Coachella : Hipster Music Festival And Haven For Cultural Appropriation


The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, commonly known as Coachella recently wrapped up in California and I have a bone to pick. Coachella attracts music lovers (who apparently don’t know who OutKast is and boos them for half their performance…) from all over the world, but ultimately turns into a hipster fest. You’ll find rich (predominantly white), snobby teenage celebrities like Kylie and Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez, who rock pottus and South Asian wedding jewelry.

Now, I’m not into fashion, nor do I care to keep up with trends or the latest happenings. But what does irk me to the point where I want to physically lunge myself across the room (is that possible?) is how these boho-hippie-fashionistas appropriate South Asian culture. Not only do they not acknowledge the culture they’re appropriating, they completely disregard the overall significance of it and the symbolisms they use as fashion props. Hello, colonialism, hello white privilege?

“But Thushaa, they’re only appreciating the culture” is a rebuttal I hear far too often from non-South Asians and surprisingly, South Asians alike. What is appreciating a culture? Taking things from it and turning it into fads and trends? Appropriating cultures of PoCs (People of Colour), particularly through pop culture, has been happening for decades. Madonna did it, Lady Gaga does it, Gwen Stefani too. Despite public criticism by PoC, the popularity of it seems to have either skyrocketed in recent years or social media platforms such as Instagram have unfortunately garnered them more undeserved attention.


So, how does cultural appropriation hurt South Asian culture? Simple – by allowing them, the outsiders to take what is of importance to us and commercialize it, diminishes the value, meaning and significance of what we’ve carried on for centuries. It also speaks to the power relationship and the subjugation we as marginalized, non-white communities can face.

Growing up in the 90s, I found myself surrounded by Tamil girls who felt that embracing their culture was embarrassing. “You’re so fobby” they’d say to their friend when she came to school in gold bangles, jhumkis or little black pottus. It wasn’t as though this was exclusive to Tamil girls or the Tamil community. My North Indian friends felt the same way. I never used to pay attention to the attitudes we developed around being uncomfortable with our traditions and values. It seemed almost normal to feel embarrassed by it.

Recently in Toronto, Reetu Gupta attended a Raptors basketball game rocking a South Asian outfit (she rushed to the game from a wedding). Since she sat seats away from Drake, cameras captured her on numerous occasions, which resulted in outbursts of embarrassment from mainly South Asian Tweeters. While Madonna or Selena Gomez are called trendy for wearing pottus, we are called out for being at best ‘exotic’, at worst ‘foreign’, not ‘integrated’, or ’assimilated’ into the majority white culture when wearing the same. And we do it to ourselves too.


By allowing and praising the likes of Selena Gomez and Kylie Jenner when they appropriate South Asian culture, we give away part of what is rightfully ours. These things don’t teach the general public about customs or traditions. They are occupations and distortions. Little 14-year-old teenagers on Instagram aren’t Googling the significance of a “sticker” on Jenner’s forehead. What exactly are we taking pride in? This Urban Outfitter blog post alone, which suggests that people should hop on the pottu trend, is reason enough for a wake-up call. And what do these celebrities do when the trend is over? They chuck away their pottus and move on to the next prop, from another culture and another people.

It’s about time we got over feeling embarrassed about who we are, where we come from and the traditions that make up our culture. Don’t be that person. It’s time to take back our culture.


TamilCulture aims to promote healthy dialogue about issues affecting Tamils worldwide. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect TC’s editorial policy.

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Mathusha S.

Hogwarts alumni, social justice & tech junkie. Currently the Director of Communications for @TheLaunchPadShow. Find us at

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35 thoughts on “Coachella : Hipster Music Festival And Haven For Cultural Appropriation

  1. Did my eyes just go blind? White washed feminist author writing this!! *Clutches heart and gives slow clap

  2. If we’re really going to get literal about value, meaning and significance, bindis/pottus are traditionally worn by Hindu people and more specifically, married women. As a non-Hindu single South Asian, I too wear it as decoration when I wear it to match the colour of my suit/saree. Is that okay in my scenario since I am South Asian and not okay in the scenario of these white folk? Just food for thought.

