This week, Adele threw herself into the carnival spirit by covering herself in Jamaican flags and making her hair look fantastic with bantu knots. Despite looking amazing, she was criticised for something called ‘cultural appropriation’. Her defenders countered that she was expressing ‘cultural appreciation’. So, which is which and how can we all get through the day without risking the opprobrium of appropriation accusers?
Medical students on a pub crawl in Newcastle who dress in Sombreros and sarapes to down tequila shots are ‘appropriating’ superficial aspects of Mexican culture and turning it into a depraved and drunken pantomime.
‘Appropriation’ can easily be turned into ‘appreciation’ by simply showing an understanding of Mexican history. Perhaps, students could raise a shot glass to the great Aztec King Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, in each of the pubs they stumble into. They could go further and pay homage to Mayan spiritual beliefs. By offering a human sacrifice at the end of the night, they could soothe the gods and save on taxi fares. Those still sober enough could devour a culturally appropriate burrito, instead of the inappropriate kebab.
In a gross appropriation of multiple cultures, many British people smother fish and chips in curry sauce every Friday evening. The complexity and nuance of Indian cuisine is reduced to a crude ‘curry sauce’. No respect is paid to the Sephardic Jews who introduced fried fish and the Irish are not thanked for providing all the potatoes.
Our plates and our palates can be vehicles of cultural appreciation. Jamie Oliver has campaigned against the fatty, anglo-centric foods favoured by the British working-class in order to demonstrate that he is not like them. Jamie has shown his appreciation of both Italian cuisine and economics by opening a range of restaurants, ‘Jamie’s Italian’, which became mired in debt. We can all appreciate the cultural superiority of Jamie, when he advises us on what to eat. Just avoid the jerk chicken.
Dress for the occasion
Historically, people have borrowed, copied and adopted clothing from other cultures. Western hippies appropriated clothing from rural India and turned it into hip poverty chic. Japanese clothing companies copied American denim and produced better quality jeans. Business people from around the world appropriated the Saville Row suit.
However, some world leaders show their ‘appreciation’ by adopting the dress of the countries they visit and ‘join in’ with local cultural practices. This launched a trend known as ‘cultural humiliation’. Theresa May was an early adopter, imitating children dancing in South Africa. When visiting India, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister dressed his entire family to look like the cast in a Bollywood film. The times of India described it as “embarrassing”. Next time, Trudeau could try dressing up as Ghandi.
Knowing the difference between appropriation and appreciation is an essential tool for surviving modern life. It is a nuanced skill that can be hard to teach. A new army of keyboard warriors are on hand to offer support and social ostracization where required. In this way, the culture police will keep us safe.