“Dark is lovely and the bindi isn’t indie”: an interview with the founder of #reclaimthebindi

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Illustration by Maia Grecco.

#reclaimthebindi is a movement battling the appropriation of the bindi. You can read more about cultural appropriation here. In this interview we discuss the movement, the Desi community, and the benefits and pitfalls of social activism with the movement’s founder, “M”, who chooses to remain anonymous.

Lucky Penny Mag: When and how did #reclaimthebindi begin, and how did it develop into the multi-social-media spanning movement it is today?

M: #reclaimthebindi began about a year ago after I saw a blog post by the amazing Desi style blogger Anjana Raj of Banglebanger. She made a post with the title ‘Reclaim the Bindi’ and the phrase really resonated with me and my feelings about cultural appropriation. Thinking others might feel the same way, I started the blog in October of 2014. It did take a while for the movement to really gain the support it has today. I don’t think it was until April of this year that people really started hearing and talking about #reclaimthebindi. I am ever grateful for the attention the movement has received from various media outlets to really spread its message.

You are currently running a bindi shop for South Asians and donating the proceeds to charity. How did you choose the Ankur Kala agency for this? What other charities did you consider?

I spent quite a while searching for organizations that directly impact the South Asian community and this one really embodied something I think is so important to address in South Asian cultures: giving women opportunities for independence (in this case economic independence).

How do you have the energy to keep fighting? What drives you to keep going?

Honestly, it can be really difficult and tiring to keep running the behind-the-scenes of this movement. It’s been a long journey to get to where this space is today and I can’t say that I’ve loved every second of it. There have been multiple times where I really lost faith in what the movement stood for or the community it is fighting for. However, I can now look back and think about what I and others have learned from this community, what difference the campaign has hopefully made in people’s lives, and the change it will hopefully keep making. I think that’s what really keeps me going – seeing #reclaimthebindi grow and create change.

What advice can you give to Desis who want to feel more comfortable in their identities?

You are not alone. You are not alone in struggling to feel okay with who you are and where you fit in this world. It might take a long time to feel comfortable with your identity, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It can take a long time to convince ourselves that we are not what society has conditioned us to feel about our identities. There are people out there (even if you will never meet them) who care for and support you so please don’t ever forget that!

Is there anything you have to say to the opponents of the movement?

Please read more about why this is so important! There is an entire page of the blog dedicated to South Asians sharing stories about their cultural identities and why cultural appropriation is so harmful. Please check it out!

What’s the right time to stand up and speak out against cultural appropriation? How can you tell, in a particular situation, if it’s worth it or not?

It can be extremely difficult to talk about cultural appropriation in real life – it’s a phrase that’s I see being used online a lot more than offline and that definitely makes it a hard topic to approach in everyday conversation. I’m by no means an authority on how to handle such situations in person but personally, I only bring it up with people I know, who are familiar with the concept, or who I know would take the time to understand what I am trying to say. It can be really counterproductive to simply say to a stranger on the street that their shirt is appropriative or that you would appreciate if they didn’t wear a bindi. It’s almost first instinct for us to get defensive and not even consider where a viewpoint is coming from when someone tells us that we are doing something harmful or oppressive. After an encounter where someone feels like they are being attacked, they are usually less likely to listen later about the same topic, which is why I think education about cultural appropriation should really grow offline. It might make real life conversations about the topic more conducive to understanding and solidarity.

What do you hope to see in the future of the #reclaimthebindi movement?

I really hope to see this community tackle the topics that we constantly avoid. Whether that’s confronting and advocating against antiblackness, casteism, or colorism, there are so many issues that I’ve seen perpetuated in this community. What really frustrates me is that when people attempt to start discourse on these topics, they are immediately shut down. The number of times I’ve tried to talk about colorism/shadism and gotten hate for it is quite ridiculous. If we don’t confront our own intracommunity issues, how can we expect others to act in solidarity with us? I also hope the movement continues to redefine what it means to be South Asian. There’s no singular South Asian experience and that needs to be accounted for. We all have such diverse identities and I hope people soon realize that someone who identifies as West Indian is just as much South Asian as someone who is Bangladeshi. There’s no one way to look, act, or identify as South Asian.

You can follow the #reclaimthebindi movement on Twitter and Instagram. We encourage you to make a donation to the Ankur Kala women’s empowerment agency in Bengal through the #reclaimthebindi shop.

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