I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m not going to ease myself back in gently. I’m going to ask myself a difficult and controversial question. “Should white people be allowed to wear dreadlocks?” No, they shouldn’t. Because, with very few exceptions, white people look really fucking stupid with dreadlocks. That’s just a fact. Okay, it’s a fashion fact rather than a political one, but it’s still a fact. Ermmm… it would seem that this question wasn’t quite as knotty as I thought it would be. Goodbye.
Up until recently, that is exactly how this piece would have ended. However, I have now been introduced to a concept I had never heard of before. Cultural Appropriation. It’s the dumbest concept I’ve ever heard of. And I’m including some of the concepts I’ve come up with in my previous blog posts. Though it’s not as stupid as the 1970s concept for advertising Cadbury’s Flake bars. “Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate tastes like chocolate never tasted before”. Trying to sell people your chocolate by telling them, in effect, that it doesn’t actually taste like chocolate? I’ve never really understood that.
I also don’t quite understand how it has taken me so long to stumble across the thorny subject of Cultural Appropriation, given the amount of hilarious Social Justice Warrior clips I watch on YouTube. It has taken this long though, and that is also a fact.
I was introduced to Cultural Appropriation by this video popping up on my YouTube “recommended” list :
I have a few things to say about this video. For a start, it’s very obviously staged. I have no idea what the white guy with the dreadlocks’ major is, but if it’s Drama he really needs to switch courses. Pronto. And the black girl is waaaay too playful to be an actual SJW. In fact, observing the body language and the way she gently rags him around, I reckon she’s probably his girlfriend. Or if she isn’t, she’ definitely be more than willing to seriously entertain the idea. She his clearly pulling his pigtails. Almost literally. Because, let’s be honest, he doesn’t actually have dreadlocks. Not really. What he has is a collection of random and unruly pigtails. Personally, I’m more interested that the guy in the background appears to be a time traveller from the early 1990s. But maybe that’s just me.
Another thing that may be just me is the observation of the irony that this altercation is being conducted in English. The most culturally appropriated language on the face of the planet. English isn’t so much a language as a swag bag stuffed to the neck with Latin, French, occasionally a bit of Norse and very occasionally, words from the language it used to be back in the day. Plus bits and pieces from pretty much every culture on Earth. If English were a place rather than a means of communication, it would be and active crime scene being investigated by “CSI The Rest Of The World”.
At the end of the day, I am not writing this in Celtic Runes. I am writing it using the Roman Alphabet. Which we nicked from The Romans. Who, in turn, nicked it from The Greeks. Hence the word “Alphabet.
Now, I’m not saying that Cultural Appropriation doesn’t exist. It does. Spend an afternoon wandering around The British Museum and you’ll see the evidence right before your eyes. Take a notebook with you and jot down how many of the exhibits are of British origin. You won’t need a very thick notebook. “British Museum” is a bit of a misnomer. As is the word “exhibits”. The words “plunder” or “loot” would probably be more appropriate. Back in Britain’s imperial past, we “culturally appropriated” shedloads of stuff. By which I mean we physically stole it.
I’m not saying this was a good thing. My imperial forbears were thieving bastards of the very first order. They stole art and architecture and every type cultural treasure they could lay their hands on. It was a fucking appalling way to behave. There’s certainly a hell of a lot of massive diamonds that India would probably quite like back when we’re finished coronating our monarchs with fancy hats studded with the things. We stole quite a few of India’s words as well, of course. “Pukka”, “Pajamas”, “Juggernaut”, “Bungalow” etc.
The point is, we actually stole the architecture and the artwork and the diamonds. We merely copied the words because we thought they were cool. And that is the type of cultural appropriation the dreadlocks video is about. And perhaps it’s just me being a bit thick, but I entirely fail to see how copying an aspect of a culture because you think it is awesome is in any way an attack on that culture. Or indeed anything other than a compliment.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s pretend I am entirely and utterly wrong about this. That the type of Cultural Appropriation represented by a white man on a university campus deciding on wearing dreadlocks is actually a real problem. Where do we draw the line? How far do we go with this idea?
