Culturally appropriate this!


There is no copyright over culture, and there should not be one, contrary to what an increasingly loud and influential minority wants.

The so-called Social Justice Warriors, who have taken to their hearts the fight against “cultural appropriation”, have been on a cultural rampage of late. In Portland, Oregon, two white women shut down their burrito food cart after being shamed for exploiting Mexican culinary tradition. At Selfridges department store in London, a beauty salon Braid Bar has apologised after its promotional material featured two young white female models with braided hair, which is apparently “central to black female identity”. J K Rowling has been accused of appropriating the “living tradition of a marginalised people” by using the Navajo legend of the skinwalkers in a short story. Two members of student government at Bowdoin College were facing impeachment for attending a “tequila party” wearing sombreros. And the list goes on, ad nauseam (apologies for culturally appropriating Latin).

Welcome to the world-view where only Mexicans can make burritos, only black women can wear braids, only Navajo Indians can talk about their legends, and only (again) Mexicans can wear sombreros. To permit others – white others – to do (appropriate!) any of these, and myriads of other things, is disrespectful, oppressive and not the least it seems interferes with minorities’ right to exclusive commercial exploitation of their heritage.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of others appropriating “my” culture actually makes me quite happy and proud. It shows that “my” culture actually produced ideas and things and appeal beyond a small inner circle and resonate with people in other parts of the world so much that they come to use them, appreciate them, love them. Culture – the result of conscious and unconscious work of countless minds and hands over countless generations – is not something that we should miserly restrict based on race or ethnicity; it is a gift to be shared with others.

Now, I’m struggling to think of any specific Polish cultural contribution to the world. Even dishes like pierogi or bigos can also be claimed by other nations of Eastern and Central Europe (to be clear, I’m talking here about cultural contributions, rather than scientific and technological contributions, which has been quite significant, if often little known and acknowledged – anything from Copernicus and Marie Curie, to the invention of a bullet-proof vest, mine detector, the process of refining oil, and a seamless condom). But if Poland produced something distinctively Polish, I would be quite stoked to see it used by others around the world; I simply cannot get into the mindset of someone who thinks that only Polish people could run Polish restaurants, wear Polish fashion, or play Polish music – I rejoice every time I see an Asian concert pianist play Chopin, because I think how wonderful that a polonaise appeals to the sense of beauty of someone at the other end of the Eurasian landmass who comes from such a different culture. And if an American football team would want to call itself the Fighting Pollacks, well, kudos to them; we are a fighting nation (though I am less impressed with a bikie gang calling themselves the Uhlans).

A related point can be made about the SJW contention that you can only write about a gender, ethnicity or sexuality if you are a member of that group. So a white male novelist creating a black female character is a no-no, as is presumably a black female novelist creating a gay Asian character or a gay Asian novelist creating a white male character. It’s arguably true that a white male knows better than anyone else what it is like to be a white male (and so on), but to prohibit others from trying to imagine it? That is trying to destroy the basic human emotion of empathy – of trying to understand what it’s like to be someone else, feel like they feel, experience the world like they do, to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and walk a mile, or two, or three hundred pages. It is a self-defeating tactic for the SJW left because how else will we ever understand others and become more tolerant if we cannot imagine their lives and their plights?

For the SJWs it’s all about cantonisation. They might believe in open borders but they try to build walls around cultures – and ethnicities, which for them are interchanging concepts. But that’s not how culture works; it’s not how it develops and grows. It is all about taking, borrowing, cross-fertilising, mixing and combining. We are supposedly being enriched by multiculturalism, but how can we be if we can’t partake and participate in one another’s cultures?

You think only Italian restaurants should serve spaghetti Bolognese? But tomatoes come from South America, beef was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, and basil is probably a South Asian plant. Or what about Manga? This Japanese artform, now popular elsewhere around the world, draws on a long Japanese graphic and artistic tradition but marries it with a medium of a comic invented in Europe and developed in the United States, often taking on science-fiction themes, which likewise have their origin in Europe. Blues, which gave birth to rock’n’roll, might have indeed been black music in America’s south, but it has been played with musical instruments invented in Europe.

Over the centuries, a lot more “white, European” culture has been appropriated around the world – food, clothes, art, popular culture, etc. – than vice versa. But apparently that’s fine, and not really cultural appropriation. Just as only white people can be racist, only white people can be cultural appropriators:

According to critics of the practice, cultural (mis)appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that the ‘appropriation’ or ‘misappropriation’ refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.”

Which makes it the latest – cultural – variation of the standard Marxist bullshit that reduces society to two groups, the oppressors and the oppressed, and history to endless oppression. This Manichean world-view in which one group is evil and can do no right and the other is righteous and can do no wrong is theology, not real life. This sort of demonization is not only a recipe – and permission – for mass murder (as it has indeed been in all the Marxist societies), it also makes no sense: the “dominant” culture cannot take anything from other cultures, but other cultures can take anything they want from the “dominant” culture. But why exactly is that? As compensation for minority status? As reparations for past wrongs? As a right, being the good and the virtuous ones?

The SJWs are great believers in cultural relativism and equivalence – all cultures are equal and equally good and valid. All except their own that is. All talk about equality is a ruse; it’s not about equality but settling historical scores with the dominant. It’s about lowering the oppressors to elevate the oppressed, all according to crude dichotomies: white-bad/non-white-good. Or male/female, straight/other. It is now a cultural war the same way it has once been a class war. Not only did the class war not work, but the left has realised that the working class did not actually share the ideologues’ obsessions. Hence “the Other” replacing the Proletariat as the new lodestar of Marxism. But the principles and tactics are still the same.

Economic Marxism has been a bloody disaster and a failure everywhere it has been tried. Don’t let cultural Marxism now destroy our societies with its ridiculous politics of division.

So no, I don’t recognise your collective “right” to own something as ephemeral as culture. You can do what you want with your culture – and my culture – and I’ll do the same. Your feelings are not facts or arguments. You don’t have the exclusive right to make money out of your culture. If I want to sell burritos, the people will decide – if they value the “genuine experience” they will choose yours, in which case you have nothing to worry about; maybe mine are better, cheaper or more convenient. Maybe you should try the pirogi business. Better still, let’s open a Pol-Mex fusion restaurant (house speciality: bigos burrito). But if you insist you alone can have and use your culture, I’ll have my science and technology back. You can have your burrito, I’ll have my medicine, thanks. And you can complain about my women of colour characters – vocally, since I’m taking my computer, social media and the internet. You’re welcome.