People of color have learned to navigate white spaces, and I have decided to expect no effort in return from white people who want to know about and participate in any element of my culture.By Nami Thompson As a Punjabi-American woman in Boulder, any question about appropriation can easily be translated to, “I want this. What can I do to make it sound like you have given me permission to take it?” If you’ve been to Boulder, you may know we are 81% white, and we have a non-native-owned store here called Zuni, which sells Native headdresses and other indigenous art, and we also have a trail called Settler’s Park, as in white settlers. Our biggest industry is “the healing arts,” which are all appropriated. I belong to a parenting group in Boulder, and we had a recent conversation about the use of sage. By the end of it, a white woman left the group — after wishing us peace and love of course — and the women of color who participated in the discussion were exhausted. The next day, a white person saw me buying frozen Indian meals at Trader Joe’s and asked me which of their dishes I like best. They said, “I always look at these, but I never buy them in case it’s offensive. What do you think?” As we were talking, another white person who was eavesdropping grabbed the meals I suggested. It gave me a good laugh, and I just answered and went on with my life. In theory, this might be exhausting too, but I was okay. That’s when I realized it’s not about what is and is not appropriation but about who does and does not appropriate, so I’m choosing not to answer questions about appropriation anymore. People who understand where to draw the line in a particular situation often can name their own racial identity and understand the reach of white supremacy. When our parenting group was talking about sage, we were meant to be discussing anti-Indigineity but ended up debating whether appropriation really exists. The white people in the group fell into two categories. The first believe it exists, but they’re unsure of the boundaries. Like all colonizers, they want to draw definitive borders, but territories are porous and change with time and human need. I’m certain any white ally would cross an established boundary if they sufficiently tempted by something shiny enough on the other side. The second group denies the existence of appropriation, calling it “culture-sharing,” instead. These people are simply in denial about the origins of white racial identity, which was formed as a means for aggregating power and resources across the globe. When white people invoke the concept of culture-sharing as an excuse to overstep cultural boundaries, they mimic colonization. In fact, I contend it’s always appropriation when a person identifies as white — because whiteness is nothing more than the rejection of cultural identity. If white people don’t know where whiteness begins and where it ends, they will never hear me in a conversation about what is culturally mine.
I live in Boulder too, and no, cafés aren’t going to sell very good chai. You know who might? A Desi friend, if she had one.By Nami Thompson On Bollywood sets, by train and bus stations, and beside nearly every masjid and temple in India, a chai-wallah, or chai-walli if they’re female-identifying, has a cart that goes unnoticed until needed. They sell cups of hot chai for 5-10 INR, or less than $0.15 When I read about Brook Eddy, described in a recent recent interview with Inc as, “America's own 21st-century master chai-wallah,” I wondered what century she thinks all the Indian chai-walleh live in. I’m American, I’m Desi, and I make chai (which means tea, so y’all don’t have to say chai tea) as did my American citizen mom and grandmother, long before Eddy stepped foot in India, but we and our countless cups made for friends aren’t noteworthy. It’s because this brand and interview are a celebration of successful modern colonization. Eddy’s company, Bhakti Chai, was founded after she listened to an NPR story on Swadhyay and moved to India. “Swadhyay seemed like this really cool movement that 20 million people were practicing but no one had heard of." As a no one whose humanity is obliterated by the above comment, I’d like to share a bit about Swadhyay, which is a Hindu socio-political movement founded by Pandurang Shastri Athavale at around the time of Independence. He was anti-Brahmin, pro-Dalit, and disagreed publicly with Gandhi. He was also pro-Hinduttva and anti-RSS, thus making him one of the most complex political figures in our recent history. What Brook Eddy heard on NPR as “a really cool movement,” is painful for Desis to articulate, and she likely heard of it as they reported Athavale’s death. It’s possible to learn about and listen to Desi scholars while they’re alive. White westerners approached Athavale in his time and asked him to bring his social models to the US. He always declined. Whatever Desis make of his political beliefs, Swadhyay is not for sale in the US. The Inc article goes on, “Back home in Boulder, Colorado, [Eddy] formulated an original chai brew when she was unable to find an authentic version at her local cafés. In 2007, she began selling mason jars of her one-of-a-kind infusion out of the back of her car and soon gained a following.” I live in Boulder too, and no, cafés aren’t going to sell very good chai. You know who might? A Desi friend, if she had one. Let’s get real about privilege. If Mr. Khanna the chai-wallah walked up to a white lady in Boulder and said “I have a speciality drink from India in this jar. Only $10,” he would be ticketed and in handcuffs. Food trucks only became legal here in 2011, but unlicensed tea in a jar just isn’t and never will be.
Chinese medicine is such an important part of my life and my identity, so when I see it become a white people trend, I immediately have a lot of questions.By Sally Yue Lin “Have you tried acupuncture yet?” I overheard one white girl asking another. Frowning skeptically, I thought to myself: first they come for our food and now our medicines too? For someone like me, a Han Chinese woman who grew up with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the increasing trendiness of some TCM practices—such as acupuncture—makes me uncomfortable and concerned. When I was a little girl, my mother would feed me candies between sips of Kam Wo tea to coax me into drinking the bitter medicine. My pópó would rub my forehead tenderly with Tiger Balm when I had a headache. Of course, we did use Western medicine—such as birth control and immunizations—but only when absolutely necessary. In the past few years, TCM has become more popular with non-Asians across North America, which makes me worried that it is becoming commodified in a similar way as yoga. If so, who is telling the stories behind this ancient tradition and who gets to make money off it? For example, the increasing popularity of the cupping technique among swim bros and white celebrities is intriguing for many white people who view it as an odd curiosity to gawk at. These articles may be well-intentioned and the readers genuinely curious, but they still Other those of us who have been using cupping for generations. It shows how many non-Asian clients see TCM as an exoticized alternative to their sterile and familiar Western medicine. But for us Asians, these practices that we grew up with are often what we are most comfortable with. Herbal teas and Tiger Balm are what we turn to when we are feeling unwell; their taste and scents carry deep emotional meanings, family stories, and connections to our cultures’ philosophical and religious beliefs. Chinese medicine is such an important part of my life and my identity, so when I see it become a White people trend, I immediately have a lot of questions. Let’s first look at who gets to tell these stories. The schools that offer “Oriental Medicine” degrees often employ white teachers and practitioners. Are these really the right people to be sharing the historical, religious, philosophical basis of TCM with their predominantly white students? Asians have to work harder in white spaces to prove our abilities, so why shouldn’t white people have to work harder in Asian spaces to prove their credibility? We must challenge these white TCM teachers practitioners and test their worth in order to keep them accountable. We need to be protective of our medicinal heritage and be cautious of white people who want to “discover” these practices and claim it as their own, just because they find it “interesting”.
Coachella reminded me that some people simply don’t care. They’ve decided that their fashion statements are more important to them than the feelings of POC. I said I’d never go back. It was after my second time attending Coachella in 2012