Something that came up in a discussion on BookFace, Cultural appropriation, that culture crime where us white folks steal stuff from minorities and in doing so we take their culture, their ideas, their traditions and insult or destroy them. A few things were specifically mentioned in the comments about the article we were talking about, henna tattoos and belly dancing but the topic was far more wide reaching that that and we were talking about it overall.
Now as sometimes crops up we had the, you’re a white person / old white bloke / angry white type / majority / Imperial conqueror so you are biased because you’re doing all the harm and can’t see it though generally the people talking about the article on BookFace were generally more reasoned that that whole you aint’ black so you don’t understand issue.
But I’m writing this from my point of view, as a humanist who is also Old, Fat, White, Male and has anger issues. Be advised, bias ahead!
War comes in many forms and is fought in several ways. Military, Economic, Propaganda, Culture, one of these is called a hot war, the others are ignored or called cold war’s but they are real none the less.
The US has been winning a cultural war against the rest of the world since the 50s and 60s, the ever present McDonalds is a case in point, the citizens of Moscow held a party when the first one opened there. Walk down the high street and feel hungry, order a pizza from Domino’s or the Hut, restaurants in the UK selling US dishes that came from Italy. How about grabbing a Chinese or a curry to take home and eat while watching a film with the family or significant other. How empty would our take away menu be if we stripped out all traces of other cultures. And yes this is simplifying the situation, bear with me.
France has an entire department that fights to prevent foreign contamination of its language, the Académie Française which is housed within the Institut de France . The French government considered it a significant problem that French, the Language of France and it’s empire, the language of Diplomacy and Romance, the language that bought the world “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” was being consumed and destroyed by the inclusion of words, phrases and linguistic concepts from that dirty low born thug of an Anglo Saxon language, English (or Worse American English) just because it happens to be the international business language.
Mon Dur !
They failed the day they started and have been failing ever since, our languages evolve, and adopt words from other languages all the time. Our languages are living things or they are dead things, only the dead things do not change.
Our cultures change as well, we adopt things for other cultures that we like, admire or desire, and our culture is the better for it (mostly), adopting some of the cultural aspects of 1930s Germany is a very bad thing but that happens as well.
Here in Britain our culture is a melting pot of previous cultures and from the days of Empire, our words, our traditions, our very society has been shaped and changed by half the world who have come here or we went there and bought back new ideas. A closed, unchanging culture is a terrible thing, totally conservative and inward looking, denying that there can be anything better outside its borders.
Throwing out changes and going back to the pure version of their culture as they imagine it. North Korea is a living example, so are the Theocracies that use force to make their citizens and victims live the kind of culture the religion demands without any of those Heathen outside ideas.
You can see what life is like in those places very easily.
The reality of it is that all cultures change and develop, few can stay still, few remain unchanging and to force a culture to do so is very harmful, a living culture will change or it will die, we as living beings change, the world around us changes, this is the way of things. Not always for the best, sometimes changes bring things that are worse but the silver lining is that they will change again and bring the promise of something better.
With our modern world and with instant communications, the reach of our programs and knowledge, we can see all of the cultures that surround us, we can see what is good and what is bad, what is ugly and what is beautiful.
Are the cultures we adopt weakened or destroyed because we are using their foods or clothing or language. No, not in the least, their cultures are being destroyed because they are adopting ours, not the other way round. UNESCO has a list of languages now spoken by less than 100 people, they call them endangered, why is this? Was it because the native speakers had their language stolen by white blokes, or was it because they adopted another language and turned their back on their own traditions.
Minority cultures are destroyed because they are overwhelmed by majority cultures they change into, not because the majority culture steals them. The only way aspects of those cultures survive is by adoption; the tragedy is that we forget where they came from.
Complaining of cultural appropriation, demanding that our culture does not take from other cultures, simply a way of saying that our culture must not change, must not be contaminated by foreigners and just like the French it will fail.
TV, Cable, Satellite, magazines, online, we see other cultures every minute of our lives and we see much that is wonderful or beautiful or exotic. We desire that and we reach for it. THIS IS NOT A CRIME, rather it is part of life, a wonderful part of life where people and cultures come together and everyone benefits.
If harm is intended or done it is the harm that should be stopped, not the exchange of cultures, trying to prevent anyone from living their lives with bits from whatever culture they desire is Tyranny, fascism, a cultural police state. Those who speak against the blending of cultures may claim they are defending against racism or some other crime but all too often there is no crime, no insult, no hostile action involved, simply people loving something new and wonderful.
The damage here comes not from those who adopt other cultures but from the jackbooted thugs who try to stop them. A battle between the strict conservative who want nothing to change and the forward looking people, Tradition and progress, those intolerant of change and who choose to wrap up that intolerance with concern for minorities and those who simply wish to live their lives with all the richness and wonder of the world.
But then I’m just a fat old white bloke, what do I know.