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Sharing Joy Increases Joy—Not Everything Is Cultural Appropriation

One of the best ways to increase your joy is to share it. Whether that is joy over an engagement, a puppy, a job promotion, a birthday party, a marriage, or a culture. That makes sense, right?

Here’s an example. Let’s say you get engaged, but then your fiance tells you that you cannot share the news with anyone. How would that make you feel? TERRIBLE. Yeah sure, you are happy enough that you got engaged, but how much greater would your joy be once you called your best friend or parents? Your joy would be sky high. That’s how I feel about sharing my culture.

Lately I’ve seen so many posts on “cultural appropriation.” It really is quite a buzz phrase these days. Do you know what it actually means?

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture. 

Simple enough, right? These days people are shouting cultural appropriation at the Kardashians every other day. Stella McCartney was accused of cultural appropriation in her recent fashion show. Jeremy Lin was called out for cultural appropriation because he was wearing dreads. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Clearly, there are many people out there who are not okay with other people adopting elements of their own culture.

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Lindsey Mueller Photography (From Shruthi’s Wedding)

Let’s get one thing clear. I am totally and completely against the kinds of people out there who don’t give cultures the respect they deserve. These are the people who take zero time to understand why that design is special or why the fashion is the way it is. These are the same people who think that everything belongs to them and are flippant with their respect. These people do exist, and it’s hard to weed them out.

However, we can’t get caught up in trying to identify each one of these insensitive ignoramuses. I’ve seen people get caught up in that kind of witch hunt, and it leads them to an ugly bitterness. It really is, as they say, like drinking poison and hoping the other person will be affected.

Instead, I choose to focus on the people who are hungry to understand my culture.

Sharing Joy Increases Joy—Not Everything Is Cultural Appropriation

I was born in India and moved to the States as a kid. Every other summer, I head to India to spend time with my family and make sure I don’t lose touch with my Indian roots. I am as Indian as I am American, and honestly, I love both sides of me so incredibly much. I love introducing my friends to Indian food, cooking Indian food, wearing Indian clothes one day and jeans the next, watching Bollywood movies on Friday family night, educating my husband about cricket, supporting Indian businesses on my blog, keeping track of government politics in India, and giving back to my community there through service projects, money, and volunteering. That’s just the beginning of the list.

My white, American husband knows enough Telugu to get by, and he can make a kick-ass biryani. He doesn’t pronounce Buddha like “boo-da” but rather like “bu-dha.” He respects my Brahmin upbringing by not making fun of me for not eating meat or for taking my shoes off in every home I go to. When he wears a kurta to work, I don’t see him as appropriating my culture, but LOVING it. He understands it and respects it. He’s been to India, and he’s connected with so many Indian people. In some ways, he’s more Indian than I am.

Sharing Joy Increases Joy—Not Everything Is Cultural Appropriation

So it hurts my heart that there are people out there who automatically think (straight up judgement) that just because he is white, he is appropriating my culture. They think of him and his people as “the enemy” because of the British from ages ago, and honestly, I hate the judgment we both face from small, tiny minds out there. Stop using a blanket condemnation of cultural appropriation, and instead understand the cases of cultural appreciation.

There’s a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The latter has a deeply rooted sense of respect and desire to learn more.

If you find great pride and joy in your culture, and you are fortunate enough to have had it around you your whole life, why can’t you share? Why can’t you let other people in on the joy?

Moreover, why wouldn’t you want to share? Just because someone else wasn’t born in that country? Or because you are angry at white people from hundreds of years ago?

Sharing Joy Increases Joy—Not Everything Is Cultural Appropriation

Recently I saw an article which cited dressing up as Jasmine from Aladdin on Halloween as cultural appropriation. I’m taken aback that so many people think that because of their skin color, they own certain aspects of their culture. We don’t decide who is “blank” enough to try parts of our culture and who isn’t. If we start picking and choosing who can take part in our culture, we are not any better than those who historically oppressed our people in the first place.

And no, I don’t ever forget what happened. I know certain white people created racial hierarchy, imperialism, and colonialism to conquer and plunder too much of what was never theirs. I understand the pain so many still feel today because of slavery and civil injustice from fifty years ago in the USA. Our colors should never be a factor for power. But we live in a fallen world. Too many people wanted to be God of this earth and instead left millions reeling.

I don’t forget what happened. But at the end of the day, the way I react is to lay my burdens at the feet of my God. My faith in a God who is a JUST God trumps any anger that may take root in my heart. I believe He sees and knows everything. He catches every tear and hears every prayer. Because of that, I don’t play the role of judge, jury, or executioner. I choose to mimic the actions of Jesus, the one who faced the pinnacle of unjust suffering. Jesus, who died on the cross because of what his own people wanted. When the authorities asked if we should release the innocent man, Jesus, or the murderer, Barabbas, we chose the murderer. People whipped, demeaned, humiliated, stoned, beat, spat on, and nailed Jesus into a cross.

And even in the peak of his pain, he looked up at God and said, “Father, forgive THEM for they know not what they do.” How can I not look to that example of endless love? He moves me to show mercy and grace on a daily basis even if my anger tells me otherwise. From that racist cashier who refused me service but helped my husband to the president of the USA—I will always choose to share my joy, keep my head up, and open my heart. Will you?

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Shelby Nickel Photography (From Shruthi’s Wedding)


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