really, must I choose? And if I don’t, when I am asked “where are you from?” and “who are you?”, what do I answer? 

What does a wayfarer answer? Where does a wayfarer come from? 

And this, this is the crux of my identity crisis. 

"We are caged by our cultural programming. Culture is a mass hallucination, and when you step outside the mass hallucination you see it for what it’s worth."

— Terence McKenna 

(Source: bouncingbabyuniverse)