My Grandmothers Bracelets Are Not For Sale

I don’t believe

I can stand

Seeing one more white girl

Wearing my grandmothers necklaces


My heart will shatter

If I find

My grandmothers bracelets

In an Etsy store


Stop calling them “tribal-inspired”

Stop calling them trends


Stop painting your faces

And wearing our beads


Stop adorning your bodies

With the war paint we fought for


And stop flaunting the robes

We sew with pride


I am sick

Of seeing my grandmothers rings at Asos

And tired of seeing henna on pale pale skin


The same pale pale skin that wraps it’s slender fingers

Tightly around the flag of my country


The same pale pale fingers

That cocks a gun to the temple


Of my uncle in Kabul


The same pale pale fingers

That signed a bill

Making it okay to drone my children in their sleep


My people are not a costume

For you to wear at Coachella


My grandmother is not a prop


For you to throw on when your own

lack of culture eats at your core


Stop selling our threads

Overpricing them and painting us all with one brush


We are convenient

When we are beautiful


But when we speak truths and cry tears

And when we plead for our lives and try to


Prove to you we love our children like you do


Prove to you we dream dreams like you do


Prove to you we love freedom like you do


Then we are not beautiful anymore but instead we are


Foreign and desperate and different and


Not you.


So choose


Because I cannot handle watching you


Put us on as costumes when


You refuse to wear our pain simultaneously


When you are the ones perpetuating that same pain


When you are the ones vilifying us to the world


When you are the ones shooting us for thinking differently than you.


My grandmothers bracelets are not for sale


Until you call her your own Bibi

And until


You love her

Like she is


Your own Bibi.


Stop Culture Appropriation


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34 Responses to My Grandmothers Bracelets Are Not For Sale

  1. Rokhsar

    Firstly, I understand your frustration at seeing jewelry like your grandmother’s bracelets coming in fashion for the western girls. I understand the passion and heartache you associate with this jewelry from your home country and ignorance with which Americans view it and the ‘white hands’ who have allowed for bills to drone children in Afghanistan. I myself am Afghan and have a completely different view of this, I am proud that Afghan tribal fashion is interesting enough for western girls to want to wear it and that it shows there is more to Afghanistan then just war. Most of the girls wearing this fashion won’t have major political views and if they do, a very simplistic basic view that everyone should have freedom and be happy, they have no direct intent to cause pain to a child in our native country, instead afghan jewelry can lead them to be more sympathetic through a glimpse of our culture. I know you feel like our is getting exploited but guess what, afghan fashion and culture is probably least showcased in the world as opposed to other cultures. Stop thinking, ‘that’s ours, you can’t wear that cause your white’. If so, why are some Afghans in Afghanistan so eager to wear western fashion and use western social media like Facebook. The world is globalized, everyone likes a mix of different cultures. some white Americans are obsessed with Indian culture or Buddhist culture. They can partake in it, why should it be such a problem.

    • Madinah

      I completely disagree with you. Afghan fashion is showcased everywhere, we just get zero credit for it. I see our jewelry in every online store I visit. Afghans wearing western fashion and using western media is not nearly as damaging as culture appropriation. If afghans do wear western clothing, it’s an occupied people’s adopting the culture of their occupiers. Please google what culture appropriation is so you can understand the damaging effects of it and how it steals an indigenous peoples identity by a colonial power. It may seem harmless to you, but it is an exploitation that is in no way related to afghans adopting other cultures clothing. When we do so, it is not top-down, BC we are in positions of oppression.

      • Rokhsar

        Ahh..makes more sense. Well, all in all its a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing it.

      • John Crosier

        What if Afghans in Afghanistan are the ones making them and making dosh from it? Is it bad then?

        Of course this is just hypothetical since it’s probably all mass produced in some Chinese factory anyway, which means I have to ask if the Chinese are complicit in the process of manufacturing this stuff if they’re also bad guys. And if there are Chinese-American girls wearing it if they’re also cultural appropriating.

    • Fauzia

      I agree with Rokhsar, this really doesn’t make the case for cultural appropriation and sounds ignorant when making references like “white people”

      • Madinah

        Mmmm you sound ignorant because you didn’t take time to really dissect this piece. It’s a poem, not a case against cultural appropriation. It’s my thoughts about it, not a treatise on what “makes the case” of appropriation. And how else should I call white people? That’s what they are, aren’t they?

        • Fauzia

          I’m sorry Madinah jan, I didn’t mean to say you were ignorant, just that reading the poem, makes one category of “white people” and just referring to a group’s skin color comes across as not well informed…as this skin color can be found in all nations in the world…it’s really not the reader’s job to figure out the intentions of the writer but rather the writing has to stand alone and that is what I found in the writing…also, I didn’t mean to criticize you as a person, but when one posts their art for the public, you should be a little less defensive.

