This week, the world’s spotlight centered on the Dutch general election, deemed as a benchmark for the emerging drift towards identity politics. Yet, the controversial poll sidelined subtler cultural disputes unfolding in our own WUR backyards.
The Beringhem building in Bennekom is a heterogeneous pot of cultural assimilation, fusion and creolization encircled by an otherwise uniform assemblage of lifestyles. As such, ontological frictions and ethnic clashes are bound to unsettle peaceful coexistence among neighbors.
Nowhere are these quarrels as plain as in the kitchen. The falafel pizza, the hummus quesadilla and the tzatziki guacamole are all to blame for impassioned debates about identity theft and cultural appropriation. While considered intercontinental aberrations by some, they are culinary innovations and intellectual chimeras to others.
Those neighbors calling out against the sharing of cultures argue for the mischiefs of cross-ethnical stealing and cultural abatement. Or helping yourself to what’s not yours.
As if imitating, or even changing, outsider mannerisms left the original users without their culture. But you cannot steal other people’s culture. It’s not theirs to be stolen in the first place.
Nobody owns, or should ever own, cultural traits.
Otherwise, we might as well return the Arabs their mathematics. Maybe the Italians want the calendar all for themselves. While we are at it, all countries please return democracy to the Greeks. You know it’s stolen.
Just as on Thursday morning most Dutch sighted in relief for avoiding the worst, let’s sigh in gratitude by the chance to break the constraining classifications dealt to us at birth. To escape the claustrophobic confines of our own head. To wear other people’s shoes, garments, kimonos, sombreros.
To strive for an exhilarating hodgepodge of backgrounds, cultural expressions, world views and ideas; which end product is more beautiful (or tastier) than any of its separate ingredients.
Let us now embrace what seems a natural side of the human experience. To explore for and seek out new things, to experiment with them, and blend them with others previously discovered.
May we learn something from their union.