  3. Curious George  Let me explain it to you. Non-hindu south asian have lived in south asia for a long time as a minority. You are pretty much a part of our culture regardless of your religious identity. People are gonna appreciate you for being open since most christians, muslims tend to avoid hinduism to create distinction in India.
     Now lets take a look at a canadian caucasian. The moment he/she wears anything brown or does anything brown like yoga, we south asians go full retard and feel that we are valued. I’ve seen tons of whitewashed brown kids bring their white friends to their house and feel valued when they eat anything like puttu. It stems from low self esteem and insecurity about one’s identity or race.I can stretch this and even include interracial marriage.
     Noticed that almost every brown dude in interracial marriage has a profile picture of him and his blonde wife on facebook. Their children’s photos would be their cover page etc. Do you see tamil guys doing the same with tamil wives in such a flamboyant way? Same goes for dark tamil wives with white husbands. Its as though they escaped something and progressed onto something in life. That my friend….is called low self esteem and insecurity over who we are.  Daaamn! I stretched it but yeah the bitter truth.

  4. The number zero came from Hinduism(india) to the west through the arab traders. People in India did not make use of zero. But the west developed on it and contributed to advanced science and math and to the development of humankind. Same can be said about chess. Should south asians be upset about it? Should not culture, knowledge, ideas be shared with the world and be allowed to be modified, altered and commercialized? Should Britain be upset about other cultures copying democracy and capitalism because other countries are benefitting or abusing the ideas. In a globalized world, no culture or idea is local.

  5. Is it not possible that some guys just feel more comfortable posting photos of their loved ones instead of selfies?

  6. rtor2013 Exactly! How often do you hear people from Western cultures moan about South Asians borrowing their styles and rituals?

  7. Not sure how the whole marriage analogy necessarily addresses my thoughts, but I appreciate the attempt. I’m still having a hard time seeing the difference between what I’m doing and what these “Coachella hipsters” are doing. We’re both using bindis/pottus are decoration and fashion (in my case, with cultural clothing). However, I’m not diminishing “the value, meaning and significance of what we’ve carried on for centuries,” since I’m South Asian and I’m “allowed” to wear these things, but they are not. At the end of the day, I wear these things with the same intentions as these “hipsters” and there is no article about it since I belong to PoC.

  8. rtor2013  are you really comparing culture to knowledge (example: mathematics), democracy and capitalism? Those things are not one of the same, don’t be so thick.

  9. Offended rtor2013  Lets be honest. Western cultures like Americans and Canadians don’t necessarily have their own cultures and if you’re talking about Brits, what exactly from their culture (not something stupid like ‘knowledge’) are South Asians borrowing?

  10. timeless001 Offendedrtor2013Not that I know exactly where these things come from but how about pants and cutlery.

  11. Curious George  Bindis are significant in other ways aside from religion. They’re cultural, not just religious. People all over India wear them for cultural reasons even though theyre muslims. They represent third eyes and all that other stuff but I’m not a bindi expert. If you don’t know why youre wearing it then you’re equally as ignorant I think and if you see no difference in no brown people wearing it then maybe you shouldn’t be. Simple as that, right?

  12. Offended timeless001 rtor2013  those aren’t cultural things… missing the point here ppl.

  13. timeless001 Offendedrtor2013Is a tie cultural then? The article talks about fashion props and saris. How are these more cultural than Western attire that South Asians adopt?

  14. Are you going to ask me if bras are cultural to? Such silly questions. As far as I know, ties are not cultural. Bindis have a cultural significance including the nose thing the girl in the pic above is wearing, traditionally for East Indian brides. Everything they’re appropriating as fashion props are culturally significant.

  15. Ive been saying this for years and its the same as stealing from native cultures and other Asian cultures. Good read

  16. timeless001″The bra has become a feminine icon or symbol with cultural significance
    beyond its primary function of supporting breasts. Some feminists consider the brassiere a symbol of the repression of women’s bodies.”

