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Cultural Appropriation And Expressions Of Sikhi

Discussion in 'Convert's Corner' started by Ishna, Dec 28, 2015.

  1. Ishna

    Ishna
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    Sikhs of non-Punjabi or non-Indian background walk a fine line.

    Coming to Sikhi, straight away we are faced with Punjabi language in the Gurdwara, punjabi suits, kakkars, Gurmukhi script, kirtan and Punjabi food.

    It gets more complicated from there, as the non-Punjabi Sikh tries to determine what is cultural and what is religious. What to wear, what to say, how to behave at Gurdwara and outside of Gurdwara. Always wondering if you'll offend a Punjabi or Indian by wearing their clothes, cooking their food, or singing their songs.

    I came across a blog post on cultural appropriation today. Here are some snippets:

    As many of you know, many people who are NOT Desi/Indian/South Asian people claim to have converted to Hinduism when it is not something you convert to, it is a religion you are born into and is not open to foreigners. To “convert” to Hinduism as many have claimed, is cultural appropriation and is stealing from a deep and rich culture that is not yours.

    I fully agree with the statements above, and it breaks my heart to see NON Desi/Indian/South Asian people appropriate a religion and culture due to being native american/middle eastern myself, and knowing how it feels to have a culture stolen and abused.

    I know Wikipedia is not always a reliable source so I did some research elsewhere and on YouTube What I found is there are non desi/Indian/South Asain (mostly white) converts who respectfully follow the faith, and do not over step their bounders and understand that the culture and faith are separate. Then their are converts who try to assimilate into the cultural part of the faith, instead of the religious part.

    The Sikh faith, and Indian/desi/south Asian culture are two very distinct and different things. However many converts think that converting gives them the right to appropriate the culture. (Examples; wearing tradition Indian dress, wearing bindis, leading the faith, becoming Gurus, changing their name to Indian/desi/south Asian names.)

    - See more at: http://wocinsolidarity.tumblr.com/p...nverts-to-the-sikh-faith#sthash.jhGcE12y.dpuf
    The author provides some links to mainly gori Sikhs doing bhangra, and a few to a British woman who has taken to making (I'm sorry) really bad music videos singing Punjabi.

    The article concludes with this:

    So in conclusion, yes you can be Sikh. The Sikh faith accepts converts. However there is a VERY fine line between respectfully being part of the faith, and appropriating the culture. If you are not desi/Indian/south Asian do not try and be desi/Indian/south Asian, simply follow the faith without trying to steal the culture.
    And then this:

    I agree with this and I am sikh myself. Honestly, white sikhs are looked at as jokes in our community, simply because they like to dissect certain strands of our religion and then try to appropriate desi culture like they have some sort of pass. Though we accept converts, the religion is very intricate. I notice the white converts only acknowledge the superficial aspects of our religion. It’s quite laughable really.​

    When I first went to the Gurdwara, I wore western clothes. Auntie Ji suggested I'd be more comfortable in salwar kameez. I've been wearing salwar kameez to Gurdwara almost exclusively, ever since. I've done the "Gurdwara dash" - that is, put on my salwar kameez, drive to Gurdwara for the service, drive home and get changed. I'll be honest, it feels a bit like dress-ups. More recently I've been wearing salwar kameez to the shops on the way home. Yesterday I came home and went out again with my partner to the grocery store. Is this cultural appropriation, though? Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place!

    Recently, I've been wearing tichels, too. I asked a Jewish friend if he thinks Jews would mind me wearing one of their traditional headdresses. He said he doesn't think anyone would really care.

    I have a gori bhainji in Canada, who went from wearing salwar kameez and dastar, to now western clothes and tichels. The reason being, that even in full bana, people weren't recognising her as a Sikh. She was reprimanded by a Singh in Gurdwara for using a handkerchief to take care of allergies while studying nitnem bania, instead of her chunni; although to her, the handkerchief is more natural for her to use, it wasn't clean enough from his perspective.

    I've read websites that purport to give an historical account, with pictures, of the tradition of Sikh women not wearing dastars. Some Sikhs scoff at the idea of a woman wearing a dastar, much less a gori!

    I'm interested to hear the sangat's view on cultural appropriation with relation to converts to Sikhi.

    culture1.jpg
     
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  3. ActsOfGod

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    Certainly, the videos of Amritdhari women dancing and performing Bhangra appears to show some incongruency.

