So, while the body modification debates what I consider a pretty cut-and-dry case of white privilege (whether or not white dudes should be walking around wearing swastikas) can we now open the dialogue* on cultural appropriation in the body modification industry/subculture?
A few common things I see just off the top of my head that we might want to reconsider:
-Using culturally significant names for westernized piercings (ie. “Bindi” and “Sadhu” piercings)
-Wearing culturally significant jewelry with no regard to the culture it came from.
-Stealing the names of rituals, mimicking them, and/or taking elements from and using them outside of their cultural history. (“Kavadi” and “Sundance” rituals.
-Wearing cultural people as tattoos or on clothing, often a bastardized and racist stereotype of the culture. (“Indian girl” tattoos with headdresses and face paint, “Gypsy” tattoos, etc.)
-Stealing culturally significant tattoo imagery, jewelry designs, etc. (Especially when that jewelry is then produced by exploiting other people of color in developing nations)
-Wearing other cultures’ clothing as costumes for events
I’m not laying down a rulebook here. I’m not authority. I’m still on the fence about my thoughts and feelings about particular issues. I’m just saying that as a subculture the body modification community needs to look at our actions and ask ourselves whether we want to flex our privileges and continue the white settler status-quo or if we want an inclusive environment that doesn’t alienate those outside of it. Here are a few things to think about that might help, but as a white/cis/male I’m well aware of my own privilege and would love to hear others’ voices on this topic:
Listen instead of talking:
The next time a person of color questions your swastika tattoo, maybe ask them how they feel about it and whether it makes them uncomfortable rather than just asserting your “right” to wear it.
Consider how your actions affect others:
Rather than selfishly flexing your privilege ask yourself how your actions might affect others. Sure, a comic has the “right” to go on stage in black face, but do you want to be that guy or do you want to avoid looking like a jerk? How is your indian girl-head tattoo with her headdress and face paint any different than a black-face tattoo or a racist sports mascot? It’s not.
Similarly, how is a young Hindu woman going to feel when she sees you wearing a knock-off of her once-in-a-lifetime special wedding nostril jewelry through a pair of acrylic eyelets in your ears? Especially if you’re wearing a matching “Bali flower” threaded top on your “Bindi” piercing? Taking something with cultural significance and stealing it to use as a fashion statement is a pretty settler-ist thing to do. Is that what we want this industry/culture to represent?
Remember that inclusivity requires proactive measures.
Those of us with privileges should be using that to elevate the voices of others in our community and reaching out to those who may feel initially left out rather than asserting opinions and alienating them.
I know a lot of us got into this industry because of our interest in other cultures. We just need to be careful that our interest doesn’t bleed over into appropriation. By all means study, learn, and appreciate the diverse cultural history of body modification but let’s stop appropriating those ideas and stealing them for our own fashion uses.
*The dialogue is already open for the record… I just don’t see it very often brought up WITHIN the piercing community. Outside of the core group of professionals I tend to follow there is a vibrant and interesting discussion on what is, isn’t, and might be cultural appropriation.