If you’re like me who’s been living under a rock, free from the latest viral ‘thing’, apparently Foodpanda recently released an advertisement portraying Indian culture (they claim it has nothing to do with Deepavali) that has brought the wrath of the Indian community upon them. The main contribution to the viral factor was that it was the portrayal of Indian culture with no Indian actors, with the main argument being would they have made a Raya ad with no Malays?
Before we get into a discussion about the video itself, perhaps it would do us a lot of good to discuss cultural appropriation. When I search for the meaning of the term ‘cultural appropriation’ on Google, it provides the following definition “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” In essence, cultural appropriation happens when a member of a more dominant race (although there is no consensus whether it’s limited to a dominant race) adopts the culture of a minor race within the community. Examples that have made headlines before under this topic are Eminem getting awards for rapping, white people using dreadlocks, and even previously Mira Filzah’s ad where she adorned a full Punjabi suit (if I’m right).
Understandably an argument against cultural appropriation is certainly valid, firstly the anger from minorities is justified especially when their practices and customs are often ridiculed by the other races. How many times have we heard the words “keling” when they refer to Indian clothes, customs, and practices. Even our Malaysian national Badminton player, literally a player who represents our country was called the K-word. It is hypocritical of the other races to now want to use Indian culture in order to generate revenue and publicity for themselves. Secondly, oftentimes customs and practices that are adopted lose out their original intention either as a form of ritualistic/religious practice and can be interpreted wrongly by the adopter and therefore offend the original purpose of it. There have been many times where a Chinese person would wear the ‘bindi’, which is a Hindu custom referring to the third eye which carries the weight of the religious history behind it, now degraded into a fashion accessory. Regardless of whether you think cultural appropriation is justified or not, we should still learn to ensure respect is given to another for his beliefs and faith.
Although to some extent I do believe cultural appropriation is bad, I however believe it’s time for us to take control of the situation and rebrand it as ‘cultural enrichment’. Most importantly, is understanding that culture, customs, and traditions are not patented, copyrighted, or frankly owned by a specific race. Using the context of globalization and how the world is mixing so many different origins to create new ones, it’s probably time to let go of the deep-rooted hate we keep internalized against other races as I view cultural appropriation as a form of division between races rather than something that unites them.
To accept cultural appropriation is to give weight to a slippery slope argument as it will bring forth more issues. Who decides when it’s cultural appropriation? Do we need just one member of the appropriated culture to take offence? What if there are some who don’t take offence?
When Foodpanda created this advertisement without any Indians in it, we must first look at the context in creating the video. Assuming Foodpanda purposely excluded Indians from the video due to stereotypes or discriminatory behavior, then that is a problem concerning racism and not appropriation which should definitely be an issue worth fighting over. But what if it was simply due to a lack of available actors? Does creating an Indian-themed advertisement automatically create a platform for affirmative action to cast any Indian just for the sake of tokenism? I argue this is a worse trade-off as it instills the behavior that we are allowed to get away with discriminatory behavior simply because of the existence of a false sense of diversity. Forcing diversity for the sake of it simply creates a façade of unity after all.
Looking at the attacks against Foodpanda, I can’t help but wonder perhaps society has become a group of snowflakes focused on political correctness rather than accepting there is no such thing as being correct. To force everyone to accept one reality is also oppressive behavior that doesn’t change simply because you think you have some higher moral standing, Hitler, Stalin, and even Trump all believe in their self-righteousness, the same behavior everyone shares in reality. Shouting cultural appropriation is just another excuse for cowards to gain a sense of community in this growing world by shifting blame to another while in fact the behavior stems from their very own internalized racism. I’d like to propose a theory that people who scream cultural appropriation at the slightest trigger are actually living in fear of losing their sense of tribalism which has provided them with comfort and safety.
When we rebrand it into cultural enrichment, we better promote the idea that it’s acceptable to intermingle and adopt practices from other cultures. Through this continuous promotion we also create an opportunity to spread and normalize diversity that’s not limited to colour or creed. Imagine a world where a Malay boy can grow up observing his friends and family put on a Saree as an acceptable attire regardless of the occasion, through his personal observation, he becomes more accepting of the fact that different cultures exist and that beauty exists in each of these cultures. With this experience, he is more likely to open up his mind in making positive attempts in actualizing his experience which will lead him to associate diversity as a normal concept that everyone should be open to. True diversity exists in the diversity of thoughts and not merely having people with different melanin contents in their skins mingling around or showing up in an advertisement.
We keep talking about being unified as humans yet the smallest trigger unravels this deep-rooted division that we pretend doesn’t exist inside of us. After all, what is condemning cultural appropriation if not a form of racism designed to create barriers between integration.
Kage is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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