Cultural appropriation? More like cultural stupidity

Jamie Oliver

Poor Jamie Oliver can’t get anything right these days. Whether it’s sugar tax, his chain of Italian restaurants, or something else, he has become one of the nation’s most detested figures, right up there with Bono and Meghan Markle’s Dad.

I’ve always liked Oliver, though, ever since those tasty Naked Chef days – and that’s not just the lasagna. So I felt rather sorry for him this week when he released new product called “punchy jerk” rice. You might think that it was named after someone kicked out of Wetherspoons at 2am, but was, in fact, a title guilty of “cultural appropriation”.

Labour Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler was first to put forward this charge, writing to Oliver on Twitter: “I’m just wondering do you know what #Jamaican #jerk actually is? It’s not just a word you put before stuff to sell products… Your jerk Rice is not ok. This appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop.” Across the internet others chimed in to tell Oliver what a monster he had been, and he has since had to defend himself.

Cultural appropriation – for those who don’t know – is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” It has become one of the biggest social deaths for white Westerners, who feel increasingly worried about how to prevent such terminology being levelled at them. Earlier in 2018, a young American girl was hounded on Twitter for wearing a Chinese dress, and there have been other examples of well-meaning souls attacked in quite traumatic ways for engaging in “cultural appropriation”.

To some extent I empathise with cultural appropriation arguments. There are communities who do not get as much commercial value out of their creations as Oliver has received, and perhaps retailers should pay more attention to making sure that is remedied.

Even so, the direction of the argument has become extreme and McCarthyite. It has moved from being a social debate to a way of making people feel ashamed for wanting to eat a prawn masala.

Embracing different cultures is almost always a compliment, and was once seen as a mark of a progressive society, but is now almost always judged as sinister. Some of the accusations have become ridiculous and hyperbolic, as well as trivialising history. On Twitter today, Clive Lewis suggested that Oliver’s act fitted into a “whole picture” of oppression, writing “We didn’t just ‘adopt’ other cultures. We actively raped, pillaged, enslaved and destroyed some of them”. That a respected MP would escalate a packet of rice to rape leaves one questioning the faculties of all the rest.

Cultural appropriation is part of a “whole picture”, but that is one of the West gently eating itself up. There is something Maslowian about our search for everything wrong in our society. During a recent trip to Cambodia, I spent a day at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, discovering the evils of the Khmer Rouge. I thanked my lucky stars to be alive, let alone live in 21st century Britain. When I logged onto Twitter later, I found that the nation had spent the day arguing about cultural appropriation on Masterchef. I wondered what on earth we were all up to – why our energies are so negatively invested?

It seems that the freer the society, the freer the outrage, and so we will go on having these cultural battles until we are met by something more sinister than supermarket rice – Russia, warfare, Trump, who knows – and forced to turn our attention outwards. Yes, Oliver probably doesn’t know much about jerk rice, but making his efforts to try new recipes out into a national scandal? That’s cultural stupidity.

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What happened to self-responsibility?

What on earth has happened to Great Britain? This country, which once defeated Hitler, has descended into something utterly unrecognisable. It has become a land where self-pity and defeatism rule, and victimhood is the new supremacy. It’s now fashionable to say “my life’s bad… and it’s all because of you!”

Take yesterday – when crime appeared in the news. Who’s making everyone stab each other? The government, obviously! On Twitter, Jeremy Corbyn wrote: “Under the Conservatives spending on youth services has been cut by 52% and 600 youth clubs have closed. The next Labour government will ensure that youth services support our young people and tackle the causes of crime.”

The causes of crime are complex and have economic origins. But we now must assume the only thing between someone being stabbed or not was whether Dave went to play snooker. We’ve reached the point where every single societal problem is now automatically someone else’s fault, and when I say “someone else” I mean Tory cuts, white old privileged rich men and “the system” – whatever that means. Personal responsibility? What’s that all about…

In the case of knife crime, the insistence that social investment is the main prevention sends a terrible message to young people, suggesting they have no ownership for their behaviour – and that nothing can be done about crime until investment flows in.

Repeatedly we are told that every social ill in Britain has been caused by external factors. But older generations have lived through much harder times – World War II, for instance, where there was bombing all over Britain. So how did they turn out alright? “Oh, but it’s a different time for the kids now,” they will say. What, worse than the Blitz?!

The only thing on the decline in Britain is its stinking attitude to every societal wrong. Almost daily someone, or something, is getting blamed for another person’s issue. Didn’t get good grades at school? It’s the exam system! Didn’t get a good job? Discrimination! Nobody fancies you? Toxic masculinity… The list goes on, and on. How refreshing it would be to hear the words: “sorry, the problem was me.”

It’s no wonder that our society has become so disrupted as a result; when politicians tell the Xbox generation that someone else caused their woes, this merely encourages huge resentment. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where the electorate believes it can never triumph – so great are the forces against them.

Britain isn’t perfect, but we’ve been brainwashed into a ridiculous vision created by the Left, whose descriptions increasingly make us sound like North Korea. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as we are one of the most fair, meritocratic and successful societies, which is why so many people move here.

More stoic societies wouldn’t have so much laughed at us, but overtaken our country while we threw vegan sandwiches at each other. There have been brutal civilisations by comparison, but none so hopeless at taking personal responsibility: the sign of true civility.