Authenticity and cultural appropriation

pexels-photo-355097.jpegI went to a decidedly “inauthentic” French cafe in Mumbai. A high end English style tea house (with accompanying pretentious crockery) serving nachos and pizza and a quinoa based salad. All served with chilli flakes and oregano on the side. Why did I feel the whole experience to be a bit Disneyland?

Is it because it felt like a crass exploitation of culture and traditions mashed together for the sole purpose of profit? Or, in other words, it lacked any sense of a soul?

Or is it because it irked some weird sensibilities in me around what it means to be a “proper” tea house? Did it brush us against some in built, made up cultural bullshit that is engrained into every good little British boy and girl? Why do I have this notion of what a tea house should be?

Surely all culture is fluid, evolving as it runs up against other norms and its boundaries are pushed by those eccentric and game changing individuals?

If this is the case, should I not be glad to see cultures run into each other? Hmmm…

This reminds me a little of the struggles in my mind around the cultural appropriation arguments I’ve heard. Whilst I can completely understand that people feel irked by a white woman dressed as a geisha without understanding the historical context, the whole argument seems to float on the surface and ignore complexity.

It feels like culture is being defined as a series of specific symbols and we in turn are allowing ourselves to be defined by these symbols. Carlton Banks is probably a less good voice for struggle of any kind than someone like Eminem, yet in the culturally appropriate world some of us are espousing we’d be happier with Carlton as the voice of the very real black oppression by virtue of his skin tone alone… Which frankly, is just weird.

I fully agree that the best person to talk about an issue is a person who has been through that struggle. However, the complex nature of humanity over and above symbolism means that someone linked to that struggle via a symbol may not be the next best placed, and there might be more nuanced reasons why someone apparently less linked is actually better placed.

I definitely don’t understand the oppression of South Asian ethnic minorities across the UK, just because I’m of that descent.


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