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COMMENT | More to 'cultural appropriation' debate than meets the eye

COMMENT | By now, every Malaysian on social media is aware of the controversy surrounding Mira Filzah’s Instagram photoshoot. Mira, a Malay model and social media influencer, has since explained that she chose her clothing — lehnga, Indian jewellery, henna on her hands — in homage to the Bollywood films and music she loves.

But the images made several young Indian Malaysians uneasy, and in articulating their unease, they invoked that deeply polarising term: cultural appropriation.

Instantly, Malaysians of all races, across the political spectrum, loudly objected to this accusation. It’s not difficult to imagine how the ethnonationalists responded to Indian discomfort, even for those of us who did not read these particular Tweets: when you’ve seen one “balik India,” you’ve seen them all.

But even progressive Malaysians generally felt that the “cultural appropriation” charge was unfair and irrelevant in the Malaysian context. After all, in Malaysia, haven’t all our cultures always borrowed from...

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