Most of the time, ‘cultural appropriation’ is not a bad thing. It only becomes ‘problematic’ when people appropriate culture in an affected manner, like insecure white boys wearing flat caps and speaking with an ebonic flair.
There are examples of so-called cultural appropriation in abundance. The most recent, microcosmic one I have encountered is a cover of Beyonce’s Formation by an obscure white YouTuber called Max Milian.
Before I continue I must get one thing straight – Beyonce Knowles is a stupid person’s idea of a strong woman. Just like so many divas before her, she bares her flesh and peddles her sex appeal, because for an utterly money-minded person like Beyonce a bit of T&A is far too lucrative to forego. And her new song Formation – which is godawful – reveals that she has no shame in exploiting race politics for more and more adulation and hard cash.
Real strong women include Angela Merkel, Janet Yellen, Margaret Thatcher, Dilma Rousseff, Geun-hye Park – we may not agree with or even like some of these women, but there’s no doubt that they are (or were) motivated, intelligent, highly successful and in positions of great importance and responsibility. They are not trivial, sexualised pop musicians who get political when it’s in vogue.
Anyway, back to Formation. The song is a decidedly shallow ‘celebration of black empowerment’ and features multiple use of the word negro, which landed Max Milian (whose hair looks suspiciously like Justin Bieber’s) in hot water. Some outraged commenters said that white people should ‘stick in their lane’ and that those who don’t understand why his video is so ‘damaging’ should be ‘educated’.
The aggressive, patronising and hypocritical nature of these comments is typical of what is known as the Social Justice Warrior (SJW). These people believe themselves to be paragons of morality, yet advocate segregation when they say whites should ‘stick in their lane’.
Some SJWs display a modicum of nuance in their writing – their ideas on cultural appropriation are slightly more complex yet still feeble – but most are crass, loud and obnoxious. What all of them have in common is a raging persecution complex, which causes them to perceive almost anything as a threat or a ‘trigger’. For example, trying new cuisines is a veritable minefield fraught with problematic and damaging micro-aggressions. To be so sensitive that you take offence at the language in Asian restaurant menus suggests that it is fact you who’s the problematic one.
Thankfully, not all the commenters were so neurotic and unreasonable. maymay4891 wrote: ‘I’m black and the negro shit doesn’t bother me its just the fact that he looks and sounds like a complete fuckboy.’ Well said, maymay. There was absolutely nothing racist about Max Milian’s cover, it was just a toe-curling homage to the mainstream culture that he appears to be obsessed with.
Imagine if all of us did stick to our ‘lanes’, what a terrible constriction that would be on our lives. And even if the SJWs allowed us to stray from our lane and have an Indian, they’d barge into the restaurant just as we raised the first forkful of curry to our mouth, demanding that we check our privilege and consider the brutality of colonialism.
However, there are some caveats. For some people – namely those who have a propensity for being affected bellends – there does come a time when they should stick to their lane.
Many young people, both in their teens and twenties, will affect a facade when searching for an identity. Changes in speech will often occur, and one of the most common faux-accents is mockney. It’s very grating to hear someone of middle-class origin, such as Lily Allen, appropriating working class accents by dropping their t’s and h’s. Even more jarring are those who appropriate what linguists call Multicultural London English, which is like Dizzee Rascal, Plan B, Ali G or Lee Nelson.
The descriptive in me says that the rise of MLE is just an example of how language works; words, phrases and accents rise and fall, ebb and flow. The prescriptive in me feels that MLE, when spoken by some white people, whiffs of affectation and downright foolishness. A study by the University of Lancaster found that elements of intermediary English from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Caribbean creoles was present in MLE. This means that white British MLE speakers are using the rudimentary language of immigrants despite being native speakers whose parents most likely have traditional accents. The whiff of affectation becomes a stench when you consider that.
I love the enormous variety of dialects and accents in the English language, whether it’s the southern drawl of Texas, the rhotic forgedda-bou-dits of New York City, the cut-glass received pronunciation of a bygone British age or the colourful idiosyncrasies of Jamaican Patois, but I cannot stand any of this if it is a poseur’s passing affectation. Identifying those who are authentic and those who aren’t is subjective and often difficult to determine, and a direct face-to-face inquiry will probably result in a punch to the teeth.
Perhaps the poor SJWs, so downtrodden by all the triggers in their lives, would feel better if they realised that cultural appropriation is a matter of being a faker rather than the warped notions of racism and imperialism they attach to it.