By Andrea Plaid
Usually, this space at this time is reserved for the Racialicious Crush Of The Week. But sometimes we gotta keep our Fridays light by giving some side-eye to some face-palming foolishness.
This week’s features some old-school kyriarchy from former Disney star Selena Gomez, who’s been styling out with bindis since the MTV Video Awards in mid-April. Before folks jump in the comments and talk about how that’s impossible for a woman of color to appropriate from another culture of color…as we say around these parts, “If you’re not part of the group, then you’re more than likely appropriating.” And Gomez, who is the child of a Mexican-American dad and a white mom, wears the bindi with the privileges of a non-South Asian woman born and reared in the US.
It is a problem when religious symbols become widespread and therefore lose their religious significance. But the fear of dilution isn’t really an issue here — the bindi has lost whatever religious significance it once had to Hindus some time ago, and is now used mostly for decoration. Madonna and Gwen Stefani didn’t turn the bindi into a fashion statement when they adopted it in the 90s — we desi women already did so years before that.
What makes the non-South Asian person’s use of the bindi problematic is the fact that a pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead. On her, it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls. If the use of the bindi by mainstream pop stars made it easier for South Asian women to wear it, I’d be all for its proliferation — but it doesn’t. They lend the bindi an aura of cool that a desi woman simply can’t compete with, often with the privilege of automatic acceptance in a society when many non-white women must fight for it.
I understand being a little flummoxed at the rage that the bindi issue inspires in our community. The anger always seems disproportionate to the crime. But will I celebrate the “mainstreaming” of a South Asian fashion item? Nope. Not when the mainstream doesn’t accept the people who created it.