Inappropriation

We live in a free world, don’t we?

No, of course we don’t and the sooner we all understand that the easier it will become.

While many people are happily embracing multiculturalism and recognising that the whole race argument is ridiculous as we’re fundamentally all of the same race anyway, others are hell bent on making the boundaries between separate cultures even wider than they once were.

As we’ve seen so much in recent times, there’s a lot of hatred, bigotry, xenophobia and racism in the world.

And now there’s also a lot of talk of cultural appropriation.

In a nutshell cultural appropriation is the adoption of or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. Seems simple enough, but problems arise when elements of a minority culture are taken and used by a cultural majority, leading to oppression of the minority culture and removal of the group’s identity.

The use of Aboriginal art or Native American headdresses outside of either group, especially for financial gain, are shining examples of cultural appropriation. Celtic, tribal and Asian tattoos can also be seen as cultural appropriation.

But then the waters get a little muddier.

At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, some students threw a party for their friend. The party was tequila-themed and partygoers wore small sombreros in keeping with the theme. The college took a hard line on the event, describing it as “an act of ethnic stereotyping” and went on to say that the party “created an environment where students of colour, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, felt unsafe”.

At the University of Ottawa a yoga teacher ended up suspending her yoga class after someone pointed out that “yoga originally comes from India”.

A video doing the rounds online a few weeks ago showed a young white American man with dreadlocks being verbally assaulted by a black man and woman at a station over his choice of hairstyle.

In Canada it has been claimed that the use of canoes in modern times reminds people of theft and genocide because they were first used by indigenous Canadians.

And inexplicably popular TV chef, Jamie Oliver, caused a stir when he published his own recipe for West African Jollof rice and tinkered with the ingredients a little.

All of these are apparently cultural appropriation and it’s not acceptable.

But where do we draw the line?

It’s very confusing.

Do we call cultural appropriation if we see a Japanese kid who likes punk so he shaves his head and wears a Fred Perry polo shirt? Do we call cultural appropriation if an Indian wishes to open a fish and chip shop in Mumbai, but perhaps season the fish with turmeric?

No, we don’t. We’ve borrowed and shared things with other cultures for centuries to the point where it’s all just one huge melting pot anyway. And that’s the thing, exchange is acceptable but appropriation isn’t. Confused much?

Can we not all just eat what we want, dress and look the way we want and listen to whatever music we choose?

Can we not all see someone using elements of other cultures as a celebration of them rather than claiming theft and eroded identity?

It certainly shouldn’t become a competition about whose culture is most marginalised and who has the right to be most offended.

There’s already far too much “us and them” in most aspects of modern living and this seems to be making it worse. Excluding some people from taking part in some activities because of their cultural background is precisely the kind of thing we’re meant to be stopping and this is just encouraging it.

Despite what Theresa May recently said, we are all global citizens and there are bigger issues than people of “the wrong colour” with cornrows in their hair, even if said person is a Kardashian who we’re all programmed to dislike. War, famine, human rights infractions, poverty and general social injustice are problems that should be much higher up the list of things to get hot under the collar about.

“Can we all get along?” Rodney King famously asked.

Sorry, Rodney, but it seems we can’t.