Kenan Malik defends cultural appropriation, gets demonized

British writer Kenan Malik, whom I like, has just waded into shark-filled waters in his short New York Times essay: “In defense of cultural appropriation.” Most of the “appropriation” he describes isn’t repugnant to many of us: the controversy about a white woman’s painting of Emmett Till, a black teenager murdered by Southern racists; Lionel Shriver’s assertion of the right of the novelist to write from any viewpoint; and the appropriation of black music by Elvis Presley (and I could add the Beatles). In general, I favor cultural appropriation so long as appropriate attention is given to those whose work was heavily used. At this moment I’m wearing my pounamu (jade) pendant that I got in New Zealand. It’s an appropriation from Maori culture, and if anybody asks I’ll tell them what it is, but I don’t feel bad for wearing it and don’t feel I’m exploiting Maoris.

As far as writers writing about characters whose sex, class, or ethnicity they don’t share—have at it! If it doesn’t work, the marketplace will sort it out, but clearly there are many great works of literature that have involved both cultural and gender borrowing in this way.

There has been some fracas about this in Canada (see here and here), and perhaps Malik doesn’t give that enough attention, but in general I agree with his essay. What has ticked people off is his claim that those who say that authors of “foreign” background can’t write about the complainers’ community are “gatekeepers”, and can even be exercising a form of xenophobic separatism. As Malik says, “It is difficult to see how creating gated cultures helps promote social justice.” One quote about the Emmett Till painting:

In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother urged the publication of photographs of her son’s mutilated body as it lay in its coffin. Till’s murder, and the photographs, played a major role in shaping the civil rights movement and have acquired an almost sacred quality. It was from those photos that Ms. Schutz began her painting.

To suggest that she, as a white painter, should not depict images of black suffering is as troubling as the demand by some Muslims that Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” should be censored because of supposed blasphemies in its depiction of Islam. In fact, it’s more troubling because, as the critic Adam Shatz has observed, the campaign against Ms. Schutz’s work contains an “implicit disavowal that acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines.”

Seventy years ago, racist radio stations refused to play “race music” for a white audience. Today, antiracist activists insist that white painters should not portray black subjects. To appropriate a phrase from a culture not my own: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

At the beginning of his essay, Malik admits that if were an editor and wrote this piece, he might be out of a job, like three editors in Canada, and he did incite controversy. The NYT piece has 1055 comments as of this writing, many of them passionate on both sides, and, inevitably, Twitter weighed in. Malik defended himself against the critics:

What is it about social media that turns people into sacks of hatred? Many of Malik’s critics clearly didn’t read his article, let alone bother to look up the skin color of the “white supremacist” who wrote it! (Malik was born in India.) 

h/t: Enrico, Bruce


  1. mikeyc
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Well of course he was demonized. He’s guilty of wrong think and is literally Hitler.

    *sigh* In the immortal words of professor Hubert J Farnsworth; “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore”.

    • BJ
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      As has been said so many times before, the regressive left always says they want to give people of color, women, and all the other groups they claim to fight on behalf of, until those voices disagree with them.

      • Posted June 15, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        Have you noticed that those Black critics howling about “cultural appropriation” usually wear knit shirts (invented by Old Dead White Christian Men), sneakers (invented by Old Dead White Christian Men), and blue-jeans (invented by an Old Dead White Male Jew — named Levi — Ooooooh, a Jooooo!)? If you’re Black and want to howl about “cultural appropriation”, you should properly wear nothing but a Dashiki and sandals — or a loincloth, or nothing.

        • Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:23 am | Permalink

          You’re getting it wrong. When privileged White People enjoy the culture if People of Color, it’s Cultural Appropriation, and totally a sign of White Supremacy. When People of Color are forced to use parts of White Culture, it’s Colonialism, and totally a sign of White Supremacy. Remember, folks: It’s only bad when they do it!

  2. GBJames
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink


  3. Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Many of Malik’s critics clearly didn’t read his article, let alone bother to look up the skin color of the “white supremacist” who wrote it!

