Cultural appropriation is where the members of a dominant grouping in society use and – well, appropriate – take the signifiers of the culture of an oppressed or dispossessed part of society. You know, if a white Australian blows a digeridoo as Rolf Harris did then that’s cultural appropriation from the Aborigines. If a white bloke makes green curry – no, really, this has been seriously asserted – then that’s such from SE Asians. A sombrero while eating tacos – no, again, something seriouosly asserted – from Mexicans (or Latinos, Chicanos, dependent upon the rightonness of the complainant).
So, what are we to make of this?
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has caused a stir with a striking image of her walking the halls of Buckingham Palace swathed in a traditional Māori cloak during this week’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting.
The prime minister wore a Kahu huruhuru; a Māori cloak adorned with feathers and bestowed on chiefs and dignitaries to convey prestige, respect and power, said Mark Sykes, guardian of Māori special collections at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand.
Sykes said Ardern’s choice was a proud moment for Māori around the world. “Cloaks are worn for warmth, protection and to symbolise your status and mana [power],” said Sykes. “I think it shows how she is portraying herself as a leader of Māori, of all of New Zealand, of everyone. It made me feel proud. She wore it well. She wore it so well.”
On social media in New Zealand the striking image went viral, with many people commenting that the picture captured the inversion of traditional gender roles; a female world leader wearing a powerful cloak while pregnant and representing her country.
We do, after all, have to insist that the Maori are oppressed in New Zealand society. Absolutely nothing at all about politics there makes sense without agreeing with that point. Ardern is one of the oppressing class, descended as she is from Northern Europeans doing all that oppressing. And her wearing a Maori cloak is obviously appropriation from that non-dominant culture.
So, how do we explain this? That this is all being praised and not condemned by the usual suspects?
Ideologically, Ardern describes herself as both a social democrat and a progressive
Oh yes, silly me. It’s different when progressives do it, isn’t it?