Appropriation or Appreciation
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
There’s a racial reckoning sweeping America, where officers sworn toserve and protect are murdering unarmed black men and Black Lives Matter protestors in Portland are caught between the National Guard on one hand and Trump’s redneck militia on the other. Any pretence that Trump is anything else but a white supremacist is hard to countenance and as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain traction, the repercussions can be felt around the world. Vice President hopeful Kamala Harris was right in likening racism to a virus, except that it’s up to us whether we choose to be infected or not. We either reject it, or allow it poison our lives and those of others. You’re either a racist or you’re not, frankly, no matter your skin colour or nationality. It doesn’t matter whether you regard far-right extremists as “very fine people,” write puerile, race- baiting articles about muslims in the Daily Telegraph like Boris Johnson or snigger at certain jokes in your local, because it’s all manifestations of the same ugliness. We know the real mission is to get rid of the systemic racism that discriminates against our fellow citizens for any reason, and especially because of their ethnicity. We’re talking about the invisible enemy now, which skilfully switched the national debate about race that erupted here in the UK after George Floyd’s murder, to that of protecting a statue of Winston Churchill from rampaging “lefties,” and the promise of yet another government review. Blink and you missed it. That kind of racism, fuelled by the Daily Mail and other right-wing media organisations has its roots in our class system, and was spread throughout the British Empire and its colonies for centuries. It’s not hard to spot since it’s usually accompanied by an overbearing sense of entitlement, but changing the culture that supports it to one that’s more inclusive remains an incredibly difficult task, as politicians like David Lammy, Dawn Butler and others can tell us. Kamala Harris also said, “there is no vaccine for racism - we have to do the work,” and that means calling it out whenever we see it. No one’s suggesting that racist behaviour by black people against a white middle class individual is on the same scale as the day-to-day realities faced by black and Asian youths in this country. The white person from such a background is privileged in ways they themselves may not realise. Except to adjudge racism like that is to surely miss the point, because ultimately what difference does it make whether those spreading it are black or white? It’s still a disease and racism: like Covid-19, it only recognise two categories- sreaderand victims.
In early August the Jamaican media announced that "British music selector David Rodigan” - along with fellow musical luminaries Big Youth, Eric Donaldson and the drummer from Third World - was to receive the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer from the Jamaican government for his “contribution to entertainment.” This was a proud moment for UK reggae, and respect to the Jamaican government for having chosen to honour Rodigan, regardless of the fact he’s not Jamaican or even black, but since he’s spent most of his adult life promoting Jamaican music to audiences around the world. Such a decision meant the Jamaican authorities are thinking globally; they’re looking outwards instead of inwards, as befits custodians of a music and cultural phenomenon granted World Heritage status by UNESCO. Rodigan’s never pretended to be a spokesperson for black culture. He’s just an enthusiast who took whatever breaks came his way and grew into the legendary radio presenter and sound clash champion that we see today. He’s still a fan of course. You only have to listen to him for a few minutes to know that, and yet his detractors still won’t accept that he’s done the music proud by offering a platform to countless reggae artists, musicians and producers over the past 40 years. Jamaican journalist Yasmine Peru brought up the subject of cultural appropriation when talking to Rodders for an article in the Sunday Gleaner, published just days after the announcement. Early on in the piece she wrote how he “could very well be perceived as an outsider who would fall into that category.” Rodigan answered her by saying he has issues with that term, “because I fail to see why someone’s genuine love and appreciation of a particular culture, art, or music should be seen as an appropriation of it simply because they are not from the culture that originated the art form.” He then went on to say that, “I do strongly object to individuals and organisations that misuse a culture by hijacking for monetary gain and then discarding it. That’s totally unacceptable, but it has always pervaded the world of business and commerce. The arts, in all their truest forms, from music to dance, etc, are created by artists, and it’s morally wrong for the world not to be allowed to appreciate it.” His response no doubt echoed the thoughts of every non-Jamaican worldwide with a reggae habit, myself included. But then, just a few days later, came the “black lash” - not from Jamaica, but the UK, and in the form of an online petition called “Withdrawal of the Order of Distinction to David Rodigan from the Jamaican Government,” written on behalf of the signatories who describe themselves as “the concerned supporters of Reggae.” Addressed to Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange, it states they “must withdraw the Jamaican government’s wrong cultural move in announcing their decision to award David Rodigan, a British citizen, the Order of Distinction for our Reggae music.” To be continued
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