    But “whiteness” in Ctrl-Left ideology is becoming not only about skin colour but also about attitudes. Thus Ayaan Hirsi Ali gets accused of being “white” and supporting “white supremacy”.

    The tweet saying “whiteness working overtime” is an example. Ditto slurs such as “coconut”.

    [PS Jerry, name typo in the title.]

    • Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Fixed typo, thanks.

    • John Raykowski
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Programmer here. Love the keyboardy descriptions. Embarrassed I hadn’t thought of it myself.

      Ctrl/Alt-Left/Right, (tho I guess Cmd- instead of Alt- for Mac folks).

      I love it! But where’s Esc?

      Happily in spacebar territory.


      • Posted June 16, 2017 at 4:23 am | Permalink

        I’m borrowing the “Ctrl-Left” term from Maajid Nawaz, who I think invented it (obviously as a play on “Alt-Right”).

        Am I guilty of cultural appropriation in copying Maajid? 🙂

  4. Barry Lyons
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    My best response is this: William Styron’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner” is a great novel.

  5. Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    There’s both reasoned debate and self-important idiocy on both sides. Often the case. I hold to the view that a) you’re free to write what you damn well please and b) I’m just as free to criticize and boycott it, if I so choose.

    • mikeyc
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      That’s a good position to hold. Don’t get too upset though when you are called out for being ridiculous.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      I was just thinking this is part of the same spectrum of thought that says you can only criticize a group that you’re a part of, depending on the group of course. So non-Muslims can’t criticize Muslims, but anyone is allowed to criticize Christians and atheists. It’s all tied up in perceptions of power or lack thereof.

      In reality, having money puts you on top whatever your race, religion, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, etc.

  6. GM
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    So does “cultural appropriation” mean that people of African descent should go back to living in huts in the jungle with no electricity or access to the internet?

    Because the vast majority of the comforts they’re enjoying today derive from “European culture”

    Can’t have it both ways…

    • mikeyc
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      That’s ridiculous. Srsly. It is. Those going off about cultural approriation may be fools but even they aren’t that ridiculous. Electricity is technology not culture. Dress, cuisine, art, music…these are the cultural things they say are being appropriated.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Yes, like saying, unless I am a direct descendant of the wright brothers I have no right to get on an airplane.

      • GBJames
        Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        “Electricity is technology not culture.”

        This statement misconstrues what culture is, assuming by “electricity” one means “technology employing electricity”.

        Technology is part of culture. Just like religion is. Just like music, dress, etc. are.

        Why do people think “culture” only includes food recipes, music, and clothing fashion?

        • mikeyc
          Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          I don’t agree. Electricity is a tool. It can underpin culture; on-line culture is dependent for its existence on electricity, for example but it is not culture itself. Technology can permit cultures to arise but it is not itself a culture.

          • Ken Phelps
            Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            Great. So pants are just a tool to keep your junk covered. Music is just a tool to make you feel good. Food is just a tool to keep you alive. Maybe if Africans just used DC electricity….

            Welcome to the yawning abyss that opens up when discussing a premise founded on bullshit.

            • mikeyc
              Posted June 15, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

              “So pants are just a tool to keep your junk covered”

              As a matter of fact yes. That’s all pants are. The style and design often reflect cultural tastes but covering your junk with clothing does not. It just protects your junk; wearing clothing is not by itself a cultural statement…. (I suppose next I’ll be hearing from the nudists about my “bullshit” ideas).

              What style or design is there in electricity? It is a thing that does work. How that work is applied can play into how a culture develops but using or creating it isn’t itself a cultural thing. Unless it is your contention that what we have learned of the natural world and science itself- is dependent upon culture. Electrons behave differently in Africa?

              How electricity is used, like how Science is done (or acted upon) can be seen through culture. But not the thing itself.

          • GBJames
            Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

            mikeyc… you’re just wrong.

            Electricity is force.

