Returning from an excellent brunch at a nearby Sushi bar after an all night extravaganza spent dancing to a DJ mashup of Ska and Banghra, I kick off my Zulu ankle rattles, tie back my Dreads and adjust my Bindi to sit perfectly within the glorious symmetry of my Maori facial tattoo. I relax in my Kimono and whilst the Tibetan bowl based sounds of ‘Longplayer’ surround me, I gaze absentmindedly at the exquisite Sini Islamic calligraphy print on my wall and ponder my cultural heritage as: a denizen of planet earth.
I am not living in a war-torn or disease and famine-ridden country. I can take fairly for granted that I am statistically unlikely, even under the invidious spread of Wahhabi based Islam, to die by violence. I am able, on the whole, to walk down the street holding the: (insert colour here) hand of my: (insert gender here) lover. Chances are slim that I will be killed by a drug cartel, in a pogrom, or by a follower of: (insert sacred patriarch here) due to my limited employment opportunities, or that I worship, suck or support: (insert – ah, you get the picture…)
Even as I ponder the locational privilege accorded me through no personal merit, rather by some twist of birth, fate or geography, I am also aware that there are yet still globally fewer atrocities and hardships now than at most periods throughout human history. We make the mistake of believing because every genocide and gang rape can be instantly disseminated across the ether, that our planet-wide average experience is appalling and worsening all the time. It is not true.
It is true that we are yet a primate ruled by primal urges: a territorial monkey mainly concerned with breeding status within the tribe and who has the most bananas, although we wrap it up as speed dating and new cars. Our tentative foray into consciousness is only a few thousand years old. We still think within the analogous confines of Plato’s ‘shadows on the cave wall.‘ The result is that we navigate using emotion rather than logic and in our sophistication use convincing concepts to justify ugly motives.
I firmly feel the current judgemental hysteria regarding cultural appropriation is itself an ugly expression of disguised racism and to a lesser extent, self-righteous oneupmanship. It is itself both a conceptual form of white privilege and also ‘black’ separatism, respectively disguised as politically correct concern and identity pride. All are expressions of primate politics.
Racism is not a white versus black thang. It is race versus race – whatever that race may be. Tribe against tribe: one group demanding separation and defining another group as lesser. Our definition of a tribal group is flexible. Its range includes the greater to the lesser: from country, colour, and creed across to sexuality, sports team or street.
Restricting expression according to appropriateness actually results in oppression. But this consequence and its very nature is harder to define than those we have struggled with in the past during the heady days of simple racism, sexism and homophobia where we could all define what we stood against.
Now we oppress someone though a choice of clothing, hairstyle or music video location. Coldplay has become the vanguard of white privilege and ‘western hegemony’ perpetuating India’s ‘internal conflict stemming from Hindu nationalism’. And poor Beyonce: a Black woman dressing as an Indian woman, whose shared beauty standard is a White woman. No longer a sista, now an ‘oppressa’.
We have to truly examine our motives and be aware of the negative endpoint of good intent. Pocahontas is the perfect costume to express horror at Halloween. Banning it doesn’t result in equality and respect. Understanding her history and wearing it as an expression of horror would make it completely appropriate. (By the way, speaking as a Pagan, y’all seem to have appropriated my celebration. Do I digress? I think not)
To reject the melting pot of cultural osmosis and sanctify an untouchability of cultures other than your ‘own’ is bad for the health and growth of the human race group mind. To do so is postmodernist thinking, which itself is a thought cult of religious guilt in pseudo-rational garb masquerading as a philosophy and politically correct movement. Too much of it results in the popularity of the likes of Farage and Trump, and then we all lose.
Playing devil’s advocate for the moment, if we are going to deal with cultural appropriation, shall we do it inclusively right across the conceptual board? Perhaps we need a convenient sliding scale of validity with the most victimised having appropriation rights over the lesser sufferers? Let’s get a few things straight here, although this is not an inclusive list…
- No more Japanese style full body tattoos for anyone except the Japanese.
- All dark skinned people may not bleach their hair blonde.
- You may only follow the religion or spiritual system of your postcode. No imports. No exceptions.
- The kilt shall not be worn by any male except for genetically tested Scotland living Scots. (If you want to counter with the idea that most kilt wearers are white and as such, members of the privileged unoppressed white race, feel free to do so. The Scottish can have a fairly verbose and violent reaction to accusations of a cushy history. However, we may have to refer to the sliding scale of victimhood mentioned earlier to see who can and cannot be trumped)
- No-one celebrates St Patrick’s day except the Irish in Ireland. The wearing of green in the USA on this date is to be only allowed by those who can prove they have immediate Irish peat soil under their nails. No third generation emigrant, regardless of the motivating potato famine factor may imbibe a Guinness upon that Sacred Day… ‘You are American by culture‘.
- Finally, (and this is only fair, but may result in the formation of the largest, loudest and most colourful protest group) there will be absolutely NO gender appropriation either. All drag queens are to get their gender appropriate pants back on and their makeup off. And Nichola Adams is to drop the boxing gloves, get back in the kitchen where she belongs and stop appropriating Olympic medals.
We can honour the beauty and inventiveness of other cultures. Enjoying others than our official own can be done without it being intrinsically patronising.
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We only have one planet, so can we aim a little higher, away from emotion and toward rational thought, toward the creation of meta cultures espousing critical thinking rather than unthinking criticism? The more cosmopolitan the entire world becomes the more equal we all become. Stop apologising, cherish all, and everybody expresses themselves through the infinite varieties of pancultural humanity.
Let us also be a little clearer when reviewing history: colonial expansion brought good as well as bad, often the countries and tribes that bent under the enforced will of conquerors or Empire did also often oppress their own people or surrounding cultures. To state and accept seemingly contradictory Truths is not a justification of bad behaviour, just a start of progressive thinking and a sign of the evolution of civilisation toward ‘Humanist‘ concepts.
Did I mention Islamic State? Civilisation comes unequally to us all. React against bombers, not bellydancers.
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