Disclaimer: I’m from white suburbia. I know very little about cultures outside of my own. Granted, suburbia for me had a sizable Indian population that would still adhere to their ethnic cultural practices, so I do have a vague idea about Indian culture.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, roll my eyes at the formulaic “famous white people do India” routine of over-saturated video filters, holy men, the white male gaze at a woman of color and slum children joyfully throwing colorful Holi powder (as if they just carry it year-round in case white tourists like Chris Martin show up).
And this I agree is where the cultural appropriation largely comes from. What is it with Holi powder? Yes, I agree it’s a visually awing affect on camera, but it’s the thing I associate with India most even though it’s only used on one holiday to my knowledge, and Holi isn’t even the most important holiday just as Hanukkah isn’t the most important holiday for Semitics. This is an example of Western society picking and choosing what parts of culture they admire most. Back in my sheltered white dominant suburban neighborhood, the major regional hospital would use Holi powder to have its own celebration. As to what that is, I’m actually not sure, it was just a fun event. No one would disagree that that would be cultural appropriation.
When Holi powder is used in the context of the holiday, is it celebrating the culture? Not if it’s featured in pretty much “every white people do India” music video. After watching Coldplay’s video, I take next to no knowledge of Indian culture other than that it’s a exotic psychedelic wonderland with cabs with painted interiors and regular celebrations in the streets accompanied by the much overused Holi powder. Oh, and I suppose urban Indian children doing backflips.
Does Coldplay and/or Beyonce attempt to represent Indian culture in a negative way? Coldplay recruited an almost all Indian staff to produce their video. Their video is the very definition of them immersing themselves in culture. Just look at how Coldplay walks through the streets of Mumbai (I’m assuming) covered in Holi powder. Coldplay is certainly not trying to diss Indian culture, but there is certainly selectivity in what parts of Indian culture they represent.
Beyonce is a master of appropriation. She’s so good at it that she can often pass it off as her own work with no one knowing better. According to people who actually know what a mattha-patti is and how to wear it, Beyonce isn’t wearing it correctly; Me, knowing nothing about traditional Indian jewelry can’t tell. Beyonce looks as stunning as ever.
“I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow-bone it
I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it”
“You know you that bitch when you start all this conversation”
I pulled some of these lyrics from her recent song “Formation”. I think it’s very telling of how Beyonce appropriates and why she does.