Cardi B recently got some backlash for depicting Hindu goddess, Durga, in a Reebok ad. Durga is the Hindu goddess of war, strength, and protection, so the ad intended to pay homage to her, but the Hindu community quickly shed light on why this was in fact disrespectful and not an homage to the goddess. In her apology, Cardi B acknowledges that she should've done more research and promises to do so in the future--she didn't mean to disrespect, but now she knows better. I think that's all we can ask of anyone when they make a very human mistake. I'm sure many of us can relate to this experience, though we don't all do so as publicly as Cardi B did. Just this summer I got scolded by my dad when we tried to use an umbrella as shade for baby and I at my grandma's funeral, because apparently that's not okay in Chinese culture. As someone who loves learning about and experiencing other cultures, I understand that sometimes there's a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation or just simply understanding your cultural surroundings. Something I've been thinking a lot about lately though, is how we respond to others in such situations.
There was a time, very recently even, when I was finding my voice as an Asian-American woman and my voice was angry. I'd get really annoyed with people making different Asian foods or practices trendy and I'd be vocal about it. Maybe I was overcompensating for all the years I rebelled against my culture. I don't know. Either way, I've realized how counterproductive that can be though. I'm not saying people shouldn't get angry or don't have the right to be angry. Trust me, I understand the anger, especially when you feel for so long you've been unseen and unheard, or even trampled all over. It's okay to be angry, but how we express that anger matters. Cancel culture has created a dangerous trend of publicly humiliating and shaming people for their mistakes. This is counterproductive. We need to give people the chance to learn and grow. If they don't, then that's on them and they've shown their true colors.
First, I want to quickly address religious and sacred customs. Cardi B appropriated a religious figure, and we need to take extra care and caution when it comes to religious and sacred practices and traditions. Recently a teacher in France was killed for having shown the Charlie Hebdo images of Muhammad to his students in class as part of a lesson. Freedom of Expression must be protected, there is no question about that, and Charlie Hebdo is known for its satirical and often controversial depictions of religious, political, and pop culture figures. However, it's absolutely disrespectful to make any depictions of the prophet Muhammad when they know full well that the majority of Muslims adhere to the belief that depictions of the prophet are forbidden, let alone the type of crude caricatures Charlie Hebdo published. There are other ways to criticize extremism without producing sacrilegious content. Perhaps, I'm more sensitive to this, because I am a woman of faith. Still, I think, for example in Cardi B's case," she and her team should have known to take their research a step further and learn whether what they wanted to do was appropriate at all.
Generally speaking though, we need to be careful about punishing people for not knowing better, as long as they learn and do better moving forward. If someone gets something wrong about your culture, but they're clearly showing an appreciation for it, we must take the time to educate with compassion. I think even if someone is blatantly ignorant and unaware about something, like my umbrella at the funeral situation, or dare I even say it, festival goers wearing Native headdresses or bindis on their forehead, responding with compassion and education opens more doors to cultural understanding and learning. Of course, if people continue to disrespect and appropriate culture after knowing full well that they're being offensive, then rage ahead with however you would like to respond. I won't judge. The thing I want to emphasize here is that when we shame people, publicly or privately, we are closing the door on them. We are saying, you don't belong. We push them away from getting to know our culture. And I don't think that kind of behavior helps our cause or culture. It probably doesn't help ourselves, personally, either.
It's a beautiful and necessary thing to learn about, embrace, and appreciate other cultures. When we do, we learn a lot about our similarities as well as what distinguishes us from one another. Sometimes learning about another culture helps me better understand my own, or myself and my values. So, I encourage you all to take the time to really learn about other cultures, and do a little extra reading or asking to understand the origins and significance of things you may not have previously thought twice about.
Have you ever accidentally offended someone's culture? Or how have you responded to cultural appropriation in the past? What are your thoughts on this? I'd love to hear them.