Adele, Bantu Knots & The Jamaican Flag Bikini, Are We Going Too Far With : My-Culture-Is-Not-Your-Culture Thing?



Note: As expected the self-appointed culture custodians have started their seething tirade with abusive comments on this blog and on the links where this is shared across my social media channels.

I just want to say that I respect your opinions but please 🙏 stop being abusive. Some of these custodians are claiming that Adele and her supporters should support the Black Lives Matter Movement in the wake of US-wide civil unrest instead of robbing African culture and Heritage. My answer is simple. The Black Lives Matter Movement is a very important one and I do not need to justify my support. My blog is full of support for BLM however I also don't want to trivialize the movement by fueling this invalid and negative argument connecting Adele's alleged cultural appropriation to the BLM. Why should anyone carry a culture tag? Why should one have to credit a cultural element to make these self-entitled cluture vultures feel empowered and validated?

Once upon a time, culture was something to be inspired by. Something to learn, grow along with, and connect to. Now, it is increasingly becoming an expression of cultural appropriation if a white person is inspired by a person of color. The singer Adele has been in the eye of the culture storm for wearing a bikini top with the Jamaican flag and supporting Bantu knots. She has been accused of cultural theftAnd yes, I know it's silly to be outraged by this kind of hypocrisy, but I'm not outraged, I'm worried. As a Diversity proponent and as an entrepreneur who is setting a lifestyle and experiential cafe where the cultural exchange and appreciation is the basis of its existence. I'm not even sure what is going on with this extremist woke-ness of a mindset.. "my culture is not your culture" thing. 

I find it hard to see Adele's use of Jamaican symbols as offensive if, as I see the context, she perceives the symbols positively. I don't see it as if she's in any way hateful or showing disrespect. Is it too hard to see that it's Adele's motive behind the action that counts, not the actual outcome of the action? So being part of Notting Hill Festival (Carnival) that celebrates and honors the Caribbean and Black heritage is cultural appropriation? 

The concept of "culture" has both been narrowed and diminished. How have we been raised to learn from the history and cultures of the world? I remember donning so many traditional dresses characterized by me in my school days. I became a princess, a king, or one of the famous historical figures from the world I knew, not to denigrate the chosen inspirations, not with evil intentions or anything like that, rather the opposite. But if an adult person does something just about the same today, it is almost automatically perceived as identity theft, a violation, or worse cultural appropriation!

Could we not take a more positive and inclusive approach and see such situations as expressions of respect and recognition of the person or group of people or culture with whom one is currently identifying?  

Multicultural understanding is exactly what drives my blog, Diverse Customer. There is a thin line between appreciating the culture and appropriating it. As is evident I have written about this subject umpteen times. My role as a D&I professional is to put in place and maintain a wide range of initiatives and identify priorities for the brands and influencers I work with to ensure that their products and services are not exploiting any culture purely for financial benefit. This is true because big brands and celebrities cut and commercialize pieces of culture out of habit and entitlement. We have seen big fashion brands take inspiration for their fashion from different cultures without even acknowledging or even giving credit to the artisanal benefits they derive from those cultures. That is pure exploitation. Just an example of how the appropriation persists. 

I am not religious or a cultural custodian but I did protest when Amazon allowed a merchant to sell toilet covers and bathroom mats depicting religious motifs of Hindu gods and goddesses and sacred texts, taking a leaf from Hindu scriptures that millions worldwide revere. Would you like your faith paraded on the toilet seat? To me, that is cultural appropriation. Or the infamous Dolce & Gabbana advert showing imagery that was perpetuating a negative, colonial, oppressive, and ethnocentric mindset of the western world towards Asian modernism. 

Culture is not a cliche. 

Coming back to Adele, the argument of her culturally robbing the Caribbean Heritage in itself seems insidious. We all are indoctrinated and have no idea how deeply embedded we are in our culture and seeing others negatively reveals our own negative traits, beliefs, and experiences. Culture is not anyone's private property. If someone wants to appreciate your culture, be gracious and compliment. A false sense of entitlement to eagerly express one's ignorance and making it sound like it is okay in the spirit of open discussion reflects an ennui of one's own limitations and perhaps point out the cultural appropriation that one may be perpetuating. This is a typical Pygmalion effect (albeit defined a myriad of different ways) where any perceived discriminatory behavior or treatment is met with the same level of dissonance and directed at other random people.

Often such blatant offensive and inconsistent behavior makes such people less likely to see that their actions have serious real-world consequences. It’s a passive construction there is no active agent in their perception. Symbols of other cultures are always appreciated by those who get exposed to them. Wonder why the unnecessary psychoanalysis on the cultural significance of the garment or a hairstyle on such motivations?

We've had decades of only elite opinion-makers being heard and now social media has ushered in a free for all platform where anyone can have their voice heard. Between the haze of self-entitled culture custodianship and looking at their own culture with rose-tinted glasses and looking with disdain at others who borrow a piece of that culture and not expecting them to blend in their own way is wrong. People take pleasure in noticing flaws in others and judging their lives as black or white, good or bad. The fact is we all live in the shades of grey. This understanding offers immediate food for thought that seems to make them more reflective of us consider our own contributions, opinions, and judgments more carefully.

-Amit Anand