          • Madinah

            Oh I wasn’t trying to come off as rude or defensive. I was just explaining where I was coming from. Thanks for your comments tho!

    • Zac

      Honestly? It doesn’t matter what you think about this issue.

      You don’t ever get to tell someone their indignation over White Western cultural appropriation is misguided or un-warranted.

      Poetry like this isn’t about “truth” or “justice” or “fairness”. It’s about the feeling in this person’s stomach when she sees the trappings and fashions of her culture in a store that’s run by whites for profit, that supports the western system that’s currently invading her country. You don’t get to tell someone that emotion is invalid. Period. Ever.

      • Madinah

        Thank u so much Zac

      • Fauzia

        “You don’t ever get to tell someone their indignation over White Western cultural appropriation is misguided or un-warranted.”
        yes, you do! one stupidity doesn’t deserve another!
        “the trappings and fashions of her culture in a store that’s run by whites for profit” the trappings and fashions of all cultures are for sale and I’m sure Ms. Madinah buys her fair share of “white people’s ” clothing and culture….heck she’s writing in their language! Her emotions are very valid in her house to her family and friends…but when one chooses to make art and posts it in a public forum it is always up for critique….and sorry as I stated earlier she can hang this in her wall at her house and I won’t comment on it but when an artist chooses to post their work for the public they need to expect criticism and grow up and deal with it!

        • Madinah

          Thanks for calling my feelings “stupid”. I won’t ever give your supposed constructive criticism a second glance.

          • Fauzia

            I didn’t call your feelings stupid, but your writing of your feelings in a stupid way…maybe you are young and need to understand how powerful words are and as an artist I want you to think critically about what you write…I want to support you as an afghan but want you to be a thoughtful writer…if I could email you privately I would have! Don’t dismiss critique learn from it and grow! we are not infallible…don’t feel like I’m attacking you, I have nothing against you but rather look forward to reading more things by you but if you can’t take criticism and just want to hear how great you are then by all means I’ll stop reading you and maybe you should rethink posting your writing!

          • Madinah

            Lol ok, thanks. Have a good night.

      • John Crosier

        Who cares if America is invading Afghanistan. The Russians did it too. And the Punjabis. And the Iranians. And the Mongols. And the Arabs. And the Iranians (they made a hobby of it). And the Mauryas. And the Greeks.

        Afghanistan always gets invaded.

  2. Frozy

    The first time I saw a afghan vest on ASOS titled “tribal” I had a gut feeling that we were being ripped off, now I know I’m not the only one 🙂

  3. panda

    There are many other countries with similar jewelry/fashion style like Afghanistan such as Morocco, Egypt and other African countries. The designer has to follow certain guideline when designing this jewelries if it doesn’t require to mention who or what inspired her/him then i don’t think that you can get angry at those who buy it. The white girls that you are mad at are not the people that you should point your finger at.

    • Madinah

      If you think I’m only “mad” at some white girls then you don’t understand the overall concept of Culture Appropriation. Please research it to understand the point of this piece.

  4. maryam

    I dont mind if they use “Afghan” instead of “tribal”!!

  5. First of all.. you sound awesome! but i totally disagree with you on this.. you can’t group all white people under 1 group.. just as they should not group us under 1 label.

  6. Madinah Jaan,

    Thank you for your personal thoughts regarding this pivotal issue that Afghan Women in the Diaspora raised last week. We are working hard to ensure that cultural appropriation is recognized and that our culture in particular is respected. Please continue spreading awareness and encourage your readers to sign the petition below. ✊???????

  7. Naz

    One of the most interesting and compelling reads I’ve come across.. Some powerful thought provoking words there… Well done I get what you say well done.

  8. Lana

    This is an amazing poem. I was in tears. Screw all these other commenters who want to make this beautiful, soul-deep poem into a political debate about “not all white people” This is heart-breaking, you have a gift, rock on.

  9. Josh

    I acknowledge that you’re feelings are real. But the truth is that culture doesn’t have any value by itself. It is meaningless, except for the one it means something to. Culture cannot be owned, and therefore not be stolen (only destroyed, but that’s not what’s happening here). If someone enjoys a facet of your culture, let them, it doesn’t become less because of it. If someone likes a piece of your culture and mixes it with something else to create something new, let them. Culture is of value only to the one who treasures it. So keep treasuring it l, keep it alive for yourself and your community, and nothing someone else does with it can change the value it has for you. You feel hurt, and that feeling is real. But the wound is really an artificial one, it does exist only in your mind. Unless someone is actively preventing you from practicing your traditions, wearing your jewelry or singing your songs, the pain you’re feeling is really just a phantom pain. It’s not worth agonizing over it.

