Cultural appropriation is not a real thing. I’m almost tempted to leave it there, but unfortunately an awful lot of people seem to believe it is.
The latest victim of the tar and feather brigade is that well-known culinary imperialist Jamie Oliver. Sure, he may seem like a relatively nice man (if a little annoying), but this monster actually had the temerity to release a brand of rice called . . . wait for it . . . Jerk Rice (nb: not named after Oliver himself). I know what you’re thinking, lock him up and throw away the key! But before we consign Oliver’s career to the celebrity scrapheap, perhaps we all need to calm down and realise that cultural appropriation . . . IS NOT A REAL THING.
Just to recap for those who aren’t fully up to speed, cultural appropriation is when someone white does something that in some way borrows from or is influenced by another culture – preferably one that is not white (helps with the optics). The problem is that no one owns culture. Culture is an ever-changing, fluid concept, an ethereal, tumbleweed-like creature that picks up bits and pieces from everywhere and everyone and everything. It cannot be pinned down, locked in a safe or copyrighted. And how would we decide to whom culture belongs, even if we could? Very few cultural creations are purely the product of one group. Somewhere along their long journey into being they will have been touched by something that falls outside of the immediate group. And why would we want to keep our culture to ourselves anyway? Presumably, people take influence only from things that hold value, so why would we want to deny that to the rest of humanity? It would be like writing a beautiful song and then never playing it to anyone.
‘But James, to take from cultures that were once oppressed is tantamount to revisiting that oppression upon them for a second time.’ I disagree. What could be a better bulwark against xenophobia and racism than people falling in love with other cultures to the extent that they want to replicate them in their own lives? Imitation, after all, is the highest form of flattery.
Ironically, the Left, which usually shouts from the rooftops about the benefits of a multicultural society, are the ones who find common cause with the idea of cultural appropriation. Perhaps that is because one person borrowing from the culture of another represents real progress and a true coming together that threatens to undermine the victim narrative and rhetorical cudgel of original sin that they have become so dependent on.
So I say appropriate culture wherever you can, let the best ideas win, and may all our lives be enriched as a result.