    Perhaps the practitioners are not able to distinguish between what is a cultural practice (bhangra) and the religious/spiritual aspects (connotations of being an Amritdhari) of the faith.

    Then again, I'm sure that there are others who will argue that there's no fundamental issue with Sikhi and dancing. They should consider this: a person who has dedicated their life to spirituality and the service of mankind wouldn't exactly be found living the lifestyle of clubbing and hitting the bars. You can do one, or the other, just not both simultaneously. It doesn't work, they are mutually exclusive.

    However, these folks are from the 3HO group, the same people who have put Guru's Bani to a dance track and do group dances at their solstice festivals.

    At the very least, this shows a dire lack of understanding and education of the faith. It displays their ignorance and arrogance. It is obvious they have not genuinely studied Sikh history.

    And furthermore proves the fact that they indeed have no real connection to Gurbani, which we (as Sikhs) hold so sacred and beloved that we cherish it with our very breaths and lives.

    [AoG]
     
  4. Sherdil

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    Do as the Romans do. The more you are exposed to it, the more you will be able to discern culture from religion. Eventually, you will come to realize that most of the Romans don’t know what they are doing either.

    I strongly disagree with this. I also find it to be racist. Broaden your horizons. You aren’t limited by the circumstances you are born into. If you feel drawn towards a different culture, then go ahead and immerse yourself in it. It’s okay.

    Lol. Culture is something to be shared. The idea of stealing in this context is laughable.

    This is a closed-minded and racist statement.

    Most of the other ladies are playing dress-up as well. They only wear salwar kameez to parties and Gurdwara. Do as the Romans do. Stick with salwar kameez.

    The men don’t wear chunnis. How do they handle allergies? Some people invent new rules that make it harder for people to follow the religion.
     
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  5. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    Hmm wonder how some might see me then?? As a gori, tying a dastar and not only that I fought for the right for women Sikhs to tie turbans in the Canadian military paving the way for other singhnis to do so. My story made international news including in print in Times India which is the largest national newspaper in India. It was carried on probably more than 20 Sikh news websites and all of the comments were positive. Seriously there was not a single negative comment whatsoever!! You can still search the stories online by Canadian navy Sikh woman turban and you will find them and you can read what people wrote in the comments!

    There are more Punjabi Singhnis who are tying them now. The younger generation are claiming their right as equal next to the Singhs and tying dastars is part of that. My Sangat here was hugely supportive. They know I am doing it because I believe Guru Ji wanted all his Sikhs to and know the reasons behind it and I believe in them. There are also a LOT of Punjabi Singhs marrying gori converts so they must not think anything against us for following the religion so closely and also respecting Punjabi culture as well... My in laws love that I wear salwar kameez when I'm there in India and I fit in more that way.

    I wear salwar kameez here too as sitting on floor in jeans is horribly uncomfortable and wondering if anything is showing that shouldn't be... It's just more modest for matha tek etc too. Salwar kameez is not just Punjabi other cultures also wear these suits!! They are just clothes. And lots of Indian women wear jeans and t shirts!

    Hinduism is different because of the belief of being born into it. But Sikhi is open to all who follow teachings of our Gurus. Sikh Rehet Maryada makes it clear that ANYONE who follows the teachings of the ten gurus, SGGSJ, etc are Sikhs. Guru Nanak Dev Ji got followers how?? They weren't born into it... They followed him because they believed him and chose to! Sikhi doesn't try to convert people but anyone who finds it on their own is welcomed with open arms. I have never found a single Punjabi Sikh against goris following Sikhi. Only exception to this is 3HO because some feel they have appropriated Sikh image but they are practicing something entirely different.

    I think u might be overanalyzing things and worrying a bit too much. I did at first... But then realized every Punjabi I know are hugely supportive. My best friend is Punjabi, my husband is Punjabi... Punjabi culture is kind of natural to me now lol
     
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  6. Ishna

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    To be honest, I'm not sure what the problem is of goray Sikhs dancing bhangra. Or any Sikhs dancing bhangra. I'm not sure what the original blogger's problem was with the videos, besides the problem everyone seems to have with 3HO and their place in the panth.

    I went to Sikh camp many years ago, and everyone was encouraged to dance bhangra, myself included.
     
