Recently, pop singer Rihanna posted a picture of herself wearing a necklace with a pendant that resembled the Hindu Lord Ganesha. Many members of the Hindu community were quick to express outrage, deeming this to be cultural appropriation.

Rihanna was already receiving backlash from the Hindu community for her company, Savage X Fenty, and its recent photoshoot. The model was wearing lingerie in front of a Hindu temple, which critics considered to be ruining the sanctity and holiness of Hindu places of worship. Both the model and the company removed all of these images from their respective Instagram pages shortly after receiving the backlash. 

Rihanna wearing this necklace isn’t her first run-in with cultural or religious insensitivity. In 2020, she inappropriately used a verse from the Quran during a Savage X Fenty lingerie fashion show. She has since apologized and made a promise to do better moving forward. 

It’s disappointing to see such a prominent public figure make these mistakes again.

However, it’s even more disappointing to see people slut-shame Rihanna in retaliation for the pendant incident. The issue of cultural appropriation is a huge one that sparks the need for conversation, but does Rihanna wearing a necklace and potentially making an honest mistake make it okay for communities and individuals to use hateful language to attack her? 

It doesn’t, and shouldn’t. 

Using hateful speech towards Rihanna is an unproductive pursuit of the cultural justice at hand and is a refusal to educate others on issues of cultural appropriation. If Rihanna wearing a Hindu necklace fuels people to slut-shame women rather than spend that time educating others on a more productive approach to community empathy and engagement, then maybe it’s time to take a step back.

Let’s also not forget that these same tactics were used to attack Rihanna when she spoke up about the Farmers Protests in India. 

No matter what issue people are trying to combat, spewing hate towards individuals does not and never will solve the problem.

Cultural appropriation has always been an issue I’ve cared about, and the only way I’ve learned to successfully fight it and spark change is to educate others on the issue by explaining why appropriating culture can be harmful towards communities.

But was Rihanna actually appropriating Hindu culture? The item she was wearing was created by a manufacturing company incentivizing and profiting off of Hindu idols. So isn’t that on the manufacturer and the company? I don’t believe so. Producing products for people who associate with Hindu culture or the Hindu community isn’t cultural appropriation. People should be able to purchase items they feel represent themselves.

Rihanna wearing a religious necklace sparked a huge internal conversation with myself, since I wear a necklace with a pendant of the Hindu God Hanuman every day around my neck. This necklace resembles my faith and spiritual attachment with my religion, and ultimately, it means a lot to me. I think that if someone feels a spiritual connection towards Hinduism and Hindu deities, they should be able to buy such products, and companies should be able to make them, without an assumption that they are doing so without an understanding of the product or an appreciation for it. Does Rihanna feel a spiritual connection with the Hindu Lord Ganesha? That’s something we won’t be able to answer. It is not up to us to decide whether or not she resonates with Hindu culture. 

Without knowing Rihanna’s true intentions behind wearing the necklace, it’s hard to say whether or not this incident is cultural appropriation. If Rihanna feels a connection to Hindu culture, wearing a necklace with a pendant of the Hindu God Ganesha is a form of cultural appreciation. However, if Rihanna is using Hindu idols as a form of aesthetics, with no spiritual connection attached, then this is a clear case of cultural appropriation and should be addressed as such. Religion provides an important spiritual home and safe place for lots of people, so it should be treated with respect. But ultimately, slut-shaming and using hateful rhetoric will not solve the ongoing issue of cultural appropriation — instead educating others on what cultural appropriation is and how to steer clear from it will invoke positive change.