Brendan O’Neill

This obsession with ‘cultural appropriation’ is leading us down a very dark path

This obsession with 'cultural appropriation' is leading us down a very dark path
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Just when you thought uptight, fun-dodging, thought-policing millennials couldn’t get any worse, they go and brand yoga as racist. Apparently, when white people bend themselves bonkers while humming or thinking happy-clappy thoughts, they’re not only being self-punishing saps: they are also ‘culturally appropriating’ a practice that has ‘roots in Indian culture’.

That’s according to student leaders at the University of Ottawa, who put pressure on a yoga teacher at the uni’s Centre for Students with Disabilities to call off her yoga classes. She was told ‘there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice’. In these people’s minds, in which the Offence-Seeking Antenna is forever turned to High, a white person doing yoga is not that different to a white person donning blackface and singing ‘Mammy’.

It’s enough to make you miss the days when students only hounded neo-fascists off campus. Now they can’t bear the sight of a few bendy middle-class people in tie-dye pants and peace-symbol t-shirts. So desperate is this new generation to take offence, and to smash the thing that had the temerity to offend them, that they can’t even see people relaxing (yoga’s meant to be relaxing, right?) without thinking: ‘I wonder if this form of relaxation is problematic?’

The idea of ‘cultural appropriation’ sums up everything rotten in today’s intensifying politics of identity. It’s fuelled by the borderline racist idea that to mix cultures is bad. It isn’t only yoga that’s getting it in its supple neck from these new cultural purists: white rappers like Iggy Azalea are slammed for appropriating black culture; students have been banned from wearing sombreros lest Mexicans feel mocked; non-black celebs who try out the cornrow hairstyle can expect to be Twitch-hunted by mobs of these new cultural purists who think black people and white people should stick to their own cultural camps.

Time magazine recently published an article headlined: ‘Cornrows and Cultural Appropriation: The Truth About Racial Identity Theft.’ It mused on bovine whites’ ‘appropriation’, ‘assimilation’, ‘exploitation’, and ‘plundering’ of black culture. This is the world we live in, folks, where even Time can lose the plot over white folks plaiting their hair in a particular way.

The PC rage against cultural appropriation is ultimately a demand for cultural segregation, for black people, white people, Latinos, gay people, women and every other racial, gender or sexual group to stick with their own culture and people and not allow themselves to be diluted by outsiders.

Gay men have been condemned by the National Union of Students for ‘appropriating black female culture’. Barmy NUS officials think it's the height of racism for a gay guy to talk about having an ‘inner black woman’. The irony being that it’s hard to think of anything more racist, or at least racially divisive, than the ideology of cultural appropriation: its obsession with cultural purity echoes some of the darkest political movements of the twentieth century.

The fear of cultural mixing induces social paralysis. We have a new generation who can’t enjoy music, films, food, yoga or anything without having an existential crisis. The zany website Everyday Feminism, which incredibly is not parodic, has published 'The Feminist Guide to Being a Foodie Without Being Culturally Appropriative', which advises against 'seeking "authentic", "exotic" or "ethnic" food'. How sad that these people can't even tuck into a Thai curry without worrying that they're being unwittingly Thaiphobic.

All the blather about cultural appropriation is hilarious, of course. But the censoriousness and separatism of this pseudo-progressive politics is a tragedy. It's a pox on the ideal of universalism. Identity politics constantly mitigates against the old, properly progressive values of sharing and solidarity, of people mixing with and learning from and standing with others. Cultural purity is a recipe for conflict; give me rock, dance, chicken tikka masala, fusion food and all the other stuff that has sprung from 'cultural appropriation' - even bloody yoga - over this PC shoving of people into biological boxes.