    • Madinah

      Is it phantom pain when the people who create these items are underpaid and exploited? Is it phantom pain when their lives are threatened every day by bombs and drones from the same people who are exploiting this “meaningless culture”? The issue is that the people behind these items are invisible. And not only are they invisible, but they’re actually harmed by the same people you’re telling me to embrace BC they enjoy aspects of my culture. Great, enjoy it!! But don’t call it something it’s not. And for sure don’t freaking kill us one second and wear our clothes the next.
      And culture can definitely be owned when it’s branded and sold for mass-production by big companies who refuse to even give a tag line to the cultures they were “inspired” by.
      Unless your people are being droned while their clothes are worn on runways, your opinions on my emotions mean very little to me, BC you’ll never understand.

      • Josh

        Dear Madinah, I’m not denying the gravity of those issues you mention. But I believe you’re fighting on the wrong front. If you want to tackle underpaid workers, fight for a minimum wage, in the US and in your country of origin. If you want to tackle the drone war, be an activist to raise awareness about that and use your US citizenship to help making sure the next president doesn’t again bomb the Middle East and Central Asia into oblivion. But don’t tell people whether they can or can’t wear jewelry that looks like your Grandma’s. BC that doesn’t address any of those things you are actually (and rightfully) in agony about. That’s why I call it a phantom pain. The pain is real, but its cause not the thing you present as its cause.

        Cultural appropriation is bad when it is using elements of the foreign culture to promote negative stereotypes (e.g. blackface), to insult you (Redskins team), or to actively oppress you or deny you your cultural expression (China in Tibet). None of that is the case with Afghan-inspired clothes in US fashion stores. It’s just a remix of different cultural elements that is a normal part of how culture evolves all across the world. It doesn’t take anything away from Afghan culture.

        Listen, I’m German, and you would be surprised how many stereotypes and cultural appropriations I’m confronted with all the time, from fake Octoberfests and cheese German costumes in the US, Non-German actors playing Germans on TV (with horrible accents, when actual German actors would be readily available), every second Bond movie having a German villain, praise from people Middle East for Nazis killing Jews or helmets with Nazi-swastikas and Hitler portraits on Thai street markets. Some of these appropriations are mildly amusing, some ridiculous, some tasteless and some insulting. But none of these things take away anything from what it actually means to me to be German. It doesn’t redefine me, it doesn’t limit me, it doesn’t oppress me. Those are just normal cultural remixes that I might like or not like. But it is absolutely not worth fighting against them.

        You are in pain about bombs, drones and exploitation, so go fight that. Invest your energy where it’s worthwhile investing. Telling people what they can and cannot wear as pure fashion is a waste of everyone’s resources and energy.

        • Madinah

          Blackface and the redskins name aren’t appropriation. That’s straight up racism. I already am an activist and fight for all those things u mentioned. But please don’t tell me that my outcry against the cultural exploitation of my people is a waste of resources and energy. I am not telling people what they can and cannot wear, I’m expressing what I feel when they do. I say “stop wearing my robes until u love my grandmother like your own grandmother”. I want those people who are inspired by our fashion to view us as human, not as poor sob stories half way across the world that are only caricatures of war but who’s clothing is beautiful. U cannot change how I feel about this. U telling me what I should and should not express is the epitome of privilege. Germans are not being droned. Germans are not reduced to war hungry terrorists in every media platform. Please don’t try and draw comparisons in this situation.

        • John Crosier

          Are you actually German or are you an American pretending?

  10. John Crosier

    “For you to throw on when your own

    lack of culture eats at your core”

    Cool, then stop culturally appropriating by wearing jeans, jean jackets and western clothing in general. Also stop watching television, smoking cigarettes, speaking English etc. Art museums are also off limits, as are cars.

    Or is it only cultural appropriation when your retarded liberal friends do it?

  11. Chenoah

    Each is entitled to his perspective however cultural appropriation is as old as humanity. The most sure thing is that all eventually changes and the present always is tied to multiple pasts in an unbroken chain of humanity if not culture.

    The surest way to merge cultures is by war; it has always been this way. I say that not to justify but acknowledging the paths of humanity. It was the height of arrogance and ignorance for Americans to invade the Middle East and think that culture can be extinguished; even now our cultures are beginning to blend and no matter who mourns “purity”; this is the way of the human race and how we all bring the past into the current because it will all eventually blend into the future. Watch and see and be amazed.

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