ATIKAN PORNCHAIPRASIT / Shutterstock
In today’s contemporary clown world, cultural appropriation is the latest issue that many progressive activists on the left tend to get fired up about.
For anyone unfamiliar with the term, here is an explanation from Rachel LoMonarco-Benzing – a student at the incredibly useful “Textile and Apparel Management” department at the University of Missouri. Apparently cultural appropriation has been committed when “a dominant cultural group takes something from a more marginalized group and uses it without giving any thought to what it might mean or who it might have come from.” You see, to steal cultural ideas and products without recourse or respect to its intentional meaning, is very bad (especially when it is for profit, I suspect).
When someone consciously or unconsciously commits this most heinous of crimes, someone inevitably gets angry or offended, climbs onto the internet and complains.
Witness the backlash when Jamie Oliver launched his “punchy jerky rice”, Jerk of course being a combination of spices for cooking meat that is usually attributed to the Caribbean. Labour’s Dawn Butler did not like this. She was incensed. She quickly took to social media to proclaim that Oliver’s “…jerk rice is not ok.”
Well, it has happened again. This time it is the old capitalist target of the left: McDonalds. The famous chain has decided to release a jerk chicken sandwich for its festive menu. The first one probably hadn’t even left the fast food outlet’s doors before the Twitter mob rushed to social media, accusing the business of cultural appropriation.
Yes, that’s right. It would appear we are caught in the midst of a jerk-off.
If this little episode has confirmed what is now clear – the theory of cultural appropriation is not only wrong, it is patently absurd. The idea is not only illiberal, it is also anti-trade. It single-handedly rejects the progress we have made in global commerce over centuries. Networks of trade have for centuries, facilitated the exchange not only of goods and services, but of ideas and customs. Through systems of global trade, a new product has the potential to revolutionise our behaviour: it can move us forward, both culturally and ethically. As the great French historian Fernand Braudel pointed out in his tour de force, The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilisation and Capitalism 15th-18th Century, the importation of the knife and fork from Italy meant that customs – such as table manners – became popular and dominant in the more barbaric recesses of Europe, such as Britain, from the 16th century onwards.
British culture is also irrevocably intertwined with the cultures of many other countries. It would probably be harder to find examples of British culture that have not been “co-opted” by the process of “cultural appropriation”. Our culinary history is one that is predominantly multicultural. The numerous global cuisines that we have enjoyed for decades is seen as an example of one of the main benefits of living in a multicultural society.
Take curry for example – dishes like Tikka masala or Vindaloo are regularly named Britain’s favourite dish. So far, so Indian. Yet the two key ingredients used in these dishes – dried red chillies and vinegar, are not – contrary to what some might say – native to Asia. They arrived in Goa via Portuguese traders in the 16th century. What we have here, in the form of a delicious meal, is a web of wonderful cultural exchange that goes back centuries.
The self-appointed guardians of the progressive left have proclaimed just about everything to be an object of cultural appropriation. My local university banned sombrero hats, for fear that they would offend Mexican and Latin American students. I could go on, but I am sure you all have your own examples.
The double standards of those who hold the “culturally appropriate” worldview to be au courant are interesting to say the least. In Dawn Butler’s remarks about Jamie Oliver, for instance, she appeared to gloss over the fact that he owns a chain of Italian restaurants – yet even a cursory check would reveal Oliver is not Italian. Surely she should be offended about that too? Maybe when Covid clears up, she could help Governor Andrew Cuomo out and take a trip to New York. After just a few minutes talking to locals she would realise that most sushi restaurants in the big apple are not owned by people of Japanese descent, but by Chinese Americans.
This is a silly row over nothing. Yet many progressives do not see the contradiction in their own reasoning. They are happy to cheer multinational corporations like Ben & Jerry’s – now part of Unilever – when they are virtue signalling about UK immigration policy, yet treat their own immigrant workers with disdain and contempt. It would appear that such contradictions are fine so long as someone is on the side of the “correct” cause.
The legion of politically correct drones that hover around Twitter should really focus on more substantive issues. As a politician, Butler should get her priorities in order. She should be more concerned about the rampant knife crime epidemic taking the lives of hundreds of young black men in the capital where she is an elected MP. There was once a time when Labour politicians and those on the left would fight tooth and nail against any and all threats to our liberty and safety. Now she and many others seem more concerned with the origin of spices.