            An electric drill is a tool. Tools are cultural objects. Technology is cultural.

            Culture: The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning

            • mikeyc
              Posted June 15, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

              I usually am.

              • Doug
                Posted June 15, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                The decision to use electricity, or how to use it, is cultural. The Amish, for example, will not use electricity from the power company, because they want to avoid being dependent on the outside world. They will use electricity from solar power or generators, however. In addition, they tend to avoid having too many labor-saving appliances, believing that they discourage hard work. So there is a cultural aspect to the use of electricity.

              • mikeyc
                Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

                “The decision to use electricity, or how to use it, is cultural.”

                This is precisely my point. It might be useful at this point to recall what I was actually responding to; GM said that electricity is culturally appropriated by Africans because the means to create and harness it were invented in the west.

                The uses to which it is put (or, as you point out, opted out of) can be intertwinned with culture. But electricty is not an item of Western culture. It is the flow of electrons that can do work.

              • GBJames
                Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

                But “electricity is culturally appropriated” makes no more sense than saying “gravity is culturally appropriated”. There has never been a human society on earth that hasn’t been exposed to electricity.

              • mikeyc
                Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                “But “electricity is culturally appropriated” makes no more sense than saying “gravity is culturally appropriated”. ”

                Right. You might even say it’s ridiculous.

            • Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink


          • Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            The Amish seem to regard electricity as culture, otherwise I don’t see why they should ban it.

            • GBJames
              Posted June 16, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

              They don’t ban electricity. Nor do they ban gravity.

              They do avoid some uses of electricity.

              • Posted June 16, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                The avoidance of electricity by the Amish is based on one of their basic biblical tenets – to be in the world but not of the world. Being hooked up to the grid makes them both connected to and dependent upon the outside world, aka the English. The Amish use a lot of batteries, e.g. for buggy lights and their cell phones 🙂

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:05 am | Permalink

                @ Douglas

                Seems to me, reliance on batteries also makes them “connected to and dependent upon the outside world,” unless they manufacture them themselves…(not to mention, cell phones! And their contracts.)

                Those buggy lights should be torches.

              • Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

                Ah, your key phrase is “Seems to me…” 🙂 The Amish are fairly pick-and-choose when it comes to some of the details of being Amish. If your local bishop does not allow you to operated a Bobcat on the farm, then you look for a bishop that does! And so on.

              • GBJames
                Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:17 pm | Permalink


      • GM
        Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

        I know it’s ridiculous, that is precisely the point.

    • Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Doesn’t work that way. Everything European culture. took from others is cultural appropriation; everything non-Europeans took from European culture is cultural imperialism.

      Of course, SJWs will argue that it’s the power differential that matters, not the direction of cultural flow, but if that’s the case how the hell did the Japanese become an ‘oppressed’ class? The country is a cultural and economic giant.

      • BJ
        Posted June 15, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        “…if that’s the case how the hell did the Japanese become an ‘oppressed’ class? The country is a cultural and economic giant.”

        Yes, but they’re not quite white (although there has been plenty of discussion among regressives over the last couple of years regarding whether East Asians should now be lumped in with white people because they’re “part of the problem”).

        • Derek Freyberg
          Posted June 15, 2017 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

          And, if I recall correctly, in the bad old days of South African apartheid, the Japanese were “honorary whites” (i.e. treated as if white, as opposed to black or colored).

  7. Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Kenan Malik wrote the definitive book on the Rushdie affair. It’s one of those books I’d expect every true progressive to have on their shelf.

    It’s now called From Fatwa to Jihad: How the World Changed From the Satanic Verses to Charlie Hebdo which means it must have been updated since I bought my copy. Looks like I might need an upgrade.

    He has pretty good taste in art that he chooses to illustrate0 his blog too.

