A simple musical performance at Brown University became a source of tremendous controversy Thursday night after student protesters denounced it for having Hindu chants sung by a white woman.
Carrie Grossman, a 2000 Brown graduate, performed in “An Evening of Devotional Music,” which organizers touted as an “intimate evening of inquiry, music and meditation.” Grossman’s performance was a kirtan, a form of traditional chanting that originates in the Indian subcontinent.
But to some students, it was actually an intimate evening of gruesome cultural appropriation, because Grossman had the temerity to sing chants from India despite being white.
“How does your whiteness impact how you engage with these cultures?” a student asked Grossman prior to her performance, according to The Brown Daily Herald. Another denounced her for “disturbing and appropriative language” on her website.
Eventually, Grossman’s performance began, but the protesters in the audience continued to shout out questions, which caused attendees who actually wanted to hear the performance to turn around and tell them to be quiet. Students were induced to move outside after announcing they would hold their own competing kirtan (notably, a photo of the protesters suggested only a handful were ethnically Indian).
After the production, the Herald said, Grossman came out to meet with protesters, where she was berated for not understanding the harm of her actions. When Grossman tried to say she had no intention of offending Indians by using their music, she was told that wasn’t enough.
“You saying that it wasn’t intended to be harmful doesn’t make it an apology,” student Aanchal Saraf said. Later, Grossman was told that she could at least atone for her crime by “[using] your privilege to make structural change.”
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