Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

“Just because you throw colored powder around, doesn’t mean you are celebrating Holi,” Priya Patel, a Bed-Stuy resident of Indian descent told us. She shared her own personal history with Holi as a counterpoint:

“My family used to go to a Hindu temple is Jersey City which was about a two and a half hour drive from our home. We had low key celebrations in the parking lot after service withdholaks and kirtans on blast. It was fun, [but] it was definitely a smaller scale operation. I never would have thought that 15 years later, hip white people would be jacking this very community-centered and meaningful holiday, sequestering themselves in an empty Williamsburg parking lot and raging out in the name of some vague sense of ‘oneness.’”

The above quote is from an insightful article on the Hindu festival of Holi being taken and reconfigured by a company of white Germans into a hipster event in Brooklyn and abroad: “Bushwick’s Holi Fest: Hippie Fun or Cultural Appropriation?.*”  (I came to it from this other article also considering the cultural appropriation question via Pooja Makhijani.)  I live in the Columbia University area and for the last few years have noticed young white students coming out of the subway covered in paint and did wondered where exactly they had been celebrating Holi. Now I know and, sorry, but it smacks to me of the seemingly never-ending appeal of the “exotic” that still shows up all over the place —- something I’ve been brooding about for a long time and want to write about when I get my thoughts in order (and have more time).

*ETA Debbie Reese makes a good point in “Why the Question ‘Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation’ is the Wrong One.


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2 responses to “Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

  1. Zoe

    I do hope you’ll write up your thoughts. It’s something I’m struggling with right now – my kids want do “do some Japanese things”, so I’m wondering where the line falls between us trying out aspects of Japanese culture and learning from it, without moving over into appropriation. For example, they’d love to try kimonos on, but then I recall Kimono Wednesdays in Boston. Can people of one culture ever do something from another culture without it being appropriation? If we can’t try things from other cultures don’t we lose an opportunity for understanding?


  2. I recall that problem with the kimonos. See Debbie Reese’s post in response to this one (I provide the link above), calling out the difference between religion and culture. Something else to add to my mullings!


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