  8. DrBrydon
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    It’s clear the Hard Left are 100% ok with demonizing people. That’s a shame because it really undercuts any other message they have. If you’re argument is “You have to do it our way,” and you won’t accept any discussion, then you can’t expect cooperation. And that’s the one thing they seem to miss: nothing positive is going to happen without cooperation.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I’ll add to this, that this is undoubtedly due to a misunderstanding of history, that this is how the “dominant power structure” (or whatever the magic words are) created itself. The failure to accept any nuance in history blinds them to its contingent nature, and obscures how the much worse past because the much less worse present.

    • BJ
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes, as Stephen Fry said in his recent interview with Tavis Smiley, if you tell people they *must* do or think something, anyone with any self respect will automatically have the response of “why should I listen to you? Bugger off.”

  9. Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    This is all overblown; Derridaism and Foucaltsm are accepted religions, stop punching down. /s

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to know how far back we have to go to right the wrongs of cultural appropriation. Pretty soon we won’t be able to use pottery since somebody in the West appropriated it from the East. Oh the poor Ancient Greek artists who would never have been able to use geometric pottery painting or the kouroi that could no longer stand so rigidly. Sharing ideas is just right out.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:45 am | Permalink

      You’ll be happy to know, though, that math will no longer be possible, as the numerals we use are Arabic.

      • Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        But the Arabs appropriated them from Indians.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:00 am | Permalink

          Ah, thanks for the edification. I just Googled that.

          At any rate, the only solution is obviously to revert to Roman numerals, as they would at least be foundational to Western culture.

  11. peepuk
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    “What is it about social media that turns people into sacks of hatred?”

    I think the hatred has always been there, now they have an opportunity to express themselves.

    In my opinion people take their feelings much too serious these days (I’m no exception).

    “so long as appropriate attention is given to those whose work was heavily used.”

    I’ve never had an original thought, so everything I say is in the public domain. You even may print it on toilet-paper.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Re “cultural appropriation”: where’d we be now if the great black jazz players hadn’t’ve borrowed from the Western classical canon, and if modern classical composers hadn’t’ve borrowed right back from the jazz greats; if Miles Davis and his nonet hadn’t’ve hung out at Gil Evans’s pad; if Sam Phillips hadn’t’ve convinced Elvis to sing like a black boy on “That’s All Right”; if rockabilly hadn’t’ve merged with R&B?

    I can’t even.

    • Doug
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      I once read a critic who complained that Elvis “stole” the song “Hound Dog” from a Black singer, Big Mama Thornton. He evidently didn’t know that the song was written by a couple of white dudes, Mark Leiber & Jerry Stoller, who also wrote hits for Ruth Brown, the Drifters and many other Black acts.

      I also recently learned that Ray Charles’ hit “Georgia on my Mind” was written by Hoagy Carmichael. (“Sweet Georgia Brown” was also written by a white guy.) Black & White musicians have been borrowing back and forth forever.

      • Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        And: Lieber and Stoller were “both born to Jewish families”.

        Appropriation of Jewish culture there, obviously!

        Elvis did a reasonably true-to-style version of “That’s Alright Mama”.

    • Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Sam Philips deserves a lot of credit.

    • GM
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Even hip-hop, which is the black genre that has most successfully remained black, “appropriated” quite a bit from “white culture” — in the early days of hip-hop, the electro sound was huge, and that was almost entirely derived from Kraftwerk (white German dudes).

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Yesterday I saw a (world premiere) first rate stage play “Grandeur” about black “godfather of rap” Gil Scott-Heron. It was written by by Chinese-descended Phillipines-born playwright Han Ong, who is obviously neither black nor white.

    Now the Bay Area theater community is fairly (though only intermittently) laid back about cultural appropriation, but one cannot help suspect that this would create less wrath than say Clint Eastwood’s film about Charlie Parker “Bird”.

    For illustration purposes, yesterday I saw a play about this guy (

    written by this guy

    As for the Emmett Till painting, I think Schultz’ statement “I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension.” says it all.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Let’s try the images without the Wikipedia links again.

