Come Gawk at my Culture

by Rashee

I know there have already been so many rants about Coldplay & Beyonce’s new video, but here is one more.

There’s a weird fascination with Indian things that arises every two or three years. It becomes cool again to do Indian things, like get temporary henna tattoos, wear bindis and throw holi powder on each other. They even have 5ks where you can throw colored powder at each other. I’m pretty sure I remember a beer commercial to that effect too. What would Americans think if they had a Easter Run 5k in India? And it only involved the “fun” parts of the religious holiday, none of that boring religious stuff? They just have an egg hunt, colorful baskets and beautiful white dresses, but none of that sacrifice, rising from the dead or cross stuff. It’s too depressing; we just like the colorful stuff!

I don’t pretend to speak for the subcontinent or for anyone else. It just bothers me.

rash-indiablog

Every kid loves to dress up. I still love it, and the more elaborate, the better. Sadly, I’ve lost count of how many times I was an “Indian Princess” for Halloween. This “costume” was mostly due to laziness and realizing on October 30th that it’s too late to think of something original and fun… and Target was picked over, so the options were limited. But here’s the deal: I am actually Indian and there are 364 days a year that are not Halloween. I don’t get to opt out of being brown all the other times. I might like to opt out. Like every time I have to traverse airport security or someone has a tech question, I’d like to opt out. Every time someone brown does something unspeakably horrible to an American, I want to opt out. On September 12, 2001 when my Mexican downstairs neighbors asked if I was Muslim, I wanted to opt out. I never seem to get that luxury. I have to continue being Indian. It is by no means a burden, it is just something to recognize.

Enter Coldplay & Beyonce. This video is like swiping right for being Indian. It’s a quick hook up with a neat and colorful culture that ends after 4 minutes. It is the culture you date, but don’t marry. At least that is what it feels like. Hey, why don’t we dress up and have a nice first date then I’ll ghost and never speak to you again? Well I got mine, that was fun!

My infant son was very ill last week and was admitted to the ICU. The ICU nurse asked if she could come to his wedding because she has a culture crush on Indians. I took it in stride because she was Vietnamese and was probably trying to diffuse a tense time for me with nice small talk. I could have asked her for pho recommendations, but I didn’t because how stupid would that be. I was in shock from even being at the hospital, standing there with my coat on and my purse on my shoulder wondering why the hell my baby was hooked up to so many machines and tubes and struggling to breathe. He is not even a year old. You want to come to his wedding because you want to see an elephant?! Please. P.T. Barnum is happy to show you his elephant. No, he probably will not spend four days entertaining you and feeding you weird food, but he still claimed to have the greatest show on earth, and it might be wise to go see for yourself.

It used to be just white chicks who exercised their culture crushes: Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea. Now Beyonce is on board.

Does this make me bitter? I want to share my culture with you, but I don’t like doing it this way. There has to be a better way. Am I justified? Is Coldplay? I felt that tight annoyance rising in my chest when I saw the video, and that is the best way I can explain it. Not this again.

Tasneem Raja of NPR’s Code Switch said it best in her story this week:

I fully get that music videos are largely about escapism, and celebrities dressing up in fabulous clothes, and dreamy landscapes, and that’s all fine. Just understand that in the age of Twitter and think pieces, the days in which white musicians could use black and brown people as props without expecting widespread scrutiny, mockery or pushback are rapidly drawing to a close.

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