A few years ago, a high-end fashion store opened near me and a friend went shopping there. Not really “shopping,” as he had no intention of buying anything, but rather he went through the entire store trying to find their cheapest garment, just out of morbid curiosity to see if he even theoretically could shop there. Eventually, he reported that the cheapest item he could find was a scarf for eighty pounds, which is about a hundred dollars.
If, like me, you’re broke and indignant about the obscene wealth other people display, you might reasonably splutter that a hundred dollar scarf can’t possibly keep your neck any warmer than a regular scarf. And you’d be right. Past a certain point, there is only so warm a human neck can be kept by a length of fabric. It’s the same with watches. I wear a ten dollar watch to work that has the time, the date, a stopwatch function and a little light in it. It’s also got a solar panel so in theory will never need a battery change. This means it has way more features than a Rolex, the first Google result for which just tells you the time and nothing else and costs just under thirty thousand fucking dollars.
If a man in a thirty grand watch looks at his wrist, he won’t get the time any faster or better than I will when I walk past with my ten dollar effort. And then I’ll mug him for his watch.
I bring all this up because there is a level of wealth which some people attain whereby they start buying things for the sake of it. This usually comes down to a lack of imagination. When you have effectively infinite funds, you run out of things you want or need and start buying things just because you can. There has to be a point every rich person reaches where they look around at a house filled with hundred dollar scarves and thousand dollar watches and think “Man, I just don’t need all this stuff…”
Then again, maybe being rich warps your mind to such a degree that you think you do need all of the ludicrous things you’ve acquired in a vain attempt to fill something empty inside yourself. It’s definitely the case on a cultural scale.
It’s Black History Month as I write this, and a picture has gone viral on Twitter of a letter which an as-yet-un-named school sent to parents, informing them that Black History Month was leaving some of the children feeling excluded. Specifically, the white children.
It’s bad enough that British schools timidly skirt the horrors of Britain’s colonial past. Kids aren’t really told about Britain’s role in the slave trade, or how the Empire was built off the stolen wealth of Africa and India. We don’t teach our kids that we, the British, invented the concentration camp. We never mention that national hero Winston Churchill was a white supremacist who calmly starved millions of Indian people, ostensibly because of the war but probably because he “detested Indians.” We don’t address the global atrocities of the East India Company or the Empire as a whole, on whose crimes the sun never set. We just politely ignore it, in a repressed, British way.
Now, when black kids get a glimpse of identity and personal pride, white parents bitch about it and try to take it away. Like the man in the Rolex with the hundred dollar scarf, do white people not have enough stuff yet?!
Apparently not. Because it’s not enough that we stole dreadlocks, or rap music, or sarongs, or yoga, or vast, untold fortunes in minerals and oil and spices, or the intricate metalwork of the Benin, or the Elgin Marbles or the antiquities of the Middle East. We can never have enough stuff. We won’t be happy until we’ve culturally appropriated everything. Including Black History Month.
So good news, white people: We’re still making everything about us. And if other cultures have anything unique, we’ll just do what we always do and steal it.