      For illustration purposes, yesterday I saw a play about this guy

      written by this guy

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 15, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        But will the play (unlike The Revolution) be televised? 🙂

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          LOL. There’s actually a line in the play about Gil-Scott Heron explaining to a reporter that he doesn’t want to buy a flat screen TV, and the reporter quips “The television will not be revolutionized”.

    • Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      We could sure use Gil Scott-Heron now!

  14. Historian
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Here is a comment from the NYT article that I think succinctly summarizes the idiocy of those who criticize cultural appropriation.

    Maria De La Guardia

    Brooklyn 1 day ago

    “Many of those who criticize cultural appropriation appear to have a profoundly simplistic view of culture. To them, cultures are bounded wholes, unchanging, monolithic, with homogeneity and agreement among members, and with “gatekeepers” who can speak for entire cultures. This is a complete misunderstanding of what culture is, and as a minority I can’t think of anything more reductive and even insulting. It is an act of “othering” that is perpetrated by ourselves instead of by the dominant culture.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      That is good. Thank’s for sharing it.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:49 am | Permalink


  15. Posted June 15, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Malik is spot on with the gatekeeping.

    Who can grant permission? Nobody, because nobody can give permission on behalf of everyone else in their group.

    But any member of that group can deny permission. It only takes one to say no.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    As far as writers writing about characters whose sex, class, or ethnicity they don’t share—have at it!

    Exactly. If the cultural carpetbaggers cheat by skirting the hard work required to master the source material — if they fail to learn the voices, if they drag in out-of-place characters, if they opt for the shortcut of stereotype — then criticize the hell out of them and their work. But give this bogus “cultural appropriation” noise a rest.

  17. Bruce Gorton
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    In South Africa, over the past few years, we had a London PR firm, Bell Pottinger, whipping up racial resentment in order to divert attention away from the relationship between our president and the Gupta family.

    Their tactics included things like promoting “Black Land First” and popularising the term “White monopoly capital.”

    They also pushed the idea that the criticism being endured by our sitting president, a man whose tenure has seen unemployment go over 27%, our credit ratings hit junk status and our economy enter into recession, was basically white owned media trying to undo the revolution.

    They also pushed ideas like “de-colonised education” and such rot.

    Essentially what that London PR firm sought to do was undo the life’s work of Nelson Mandela. To some extent they achieved that goal.

    And they were doing it with most of the same arguments being forwarded by the current crop of social justice types.

    What one has to remember with these SJWs is that their real goal is not the empowerment of the groups they claim to defend, it is actually very much the reverse.

    It is to build up resentments and hatreds which leave you thinking “fuck black people” or “fuck white people” or “fuck gay people” or “fuck feminists” or suchlike.

    Because they want us all to be divided, so that we are all the easier to conquer. They want our attention to be strictly on petty bullshit, so we don’t notice the leaders taking bribes, so that when we discuss the police killing kids we tribalise it rather than treat it like the police are killing kids.

    A culture of excessive force in the police does not suddenly become better because look – some white people get killed too. Yet that is how the argument devolves, thus avoiding having to do anything about the root problem.

    Their goal is to maintain, not overthrow the social order while posing as the revolution against it. There is nothing more fatal to that project than “cultural appropriation” and “cultural imperialism”.

    Both basically represent a loss of “otherness” that must be maintained in order to continue the tribal hate that distracts from power.

    If white authors cannot write about black characters, then white consciousness cannot be allowed to develop empathy with black people, they and their experiences are to forever be rendered the “other” so that hatred to can be maintained both ways.

    If the imagination cannot be engaged, then reason cannot be employed. If the tale cannot be told, the lessons cannot be learned.

    Food is the ultimate unifying factor – that is why so many religions seek to keep people divided at the dinner table. To eat with someone is in a lot of ways to make them part of your mental family.

    By defining certain foods as belonging to certain ethnicities,and policing who is allowed to both cook and enjoy those foods, those claiming to fight for social justice restrict who we can see as being within our human family.