  17. timeless001″From the 16th century onwards, the undergarments of wealthier women in the Western world were dominated by the, which pushed the breasts upwards.” Perhaps you shouldn’t be wearing such things unless you are a rich, western woman.

  18. Curious George  here’s a perfect example of how cultural appropriation sets communities back. Hitler adopted the Swastika (a sacred symbol that long stood for peace in Hinduism) for his campaign and now that symbol is forever tarnished and Hindus are fighting to ‘take back their culture’.

  19. timeless001 If wearing Sari is part of Indian culture, then wearing denim jeans is part of western culture.  Don’t south asians wear jeans?  Last time I checked people in Chennai/Jaffna were wearing jeans. So, it is ok to borrow ideas and knowledge from westerners.  But westerners cannot borrow cultural ideas from south asia?  Why can’t we borrow different items from one another, that we are good at? Pottu also has a darker side.  I.e. a widow cannot wear it.  People in India don’t prefer wearing large nose rings like shown on the picture.  An Indian father would lose sleep if his daughter wears nose ring like what is shown on the picture.

  20. That nose ring is significant to East Indians in particular their marriage ceremonies. That’s your ignorance. Jeans aren’t culturally significant to ‘western’ culture. Am I trying to get my point across to 10year olds? The concept of ‘culture’ is not hard to grasp. As I mentioned above, feminism/culture/innovation AND knowledge aren’t interchangeable. The end

  21. timeless001  HAHAHAHA! You are on TC site! The people here will claim feminist invented electricity

  22. timeless001 Did you miss the part about the neckties or are you purposefully ignoring it because it does not support your tunnel vision.

  23. Was I supposed to catch that in the 5 wiki posts you couldn’t put into one? I don’t wear a necktie and if that’s it significance, then no, it shouldn’t be appropriated. You’re so caught up in justifying appropriating you’re pulling anything out of your.. Erm, bum. Appropriation is appropriation necktie or bindi.

  24. Can you read or are you just trying to run around in 30 circles in hopes that it makes you sound smarter? Did I say they DON’T? I asked what were South Asians borrowing and I mentioned ‘as far as I know’.

  25. timeless001 Hey woman. you came in questioning my comment with your bra all twisted. Now you’re trying to ride a higher horse and all the while frontin like you don’t appropriate. I’m still curious as to whether you appreciate the cultural value of the rings, hats, etc., etc., that you sport, while protecting the significance of the bindi.

  26. Reasons why you’re a moron who doesn’t deserve a further response:
    1. You think I’m a woman because I value culture?
    2. You assume I wear a bra. Lmfao
    3. You assume you know me
    4. You think protecting the significance of the bindi means ppl can’t appreciate the significance of other things.
    You my friend are a tool.

  27. timeless001
    Reasons why you’re a waste of time:

    -“what exactly from their culture (not something stupid like ‘knowledge’) are South Asians borrowing?”
    I put some effort into answering this question and then you try and come off like you never questioned it.

    -“Are you going to ask me if bras are cultural to? Such silly questions. As far as I know, ties are not cultural.”
    Oh I get it. My questions are silly but yours are the work of intelligence.
    And yes. I still think you are a woman.

  28. If we were talking about Native American headdresses or another cultural symbol that had been preserved by its people, I would completely agree with you. Unfortunately, I don’t think bindis fall into this category. Here’s my take:

  29. FYI: I am aware of why I wear it; however, though I wear it because for cultural reasons, it’s partly due to “decoration” )for a lack of a better word.) Though I don’t agree with your latter portion of your response (or the manner in which you approached it), I appreciate your effort in trying to address my question. A previous post highlighted this view, which really drew parallels with mine: After reading it, I hope you will be able to understand that I genuinely did not come from a point of ignorance, but a point of realization of my own confusions/misconceptions of this TC article. Cheers!

  30. Opinion_Puli Offended timeless001  Come on Kumar. She called me a moron and a tool. I would have let it slide if she stuck to one insult.

    I blame you for bringing me into this with your comment about Facebook. I see how it is though.

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