Where do you draw the line between appreciation, inspiration, and appropriation? Somebody left a comment on my blog asking if it was okay for her, a white American woman, to wear a dress with cherry blossom print. I guess she was afraid it would come across as cultural appropriation. I did not respond because I am in no way connected with the culture that she was trying to show sensitivity towards.
However, it got me thinking, “can my children never wear anything except traditional Indian clothes with traditional Indian prints and motifs?” Should I carry the burden of “white guilt” if I am not white? Should we take the white out and pass on just the guilt? I am certainly not advocating culturally insensitivity, I am talking about cultural acceptance; about opening our hearts, taking down those perfectly trimmed hedges, and letting wildflowers grow on carefully manicured lawns.
On that note, have you ever incorporated practices from other cultures into your own and over the years tuned them into a harmony, or set them as counterpoints? Is it wrong to mix and match? Over the years, I have peppered my life with words, gestures, foods, accents.. adopted or derived from cultures that I have passed through or have touched my life fleetingly. Isn’t that how culture evolves? And evolve it must, or it is condemned. A follow up question that has always bothered me in this context is, can you appropriate your own culture? I cherry pick the aspects I like and interpret them to suit my sensibilities all the time. What I believe, I retain, the rest I modify or outright reject. It is my culture, I have as much right to it as the people I share it with.
Coming back to where we started, my maxim is – appreciate the culture, embrace the traditions but don’t try to appropriate the heritage. At all times, be respectful. Open your hearts, take down those perfectly trimmed hedges and let wildflowers grow on those carefully manicured lawns.