What is cultural appropriation?
To me, cultural appropriation is using another culture for personal gains without respecting or acknowledging the origins of it and the people it belongs – the intent to selling it out.
Not to be confused with…
Embracing, appreciation and being inspired by another culture and reflecting this in your personal or professional life. We are all integrated so this is to be celebrated.
Cultural appropriation is NOTHING NEW. However, different variations will and do happen.
Reggae music and cultural appropriation
Let’s start by touching on this whole thing with David Rodigan, Lloyds Coxsone and who has made the greatest impact on reggae music. I can only imagine what it must have been like when Rodigan first emerged on the reggae scene. A White man playing reggae would have been unusual and impressive to many Jamaican people. But Rodigan is not just a white man; he is a White Englishman who are often portrayed as being conservative and straight-laced. We can therefore only imagine what it was like when this ‘proper gent’ first came to buss two reggae tunes…
The truth is that a Jamaican man who is doing the same thing would not be as interesting. This is a combination of surprise vs. expectations and value vs. validation. For example, we would expect that a Jamaican man could play good tunes but be surprised if the selector is British. On the other hand, many of us do not value our music until we see that someone outside of the community has taken it up. We need to be mindful of our prejudices and racial or cultural profiling when it comes to talent. Rodigan wasn’t born into the culture; therefore, he had to study it and be accepted. The issue is when acceptance becomes admiration without the same being given to everyone else that has also contributed.
I don’t blame anyone for exploring our culture and wanting to be apart of it. On the other hand just because we are black or Caribbean, does not mean we should not be exploring, studying or perfecting it too. As mentioned before the element of surprise is very important. It is important that we own and control what’s ours and that can only be done by full immersion, understanding and innovation.
What many people don’t realise is that there are various reggae cultures and niches in the UK that are thriving outside of the Black community and when I say thriving, I mean thriving. Promoters are putting on nuff events and bringing over many artists that reggae patrons are not aware of. This is because many of these reggae events are being promoted by and to other communities who embrace and love the culture too. Unless we come together and own our culture, it will be completely reinvented.
Caribbean food and restaurants
So in the UK today, we have a number of successful Caribbean restaurants that are not owned by Caribbean people. These restaurants are thriving, attracting not only Black people, but customers from all other nationalities too. The questions that many of us have are how and why did this happen?
Why are non-Caribbean people allowed to open and run Caribbean food shops? How have they become so successful and why do Black people continue to support them?
Entrepreneurs are in the business of making money. They look for gaps in the market (any market) and build a business case that supports their vision. Entrepreneurs pay attention to trends, they do extensive research, and they study the landscape before launching an idea. Business people also understand the importance of branding and marketing. Because of the prep work involved, entrepreneurs are confident that their business model will be a success and therefore acquire the money – whether through ‘risking’ their own, getting a loan or finding investors.
There is NO law to say that you can’t be inspired by or use another culture that is not yours. The key is getting the support from the community and industry alike. They can only successfully sell to us if we are willing to buy.
So why do we buy into cultural appropriation?
For as long as I can remember there has been an issue of contention within the Caribbean community with regards to the level of customer service offered at West Indian or Black-owned shops. Whether these are complaints that the staff is rude and unprofessional or that the food being advertised isn’t available… But not much has changed.
Business people keep their noses to the ground, they see and hear the chitter chatter from our community and probably even experienced the hostility too while doing their field research.
Entrepreneurs recognised a gap in the market
Although our eateries provide delicious authentic meals, they often lack good customer service and environments that allow people to have dining experiences.
These new restaurants provide just that an experience:
- Aesthetically pleasing restaurants with culturally inspired props and furnishings
- Large space with decent seating, lighting, and space for groups to socialize and dine
- Wide variety of ‘Caribbean inspired’ foods and drinks with mass market appeal
- Universally loved reggae music playing, plus live DJ or performances
- Endorsements from influencers and relationship building with the industry
- Friendly staff who welcome you at the door and ensure you are happy with the service
- Market research, digital branding, marketing, and PR strategy
These are the things we take for granted but these are all things that are necessary and if we are not going to be innovative and invest in our culture, someone else will.
Although I don’t dine at these establishments, I won’t blame or shame those who do either. Rather than being in our feelings about others doing us, we need to striving to do and be better.
The Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse is a great example of a restaurant providing that Caribbean dining experience and is owned by a Jamaican man.
Whether it’s food, music, fashion, hair or language; we need to value, protect and own what we have. So that when other people see what we have they know better than to appropriate, but we can all celebrate together.
Watch more on cultural appropriation and who is really to blame on my NEW YouTube channel.