On Cultural Appropriation

With the “cultural appropriation” meme, the political wheel has turned full circle, with liberals adopting the separate-but-equal style of Civil Rights era segregationists – put walls around “my” culture and make it off limits to others (or at least make them sign in before touching). As a 1960s-based liberal, I carry the integrationist torch to an extreme that must horrify today’s liberals and conservatives equally. I advocate every form of cultural appropriation in every direction. Bust open the cultural lockboxes and play with each other’s stuff, continually wear the other’s shoes – black, white, female, male, every ethnicity and sexual orientation – incorporate, collaborate, and share a laugh when cultural cross-pollination becomes clumsy, as it often will. Distrust any form of liberalism (or conservatism) that says we need to respect walls of separation.

17 thoughts on “On Cultural Appropriation

  1. It’s a fascinating debate.

    The cry of cultural appropriation seems to come down most forcefully when the piece of culture seems somewhat questionable out of its normal context. Out of a fear of critiquing the original culture we direct our attention at the person or persons who brought the cultural act out of its context. The truth then is that covertly or perhaps just subconsciously it is a critique of the original culture. Recognizing this should give us pause in criticizing cultures and those who “appropriate” them.



    • Interesting take – that a critique of the appropriator is a sublimated critique of the source culture. I’m not sure yet if I agree – that’s never the conscious intent of the one who cries “cultural appropriation,” but it may be an unconscious factor, a hidden insecurity, at least some of the time – but it’s intriguing food for thought. My main concern is that the “cultural appropriation” line of reasoning presupposes, by a logical necessity, fenced off white and black cultural spaces, which can then only be crossed when you “sign in/sign out.” That binary organization is itself an imaginary construct (social reality is much more complicated than that), and it’s one that unfortunately recapitulates the “separate-but-equal” ideology that I thought we had put to bed (except for fringe groups) in my generation, when the Civil Rights era discredited the Southern segregationists – and this too is not the conscious intent of “cultural appropriation” liberals (whose long-term vision I may share to a large extent, despite sharp disagreements about short-term tactics), but their reasoning is segregationist in its underpinning and impact.


  2. Bravo, the Fashion Anarchist rides again!

    The perennial impediment to your desired approach (which I also appropriate!) is the respective insecurities of the dominant and subjugated classes. Before the lock-boxes can be smashed and shared freely, the parties have to trust one another. Continued class segregation deals widespread distrust and hence the sign in/sign out access artifice you illustrate above. Continued wealth disparity does (is?) the same pernicious trick of keeping the potential playmates apart.

    And we run away from the curatives: pluralism, egalitarianism (E Pluribus Unum, mofo!).


    • Thanks, Chris. Yes, letting go of your insecurities in the face of the perceived “other” is like going out on a tightrope without a net, but it’s the only way. And racial concerns are not always reducible to class paradigms, but in this case there is a connection. After all, the “cultural appropriation” line of thought commodifies cultural elements into private property. If we all dump all of our toys on the floor, there’s no more private property to appropriate.


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  8. Without appropriation there is nothing, no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Klee, no Beatles or Rolling Stones or Beethoven. As with everything it depends on what side of the bed one gets up on. Are we just thieves or do we pay homage to these giants by standing on their shoulders ? I know it’s way more complex than that, particularly where money and culture are involved (let alone indiginiety, shudder, that’s a whole other debate), but if we don’t break these arguments down and expose them to the light we all become snared and stifled in the ever thickening woods of prolix Pomo verbosity, where branches spout endlessly and delight in blocking the light and tangling and snaring the unwary. It becomes, all too often, like Pooh and Piglets hunt for the Heffalump, with a great deal of self perpetuated stomping and very little matter ( I appropriated that from a nice guy I shared a house with neatly 40 years ago, thanks Tom Bishop wherever you are ).

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    • Thanks for expanding, dislocated hippies. Yes, I think of Brit Eric Clapton being astounded by a young white southern boy (Duane Allman) playing on black guy’s (Wilson Picket) version of a Brit band (Beatles) whose roots were in American black music. Such fluidity was a joy back then. Cultural appropriation police today would be blocking every step in that wonderful, chaotic, creative cycle that worked so well to bond people across demographics.


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