Why is Tikka Masala our national dish? Why do the Chinese read Plato’s ‘Republic’ whilst the Greeks read ‘Tso te Ching’ by Lao Tzu? How come India has a parliament? Why do Russians wear blue jeans? The answer is Cultural Appropriation, otherwise known as the exchange of ideas.
On my return from India two weeks ago, I was slated for posting a video on Facebook of me taking part in a traditional Rajasthani dance, donned in the traditional desert garb of the region. I was throwing myself into a culture that was staunchly different from mine, keen to learn everything I could, any way that I could. I wanted to learn something from my travels, to broaden my horizons and learn about other cultures by seeing and feeling them. I was told that I was ‘appropriating’ a culture that did not belong to me, that as a ‘privileged white male’ I had no right to work on women’s empowerment programs in the developing world, and certainly no right to partake in a cultural experience. God forbid! A white man helping the socially oppressed learn a facilitating international language whilst simultaneously learning about the world’s cultures? How problematic!
People who think I was wrong to try on a turban and have a boogie under a full moon in the desert with local gypsies are racialists. Racialists make the mistake of prioritising race above all else, to the point where it blinds them. They often abhor racists, though there is in reality little difference between the two schools of thought. Across university campuses in the West, the racialists; who are known as Social Justice Warriors, are policing thought and expression. Want dreadlocks? You had better not be a white man. Want to dance salsa? You had better be Latin. Want to explore ideas from a place other than where you were born? Move along, racist, you’ve had a bit too much to think.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the radical left has adopted this crusade against the cross-cultural exchange of ideas as one of their leading causes on University campuses. After all, the left seeks to collectivise; and racism is the earliest form of collectivism. To Marxist thinkers, the world is a constant conflict between groups of people. This conflict is at the core of Marxist thought; whether that is a conflict between the poor and the rich or whites and blacks, they believe that there are only two groups in society: The oppressed, and the oppressors.
For the sake of a zealous commitment to Occidentalist thought and an almost fetishistic obsession with race, they are rejecting a heritage of positive cultural exchange that has made the world a much better place. Through the free exchange of ideas, we have learned from each other and flourished. Whether that is political thought, culinary ideas, music and dance, or style and fashion; it’s made us all intellectually, culturally, and physically richer.
India did not invent parliamentary democracy, and Britain did not invent the curry. The legacy of imperialism is murky and often indefensible, but the exchange it promoted through the movement of peoples and the scholarly exploration of cultures from the East has enriched us for the better. It means that I can enjoy a curry or watch a Bollywood movie, whilst an Indian well over 5000 miles away can vote for a local MP and then get the train home. What’s wrong with that? Who am I hurting by broadening my horizons? Is it racist that Geetha from Kerala uses a political system invented by Europeans? Of course not, grow up.
Cultures do not exist in vacuums. They are tapestries woven from many threads, and the evidence is all around us. I saw this first hand in Cuba, which is a proudly creole nation of Latin and African descent. Slaves from West Africa brought with them their culture and changed the landscape of Cuba forever. When we think of Havana, we think of salsa music; which is a toss-up of African drumming beats and Latin melodies. Havana itself is actually very cosmopolitan religiously, with Catholicism from Europe and Santaria from the old tribes of West Africa. The Spanish they speak is permeated with Africana, and the whole country is a stunningly colourful blend of skin tones, music, food, religion, and ideas. It makes is fascinating, exciting, and different. Could you imagine Cuba without Salsa? Its history has fostered an interbreeding of cultures, sharing the richest features from two continents and merging them together in perfect harmony. It amazes and rather touches me that something as horrible as slavery and as questionable as imperialism has accidentally birthed something so beautiful in the Caribbean Sea.
It doesn’t end with the aesthetically obvious; the waving hips of Havana or the balties of Birmingham, it has made us all physically richer and socially freer as well. If somehow it had been the case that we all remained isolated in cultural islands, and we had never shared our ideas through trade, debate, and even war; the world would be a markedly different place. The Romans wouldn’t have built roads across Britain and would have never brought us organised society. The Koreans wouldn’t have bought the Bronze Age to Japan, or rice farming, matter. India wouldn’t have huge factories that are pulling people out of poverty. We would never have used Arabic numerals. If the Turks had not sacked Constantinople, and the escaping Greek Byzantines hadn’t fled to Western European city-states with books and scripts from the ancient world long forgotten by the rest of the world; we would never have experienced the Renaissance. The French would never have read Thomas Paine, the Americans would never have read John Locke, and the Dutch would never have tasted pepper. Freedom, democracy, capitalism: they would never have spread liberty and wealth around the world. A world where we close cultural borders is a world where we know nothing but our own back gardens. How boring it would be. How sad, to think that some people would rather these things had never happened, and that we were all poorer, physically and mentally, as a result.
There is nothing more beautiful than a burgeoning, bubbling melting pot. It’s one of the things that made Britain and even America so great. It irons out the bad and enriches the good. If you have a problem with the way women are treated in the developing world, the go there and talk to them. Exchange cultures, and let them see what freedom is about. That’s what globalisation is doing. As trade and cultural barriers are lowered across the globe, people in the developing world are seeing for themselves the cultures of the west. They are seeing that women can be equal, they are seeing that governments can be less corrupt; they are taking from our culture. If you care about people in the developing world, then you should support the free movement of ideas, and you certainly shouldn’t be policing them.
Humans communicate. Language is one of our crowning jewels, it separates us from animals because it means we can learn from each other. All cultures should be respected, but cultural protectionism will do nothing but degrade our cultures. Let’s explore each other’s worlds. I love to salsa, and I love curry. I’m a white man who is in love with the world’s many cultures, and I plan to learn from them. I feel sorry for you if you think people shouldn’t be free to do so.