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  7. Ishna

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    It just feels.. inauthentic, to me, personally, to wear those clothes to Gurdwara and nowhere else. Sikhi isn't something you put on for Sunday. But at the same time, many people wear their "Sunday best" to church. It helps get you into a ceremonial mindset. But is this division between the sacred and not-so-sacred healthy? The Punjabi-and-not-so-Punjabi?

    I will stick with the salwar kameez for now, as I don't have anything that is as comfortable or practical, as Harkiran Ji mentions below.

    They wear that (usually white) thingo around their necks. I thought it was called a chola, but I'm not sure.

    I don't know why it was such a big deal to him. It was an over-reaction and totally unjust. If I have the pleasure to meet him, I would like to tell him as much, to hopefully help him be nicer in future.
     
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    #6 Ishna, Dec 29, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015
  8. Ishna

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    Yes, you have done wonderful seva for bhainjis in the Canadian military. I'm very glad that you haven't received negative comments about it.

    There have always been some Punjabi Singhnis tying dastars. At the same time, there is a movement within Sikhi where some people are very much against it.

    I've not received a negative word about the salwar kameez from anybody. Most Indian people I meet tell me I look beautiful wearing the suits. Even this past Sunday, I was at a service station and it was the first thing the Indian attendant said to me. :)

    Here here! They are perfect Gurdwara clothing. Except the dupattas in the kitchen. Mine always ends up tied behind my back to keep it out of the way.

    It's funny, people will complain that it is cultural appropriation if "goris" wear their cultural clothing, but it's OK for them to wear "ours".

    I don't quite know enough about Sanatan Dharma to comment on whether or not they accept converts. I'm sure it gets complicated with regard to caste - what caste is a convert, and how do they work that out?

    The blog post cited in the OP is the first time I've seen anyone question whether conversion to Sikhi is cultural appropriation.

    Well, for me there was the initial fear factor of stepping into the world of another culture when I first attended Gurdwara in 2005. Then there was the acceptance and settling in and really crossing over. Much like my friend, who is married to a Punjabi Singh; we jumped into it all with open arms, like yourself. But, after a while, when the dust of excitement settled for she and I, and we began to consider our Sikhi in the greater landscape of our whole lives, our perspectives widened, and the rough edges became apparent.

    I'm not saying this as a bad thing, it is merely an experience she and I both share. Yours might be different. For me, it didn't really start to occur until I was about 7 years along my path.

    And also, I am who I am, and that is not Punjabi. Do we really need to assimilate into Punjabi culture to thoroughly adopt Sikhi? If a gora/gori retains their own culture while practicing Sikhi, does that make it more like "cultural appropriation"? I don't know.. things to ponder.
     
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  9. linzer

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    Most of the Singhs I know are fond of plaid shirts with coordinated turbans .Is that cultural appropriation?
     
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  10. Harkiran Kaur

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    Or if SInghs wear jeans and t shirts or western business suits instead of kurta pyjama??
     
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  11. Harkiran Kaur

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    Just to revive this topic, I had asked straight out to my husband and his family what they think about gori / western wearing Indian clothes. They all said they were happy to see anyone not born in the culture wearing their styles. It gives them pride to see their own culture expanding beyond borders. Also, although styles vary in cultures, clothing really is just clothing after all :)

    Where people might get upset is if say someone started tying a turban, or wearing a kirpan without practicing the faith. That is not really cultural though. and more faith based. And it has nothing to do with appropriation because religion spreading is a good thing. As long as those who adopt it do so with their whole heart and not as a fad. Like yoga has become a huge fad. Many people are wearing OM symbol now who have no idea what the religious symbolism is related to Hinduism. They are not Hindu, do not follow Hinduism but wear Hindu religious symbols. See the difference?

    But clothing? Wear what makes you feel good :) Punjabis in general love knowing their clothing is appreciated by others! And as I said before, my husband keeps buying me more Punjabi suits (same with his sister and my Mother-in-law). They wouldn't do that if they thought there was something wrong with it.
     
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  12. Inderjeet Kaur

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    As I see it, this "cultural appropriation" thing is political correctness carried to a ridiculous extreme. I like who and what I am and I hope you feel the same way about yourself. I am happy to share my culture and my religion with anybody who wants it. Sikhi does, after all, regard the whole human race as one.

    Sikhi is wonderful. It was given to us freely by our Gurus and we should be as generous to others.
     
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