Whisper it, but cultural appropriation can be a force for good – Uber Turco News

This is In Conversation with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

I am old, woke and politically correct. In the heady sixties, my generation began to upend old ways, societal expectations and fixed narratives. Oldies back then feared and loathed the impertinent cultural revolution because they themselves were trapped in miserable, pessimistic nostalgia for some blissful age that never was. Sound familiar? The so-called “culture wars” are again between those who hate change and generation X and Y, who are prepared to agitate and fight for a more equal, just and environmentally sustainable world.

They don’t always get it right, though. Some fights are picked for no good reason. (Admittedly right-wingers do this more often, almost always to divide and enrage Britons). At times the woke doth protest too much, sometimes about stuff they know little about. It is dispiriting and embarrassing. The notion of “cultural appropriation” is one of those.

A full English for breakfast

Milton, my long time Ugandan friend, is a frequent moaner: “First they colonised us, took all our assets. Now they take our food, copy rap music, use us, like before.” Milton eats a full English for breakfast everyday. I teasingly ask him if that is appropriation. Apparently not. That triggers another stormy argument. We have many of those but I love him dearly. He knows I am writing this.

I don’t deny there is exploitation and a lack of manners. It makes me livid when indigenous Britons “discover” and show off about “the best” jerk chicken and Indian chappals. Most TV chefs and food and style pundits are white. They should reference, but hardly ever do, the origins of the thing or dish they find exciting, cool or special.

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But, often, what Milton sees as appropriation, I see as cultural homage, evidence of curiosity and creativity, a lust for “otherness”. England, in particular, has always been porous, which is why so many migrants want to live here.

Human civilisations are not static. People leave the familiar and go into the unknown, transport stories, beliefs and practices of others, back and forth. In our times, global TV and social media are changing the most conservative countries.

Spicy Shepherd’s pies

One of my books, Exotic England, was about how that nation absorbs “foreign” ideas and peoples. For example, that great architect Christopher Wren said his magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral was a combo of Saracenic and Christian styles. English, unlike, say French or German, continually changes and absorbs words from an array of languages. Chintz and the paisley pattern originated in India. Kedgeree, too. Chicken Tikka Masala was invented for British curry lovers.

And we who came here from elsewhere pepper our languages with English and make spicy Shepherd’s pies. Nadiya Hussain, the talented cook, learnt to bake cakes in Britain. My Pakistani friend, divorced and remarried to a Yorkshireman, wore a white bridal gown and veil. Is this appropriation? Or proof that cultures cannot be watertight and “pure”. Influences leak through, desires break out. They are us. And a very good thing, too.

Moving forward

Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist, was well known and well loved. Her dispatches were fair and professional, never partisan. This week she was with other Arab journalists reporting from Jenin, in the West Bank, where, allegedly, the Israeli military was intimidating and attacking civilians.

Witnesses claim soldiers fired at reporters even though they were wearing “press” vests. Abu Akleh was killed. Israel denies this.

The Washington Post published a full and fact-checked article about the journalist and the way her life was violently cut short. So too CNN. Arab newspapers have the story on the front pages. Here, this life lost seems to mean nothing.

It would of course be very different if an Israeli reporter had been slain. My Middle Eastern acquaintances ask me why our media doesn’t care about Palestinian lives. I feel mortified and helpless and cannot give them an answer.

A conversation I had this week

Diana Ross, 77, is touring this summer and appearing at Glastonbury. I’ve just got all my Ross vinyls down from the top shelf where they gather dust. I am planning to listen to all of them. Wish I could be there. It is yet another, big, feminist step forward.

Male performers are deemed ageless. Their wrinkles and other signs of old age are barely noticed. Think of Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. But too many famed female artists seem to vanish after they hit 60. Yes, we still have Blondie, Madonna and Tina Turner, but where is Elkie Brooks? Remember her beautiful song Lilac Wine? And where is Joan Armatrading? And Kate Bush?

A reader recently wrote to me and asked: “How do you keep going at your age? And why?” I emailed back: “Because I can. I’m not done yet.” I then put on Come See About Me by the Supremes and danced around the kitchen. YOLO, as the teens say. We can shine, be glam and fit, do whatever we want. Post-menopausal women are out and proud. Rejoice!

Yasmin’s pick – The Split

The third series of this divorce/ lawyers and family saga is on, and my husband and I are gripped. It was created by Abi Morgan, a Welshwoman, who has scripted several stunning films and TV dramas. She says this is the final series. Quit before viewers tire of the storyline and characters. A smart decision. If you’ve experienced male faithlessness and divorce – as I have – or female self destructiveness, this drama gets right down to your emotional reservoir. Morgan’s writing is that truthful, that authentic. Catch it while you can.

This is In Conversation with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

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