Ok, so Jamie Oliver, a well known English chef creates a "punchy jerk rice" ready made meal. He already has numerous cooking products and ready made meals on the market, Fiery Harissa and Curried Chickpeas to name a few. But then, Dawn Butler, black MP and Labour shadow minister for women and equalities, tweeted the following:
"@jamieoliver 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".
As a member of parliament, a black member of parliament, elected to represent us, this presents a problem. First, it shows us a possible lack of comprehension of capitalism, his usage of the word 'Jerk' is not just a description but also a well thought out thought marketing plan designed to do exactly what she has said its not, that is, to sell the product. Secondly, if we look at the products that he sells, and the cooking profession in general, it is not in anyway limited to producing or cooking food of your culture of origin. Her decision to refer to this as cultural appropriation stems from her viewing the product as unauthentic, without the correct ingredients and therefore not a proper representation of what jerk rice should be. She goes on to suggest he should ask Levi roots to give him some lessons, Levi roots responds he has already shown him how to cook Jerk properly a few years ago. This leads us to conclude that either Jaime Oliver doesn't care whether his £2.50 ready made meal has any authenticity, or more likely he has developed the product in such a way as to create the largest profit margins. Extending this line of though a little further, Ms Butler must then either be anti-capitalist or an elected MP who has no understanding of how capitalism works.
There is another third scenario, which is that as a politician, she is attempting to raise her profile and create some debate around cultural appropriation, this in itself is not a bad thing, although she must have known the media would manipulate this into a race issue specifically about the cultural appropriation of Oliver's jerk rice. To prevent this inevitable decline into useless debate and force the larger issue of appropriation, Ms Butler would have to have specifically pointed out, that the issue was not just about the rice, a complete shift in emphasis. An unfortunate consequence of this scenario is that it must also mean she believes we, as a people, do not understand how capitalism works, that is we do not understand our own economic system, the same system in which we spend our entire working lives, and she has exploited that belief to push her own political agenda which in this case cannot be a debate about cultural appropriation because she specifically makes it about jerk rice.
In summary their are a couple of key ramifications from this whole debacle. Jaime Oliver keeps his rice on the market, and gets extra publicity with probably more people now buying it just to see what it taste like. More importantly is what this says about our communities here in the UK, the West Indian and African communities, black people. Cultural appropriation is a much larger issue, one that crosses multiple areas of social and economic life, it deserves more attention that I will spend in this post. The question that arises however is would this even be an issue if we as a community had a stronger economic and social baseline? If we can have own companies producing our own authentic jerk rice for the same £2.50 or even at slightly higher cost, if we as consumers purchase these products rather than Oliver's or others, if these manufacturer's now reinvest their profits back into the community, we create a cyclical effect which enables us to gain economic strength and over time turning these type of appropriation debates irrelevant. They whoever 'they' may be, can appropriate as much as they like, it will have no economic or social effect on us. With us having the higher quality product at the same price, we should see more sales a
nd thus can reinvest more back into the community. Why are we not in a position where it's our products on the supermarket and local store shelfs, if we do have these products why are we not consuming them and instead consuming those from outside our community? When our own companies and products do gain a foothold in the market why are they not reinvesting into producing more products, creating surplus that can be sold outside the community, reinvesting into education and entrepreneurship schemes for our youngsters?
These are the questions our leaders should be asking us and forcing us to think about, guiding us in finding solutions to these problems which are highlighted so bluntly with these kind of news stories. Ms Butler had made a suggestion Jamie Oliver could get cooking lessons from Levi Roots, a better recommendation, kids should learn and take inspiration from Roots on cooking, business management and perseverance.
The answer to the original question is a categorical no, cultural appropriation would not be an issue, and what Dawn Butler should be doing as one of our elected leaders is pushing us towards that brighter future, helping us implement programmes to increase our social and cultural awareness, raising levels of black consciousness should always be at the forefront of the thinking of our leaders. From what I've seen of Dawn Butler she may well consider raising levels of black consciousness as a priority, and she should be applauded for speaking her mind when so many other blacks MP's would not, maybe it's just not expressed the way we need it to be. What has ended up happening is she and the media have encouraged more pointless squabbling in the mud, distracting us from the real issues, which also happens to be exactly how anyone wanting to hinder the progression of our people desires to see us expending our energy.