Updated: Jun 17
When someone shares their culture with you it is like they are sharing an intimate part of themselves that they hold dear and I find that to be a beautiful thing.
My mother and I are British and my father is Syrian. I have been blessed with being surrounded by people who have different backgrounds throughout my life. The area I live in has a diverse demographic and all of the schools I attended were diverse too. I have made friends with Polish people, Pakistanis, Arabs, Indians, Brits, and Africans. A large proportion of my friendship group is Pakistani.
My first ever friend I made in nursery, who I am still in contact with to this day, comes from a Pakistani family. From my childhood years up until adulthood, I have been invited to Pakistani weddings, dholkis and mehndis. In high school, there was a particular area of the school grounds that was nicknamed “The Asian Corner” because it was an area where students from the Asian community would congregate. I was the only white person within that circle who regularly hung out there. I knew I was different but I was never made to feel different. Whenever traditional music is played during car journeys my friends translate it for me, I watch Pakistani movies in the cinema with them (with subtitles), they show me how to cook delicious traditional food, when we are celebrating something they will feed me methai with their hands (a tradition Pakistanis perform when celebrating something), they create beautiful designs on my hands with henna and they’ll send me Pakistani memes and I'll understand the joke because I am so familiar with the culture. Sometimes my friend’s mother will speak to me in Urdu forgetting that I am not fluent. It certainly feels like I have found an extended family.
Unfortunately, there is an all too common narrative in this world that an introduction of one culture cancels out another. Somehow another culture is a threat to a white European’s way of life. My experience has proved to me that this simply isn’t the case. In fact, embracing other cultures enriches your life. It adds that little bit extra color to your world, a newfound appreciation for life and gives you the opportunity to experience new things and make friends that can last a lifetime.
At the moment cultural appropriation is a significant topic that keeps cropping up on my social media. I believe that interacting with people from a different culture enables you to develop a greater understanding of different communities. Some of the white Brits I know are hesitant to wear bangles, salwar kameez, or anything that has any connections to the Desi community because they don’t want to be slapped with the cultural appropriation label. However, through my experience, I have learned that there is a tasteful way to embrace someone’s culture. For example, when I visit Pakistani households and attend Pakistani weddings and other celebratory events, I generally wear South Asian-style clothing and jewelry. In fact, my friends often buy me these clothes and accessories as gifts for my birthday or Eid because they know I will wear them. It may seem like a small and simple gesture but to me, it is a mutual embrace. There is a feeling of a sense of unity when I am in a room filled with Pakistani people who share their stories, food, laughs, and culture with me.
So to those of you who are from that hesitant crowd, don’t be put off from doing things like wearing Pakistani clothes. As long as you wear it respectfully and under the appropriate circumstances, I have found that Pakistani people find it heart-warming that you want to embrace their culture with them. However, it is important to understand what cultural appropriation is. A prime example of cultural appropriation is when businesses seize the opportunity to make a quick cash grab by rebranding pieces of Desi clothing as “tribal” pieces or claiming that it is ‘new’ fashion instead of labeling it what it actually is. Another example of cultural appropriation is when non-Asian celebrities or influencers model Desi-style clothes and do not credit the culture or the community. I shiver with cringe every time I see a non-Asian influencer posting videos online wearing only the top half of the salwar kameez and not the bottoms, claiming that it’s a new quirky fashion trend or a cute dress with slits at the side. Please don’t be that person.
When you interact with other cultures you see the benefits firsthand. You learn from one another and it gives you the opportunity to hear their stories and to ask questions you may have about the culture. I never knew why the sister of the bride-to-be at the mendhi I attended circled money around her head until I asked. And don’t be afraid to ask! People love it when you show interest in their culture and make an effort to gain an understanding of their customs and traditions. We live in a diverse world where some people do things differently and to understand and embrace this makes you a well-grounded and versatile human being. You are also much less likely to draw conclusions about other communities based on stereotypes which can prevent ethnic and racial divisions and tensions. One of the things I have appreciated the most in my learning journey is the fact that my exposure to the Pakistani community has allowed me to diversify my thought as well as my friendship circle.