Cultural appropriate shun

The American author, Lionel Shriver, is in Australia this month. Last time she was here there was a bit of a kerfuffle when she spoke about “cultural appropriation” at a writers’ festival and finished off the speech by popping a jaunty Mexican sombrero on her head. All the right people were offended and made a fuss, including a woman who seems to have made a career out of telling Australians and Britons how terrible they are, despite the awkward personal dichotomy of her revealed vs expressed preference of living there rather than her place of birth, Sudan.

“Cultural appropriation” is an interesting compound noun and one which prompts vicarious offence in some and extreme annoyance or amusement in others. We can find a definition on the internets that suggests the following:

Cultural appropriation, at times also phrased cultural misappropriation, is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

In other words, it’s another branch of critical theory or cultural Marxism. How can we be sure? The emphasis on power. The second sentence in the definition tries to explain why the first sentence is problematic and reverts to an argument of power imbalance.

Without that qualifying sentence, most reasonable and sane people would never consider there was anything sinister about their enjoyment of tea as a refreshing beverage, cooking a spaghetti bolognaise for dinner or using duvets as bedding whilst wearing pyjamas.

A Google Ngram search shows cultural appropriation is a very modern sin:

There is amusement to be had when engaging those issuing accusations of cultural appropriation, however; ask them to describe the margins. By which we mean, a situation where one person uses a useful cultural invention of others and what would be considered over the line and cultural appropriation. Much hilarity often ensues.

Let’s show a worked example:

Bill is a white Englishman who very much enjoys Indian food (but we repeat ourselves). Not content with enjoying the cuisine in his local restaurant, he holidays in India and attends a cookery course to learn how to expertly blend the spices and other ingredients. Back home in London, he hosts a dinner party for some friends where he delights them with his newly acquired knowledge.

At risk of building a strawman, one suspects the cultural Marxists would suggest he’s innocent up until the point he invites the other gammons round to eat his culturally appropriated food.

The problems with this arise following just the slightest scratching of the surface.

Problem #1 – 80% of all “Indian” restaurants in Britain are no such thing. They are Bangladeshi.

Problem #2 – Several of the main ingredients of Indian cuisine only arrived with the Europeans. Chillies, potatoes, tomatoes and cauliflower, for example.

The burning question then is surely, which culture is Bill appropriating?

Bangladeshi? Perhaps, but maybe only those ex-pats who set up restaurants in Britain.

Indian? Perhaps, but if the cuisine they taught him is the Anglo-Bangladeshi version, maybe they are guilty of some cultural appropriation too.

South American? The cultivation of chillies, potatoes and tomatoes was initiated in South America but by which South Americans? Not necessarily the ones whose descendants are currently living there.

It’s a bit tricky, isn’t it?


Bill’s Opinion

It’s almost as if the people who suggest cultural appropriation is a sin are bullies who use a claim of vicarious offence as their justification (more on this in a later post).

Perhaps they are mistakenly or even deliberately missing the incredible amount of good work cultural appropriation has done for you, me, them and everyone around us? My suspicion is that they have fallen into the mental trap of zero sum thinking. That is, they believe there is a finite supply of something, in this case “cultural good”, and therefore feel it is their duty to protect those who they perceive as being without power from having their ration stolen.

Of course, this is the racism and bigotry of low expectations. The people who are having their culture “appropriated” have no qualms about taking the best bits of everyone else’s culture such as effective medicine, power generation, water sanitation, iPhones, Game of Thrones streaming, etc. and they really don’t give a shit if someone in another country is cooking a strange facsimile of the food they eat.

Returning to the Sydney Morning Herald report on Lionel Shriver’s visit, it’s interesting to note the article finishes with an explanation that Lionel wasn’t the original first name she was given by her parents, and that she changed it when she was 15. I have a couple of questions on that;

  1. How is it relevant to the news item, and
  2. Did you just “deadname” Ms. Shriver?

11 Replies to “Cultural appropriate shun”

  1. Before your worked example, the thought “No wonder he sledged my beef curry” came across my mind… I’ll also have to stop pinching apples from someone else’s garden. I reckon if you overlaid “% global wokeness” into that chart, you’d have quite a high correlation. My excel skills aren’t up to it.

    1. Apples originated in Central Asia, apparently. So you’re culturally appropriating the Uzbeks, probably.

      I wonder also if there would be a correlation of percentages of mental illness with that chart?

  2. The trick is, if anyone accuses you of cultural appropriation, you say: “I’ll do whatever I want and you can’t stop me, so adios amigo.” Doff your sombrero and ride off into the sunset.
    There is nothing to be gained by arguing with these lunatics.

    1. Some years ago, I attended a memorial for a friend who had passed away. It being quite antipodean in theme, there was an “MC” (which I suspect only a few of us knew stood for master of ceremonies). At one point, the MC used the cliché, “without further ado”. Except she said, “without further adieu”, which gave me welcome reason to smile at such a sober event and whisper “adieu, mate” under my breath.

      The bloke we were burying didn’t speak Spanish (even when he was alive), so I suppose I was culturally appropriating.

  3. The bloke we were burying didn’t speak Spanish…
    Interesting, but I suppose his speaking French was more relevant? In any event, perhaps she just meant it was time to stop saying goodbye?

    1. Oh that’s embarrassing. Particularly because I claim to speak French, albeit poorly.

      To be fair, I’ve never heard any French speaker say it.

  4. In my happy country the anti-colonial elite drive Beemers and Mercs, quaff single-malt and eat sushi. Apparently, like racism, CA the crime can only be committed by those whose heritage lies in the continent of Europe.

    1. Innit. Power is the defining factor.
      Don’t mention that the Zulus displaced the indigenous people prior to the Europeans arriving….

  5. There appears to be a tremendous amount of underlying or even overt hubris required to think like a lot of people like Lionel Shriver. It seems as if they feel that the way of life they endure in their secure Western democracies is absolutely secure, and will not be undermined by any attacks on it, either from within or without. And that it will survive a majority of people no matter their colour but of different outlook moving in and demographically dominating.

    There are some live experiments going on in this, and I guess we’ll see how Sweden goes over the next little while.

    Notwithstanding that there is a solid absence of western style democracy in the daily lives of a fair bit more than half the world’s population.

    Typically I take Nikolai’s approach and walk away. Although I did make the mistake of criticising wind farms in front of an acquaintance a few weeks back. I am off his list. I couldn’t be sure if it was because he thought windfarms are great for the planet or just good for him, given his job was to arrange their finance.

    1. “Typically I take Nikolai’s approach and walk away. Although I did make the mistake of criticising wind farms in front of an acquaintance a few weeks back.”

      Yes, I’ve been quite taciturn in public over the last few years but I’m beginning to revise that approach. Mainly because, in the cases where someone I like or respect offers what I believe to be a poorly-thought out argument, I want to give them a good chance to amend it with more facts. If they choose not to, I can then make a decision to change the terms of my relationship with them accordingly (i.e. back off a little, rather than completely ostracise them).

      Two recent examples occurred last week with “but aren’t all Brexit voters racists?” and “if you care for the planet, why don’t you like Greta Thunberg?”.

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