Coffee & the City

Cultural Identity

Outline of article: 
- Cultural Appropriation 
- What is Culture? 
- Biculturalism
- What's عيب? 

After Covid, we’re slowly realising how much alike we all are. We all belonged under the same lockdown. Suddenly, one sneeze or cough affects someone else all the way around the world. It’s like we all realised how responsible for one another we actually are — a conclusion we should’ve reached a long time ago. We’re a lot more vocal and ‘woke‘ about topics like cultural appropriation and appreciation nowadays. Find out more about the difference between the two terms in the video below.

The difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.

After comprehending the fact that in reality, we belong to many different cultural groups despite our ethnicities, I realised how we’re also converging into cultural universalism.

What is ‘culture’ anyway?

Is it simply a set of rule written by our ancestors and if we didn’t follow them does this make us bad people? Sure, there are some great aspects to traditions and heritage that I will always hold dear to my heart. But there’s a part of me that believes that not everything is worth following. I mean does this make me, and those who think like me, bad people? Are we sinners if we don’t want to participate in every activity that our ancestors planned out for us?

Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture”

And if we don’t relate to some of these points like social habits or music or art, are we outcasts?


Is biculturalism a sin in the religion of heritage and tradition? Are we simply entering the gateway to hell when we belong to an abstract minority? If we pick & choose what we want to keep and get rid of, are we escaping the nature of our own roots?

We read this book in high school called “Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga. It was about the Shona culture and how the girl was brought up in a Zimbabwean house but had an English education. While many would think this to be brainwashing, the girl was conscious enough to know that certain ‘traditions’ didn’t make that much sense to her. As a famous Arabic saying goes:

حافظ مش فاهم

Which directly translates to “memorised but not understood”. A very popular concept when it comes to a lot of what we do everyday but we don’t really understand why or what’s the reason behind it. The book accentuates the anxiety or the ‘nervous condition’ that the girl was constantly in because she didn’t feel like she belonged to either culture. She wasn’t English, obviously, but she also didn’t feel too Shona.

Where’s the Gap?

Why are there mountains between the new generations and their ‘culture’? Is it because we’re simply memorising the traditions without actually embracing them the way they were meant to be experienced? Shouldn’t culture be something exciting, something to look forward to and be proud of? Isn’t culture supposed to be a part of who we are? A badge that we wear around sleeves to boast about where we came from and how we’re set apart from the rest of the world?


How come culture became something we dread? More importantly, how come culture is now all about what’s عيب (appropriate) and what’s not? We don’t show up to family gatherings because of our strong family connections, but rather we go because it’s عيب not to. We call our aunts and uncles every Eid because even though we know they don’t really care about hearing from us, they will backstab us and say we weren’t raised properly and that we don’t understand الاصول.

We’re trained to avoid backlash and family drama but we don’t appreciate the actual traditions that our ancestors left for us behind closed doors. That’s why we don’t care that much for ‘culture’ nowadays unless a brand ‘stole it’ and suddenly we’re all cultural and defensive??

There’s a lot I don’t understand about how the world operates. How a lot matters when it’s out in the open but there isn’t much going on when the night is still and no one is watching. How there’s a certain loudness at gatherings that don’t come from voices and laughs but rather the thoughts that a lot of have because we simply would rather be somewhere else.

We’re slowing fading away from our own cultural construct to enter a region of convergence. A place where we somehow merge between one culture and another, or perhaps a collection of cultures.

In my opinion, incorporating more than one culture without losing touch of our cultural identity could be a good thing. It all comes down to what we choose to keep and let go of.

Can we call a meeting to discuss the cultural traditions and somehow, review them? Can we make cultural decisions based on our love of tradition and our deep understanding of it? I’m not urging for culture to be annihilated, instead calling for it to be rejuvenated. We have beautiful values that we can even teach other societies worldwide. We’re hospitable, generous, loyal and honourable. We’re driven by two important factors in our lives; religion and family. I truly believe that these two alone can create a strong base and can lead a great example to our future generations — something they would want to participate it.

By Elaf Trabulsi

Engineer & freelance writer

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