I am, as I’m sure you have already inferred, British. English to be precise. And I know this is a bit of a stereotype, but I am quite partial to a nice big plate of Fish and Chips every now and then. But Fish and Chips were brought over to England by Portuguese Jewish immigrants in the 19th Century. So am I, as an Englishman of Irish heritage, allowed to eat Fish and Chips or not?
And what about you? Got a bank account? Italians invented those, I’m afraid. So unless you have Italian heritage, that’s a no go.
Do ballpoint pens come in handy for you? Hungarian invention, I’m afraid. Lazlo Biro came up with that.
Find chocolate a bit tasty? Well, chocolate was a holy sacrament to the Aztecs, so unless you are a Mexican with Aztec ancestry, chocolate is off the table for you my friend.
Yes, these are flippant examples. But point is that, no matter what your heritage, virtually everything in your life is culturally appropriated from somewhere else. The language you speak, the words you write, the everyday objects you use in your life. Everything.
Let’s try a less light and frothy example. Are you a Christian? Well, that’s most of The Bible out of the running for you. The Old Testament is definitely a Jewish thing. Mind you, that might not be such a bad idea, come to think of it. The old Testament is chock full of hate, but the New Testament can pretty much be summed up by the words of Abraham Lincoln in the closing minutes of “Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. “Be excellent to one another….and….party on dudes!”
Jesus liked a party. He was forever hanging about with prostitutes and publicans. It’s no coincidence that his first miracle was turning water into wine. No wonder he was greeted with such hysteria when he did his famous donkey ride into Jerusalem. He didn’t bring any free hooch that time though, so the crowd turned on him pretty quick.
One of the great passions of my life is Martial Arts. One of the Martial Arts I practice is Eskrima. This is Filipino in origin. It’s beautiful and graceful and definitely one of the coolest thing I do. As one of the most physically uncoordinated human beings in history, it allows me to do a thing that, when people see it, they are genuinely impressed. It has brought a great deal of joy to my life.
The man who founded the style of Eskrima I do does not think we are somehow raiding his culture. He is fucking delighted that we are showing such an interest. So delighted, in fact, that every so often he flies from the Phillippines for a month or so to share all he can of his culture and his art. And he does this for no more reward than the cost of his flight, room and board and the chance to encourage us. Not for glory, not for profit, just for the love of the thing.
There is another martial art I do. Irish Stick Fighting. If I were to follow the “Cultural Appropriation” doctrine, then this is a thing I am definitely allowed to do. Names don’t get much more Irish than Michael Grimes. (Except of course, that Michael is a Hebrew name. Quite how the Irish got around to adopting that, history is unclear on). If I followed the doctrine, I should guard this art jealously and be horrified by the idea of anyone of non Irish heritage learning it. This is not the case though, of course. I’m not yet qualified to teach it, but when I am, I will gladly teach it to anyone of any race, creed or colour who is interested in that culture. As long as they are over eighteen and not an obvious nutcase, because culturally rich as it is, Irish Stick Fighting is very, very violent.
And why is it that I would be willing to share this knowledge? With people who are seeking to “appropriate” my ancestral culture? Because I’m not a childish dick, that’s why.
At the beginning of this post, I stated that “with very few exceptions, white people look really fucking stupid with dreadlocks”. But there are exceptions. Dreadlocks are not an exclusively African thing. Ancient Celts had dreadlocks. Viking warriors had dreadlocks. In fact, if you go back far enough, any society which hadn’t yet invented the comb had dreadlocks. It’s just what human hair does when you don’t cut and comb it.
After a day thinking about this subject, I have come up with what I think are two immutable facts. If you are white, unless you are a seven foot tall Viking warrior, you are almost certainly going to look very foolish putting your hair into dreadlocks. But you are not going to look anywhere near as foolish as somebody who insists that you are not allowed to style your own hair however the fuck you like on the basis of some trumped up charge of stealing a culture they probably know no more about than you do.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2018
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