Why is Reading Festival policing cultural appropriation?

Petty identitarians want to ruin the summer festival season.

Angie Speaks

Topics Identity Politics UK

Now identity politics has come for the UK’s summer festival season. Reading Festival, which took place last weekend, banned all clothing, garments and items that ‘promote cultural appropriation’.

The organisers, Festival Republic, warned revellers ahead of the event against wearing clothing such as Native American ponchos, Tibetan shawls and harem pants. Apparently, these festival garms are so harmful that they appeared on a list of prohibited items alongside ‘anything that could be considered for use as a weapon’. According to The Times, the ban was introduced before last year’s festival, though it was largely unremarked upon at the time.

Reading attracts more than 100,000 revellers every year, many of them teenagers looking to blow off steam and celebrate their GCSE and A-Level results. Fancy dress and flamboyant clothes are a key part of the festival experience. A ban on ‘culturally appropriative’ costumes seems designed to spoil the party.

Thankfully, it seems that most revellers paid no attention to Reading’s ridiculous rule. Even some of the vendors at the festival, who run clothes shops in between the music stages, openly defied the edict. One trader, Nitesh, who had a large inventory of ponchos, told The Times that it was a good thing for attendees to be ‘exposed’ to ‘different kinds of garments’ representing different cultures. Another, called Declan, said he was proud to see people from all backgrounds sharing in his Rastafari culture, by wearing the red, gold and green colours of the Rastafari flag.

It really shouldn’t need to be said but there is nothing ‘progressive’ about banning cultural appropriation. In fact, the very concept of cultural appropriation assumes that human beings belong to fixed ethnic or racial groups and that cultural boundaries ought to be aggressively policed. Talk of cultural appropriation flies in the face of the shared, spontaneous sense of togetherness that events like music festivals are supposed to foster.

Instead of condemning cultural appropriation, we ought to start celebrating it. Youth culture in Britain, especially among the working classes, has long been a product of cultural mixing. Think of the skinheads of the 1960s whose fashion emulated the street style of Jamaican migrants. Or think of the emergence of northern soul, which drew heavily on African-American influences. If we start insisting that certain cultural tropes only belong to people of certain backgrounds, then who knows what new music genres and fashion styles we could end up strangling at birth.

Joyless identitarians seem to look down on cultural exchange and experimentation. They seem to forget that people of different races and cultural backgrounds can influence and rub off on each other in positive ways. We need to resist their petty attempts to police every aspect of culture.

Angie Speaks is an intern at spiked.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics UK


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