“We’ve been ‘cool’ for a very long time, and in that sense our culture has been taken for a very long time. How do we define when we’ve arrived? It’s not when a young, white girl in Berkley is wearing nice garlands or those nice buddhist beads, or wearing bindi. I don’t feel like my life in anyway has been improved because she has the ability to do that and thinks that’s okay. My life hasn’t improved. The life of my mother has not improved. Our voice as a community within this economic system has not improved.
A good friend of mine, she’s south Indian, and she grew up in Connecticut. Her mom would make her wear her bindi and go to school. She would get harassed by kids… she would be harassed so much that what she would do, is that because she was so ashamed to have that bindi on her head, she would leave her house, wipe it off… and then come home and put it back on.
To the point where a child would have to think about such a deliberate attempt to refute their own culture I think is pretty profound. If there’s a white girl wearing a bindi walking down central avenue in the heights, she’s not considered a dot head, even though she has a dot on her head.
For me, the feeling is disgust and anger. The way I look at it if I see it, I just get so mad because I think, how dare this person be able to wear that, or hold that, or put that statue in her house and not take any of the oppression for that. How dare they. That’s not fair. We have to take so much heat and repression for expressing ourselves.
I’m going to rip that thing off your head, and I’m going to scrub that mehndi off your hands, because you don’t have the right to wear it. Until the day when you walk in our shoes, and you face what we face… the pain, and the shame, and the hurt, and the fear, you don’t have the right to wear that. It is not your right, and you’re not worthy of it. I feel like it’s so superficial and it’s so disrespected. One day, wake up, be me, and then you’ll see how powerful what you’re wearing is. ”
—Raahi Reddy, Yellow Apparel: When the Coolie Becomes Cool