    And they do so under the guise of “revolutionaries” because an ally is not questioned as deeply as a critic. By proclaiming these things to be precious assets that are being stolen, they gull the oppressed and exploited into treasuring their chains.

    For those within those protected tribes, who wish to break free of them, there is a special hatred. A white male can say all that I have said and be branded an enemy, a person of colour or a woman will be branded a traitor.

    Ayaan Ali Hirsi is far more hated than her conservative brethren for the fact that she had the gall to be a black female Muslimah who became an apostate, she did not accept the protection of the box she belonged to, she became “westernised” and thus false to the role that was set out for her.

    Similarly you have these same people who claim to be for social justice attacking liberal Muslim voices such as Maajid Nawaz as being “uncle Tom” figures.

    That this has happened to Kenan Malik is no surprise, it is not inconsistent, it is the pattern.


    Because the goal is not to end oppression, but to maintain it.

    It is to imprison entire populations within identities and to have them remain hated minorities that must be defended, lest we inquire too deeply into the latest trade deal that is stripping jobs from the local manufacturing sector.

    And so the beneficiaries of those deals teach their children to cultivate the “enlightened” hate that serves them so well, teach them how to make pain look like an asset, teach them how to consider the erasure of oppression the same thing as oppression itself.

    Teach them to pass down their ancestors’ suffering like trauma is a valued inheritance.

    The most reactionary voices who help this project become “community leaders” so that nobody troubles themselves with actually talking to the community itself.

    The tribes must continue if the chiefs are to remain fat and the chiefs must remain fat, if the kings are to rule.

    It is important for us to remember this, that we don’t fall into the traps employed by those who would maintain their control through these means.

    It is important for us to remember our common humanity, that this food is delicious, that this book is good, that this painting is heartbreaking, that this song stirs us to dance.

    That at the end of the day these are not things that divide us, but unify us, that these are not treasures to be jealously guarded, but experiences to be shared, that admiration is not injustice, that joy is not theft.

    And that these are not what define us as the communal property of some tribe, but as humans free to enjoy each other’s humanity.

    That we stand up for each other not on the basis of skin colour, gender, sexual identity or political tribe, but because it is the right thing to do.

    Maybe I’m weird, maybe this idea is simply something I appropriated in my position of privilege somewhere along the way.

    Whether what I propose is a revolution or counter to it, I don’t know, but it is, I think, a better way to live.

    • Darrin Carter
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Beautifully phrased, amen brother!

    • Posted June 15, 2017 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your beautifully written letter.

  18. Posted June 15, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  19. Posted June 15, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Oh well. I do yoga and eat Indian food..and Mexican food as well. Oh wait…I am of Mexican descent…I suppose I ought to not eat hotdogs at the baseball stadium..or watch baseball at all. 🙂

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      The hell with that — the ’80s would’ve been impoverished without “El Toro,” Fernando Valenzuela. 🙂

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      I also suspect that by writing in English you may be making yourself a victim of cultural imperialism ;-).

  20. Merilee
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink


  21. jay
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    And as the United Nations sinks farther and farther into looney land\:

    “Speaking to the committee Monday, James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, said the UN’s negotiated document should “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.”

    Got that? Civil and CRIMINAL enforcement?

  22. mikeyc
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Good grief. Down the rabbit hole we go. On topic;

    • jay
      Posted June 15, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      I think Trump’s skepticism of the UN is becoming more and more justified.

  23. eric
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    In general, I favor cultural appropriation so long as appropriate attention is given to those whose work was heavily used.

    Yes. While there may always be some gray areas, I think a reasonable rule of thumb would be “build on the work of others, but don’t plaigerize it.” Go ahead and use the Bo Diddly beat as the basis of your new hit rock song – just don’t try and claim you came up with it.

  24. nicky
    Posted June 15, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Well although exchanges and appropriation of cultures are generally positive, there are some instances where it can be unethical, when more exploitative.
    I’m thinking of e.g. pharmaceutical companies going through ‘tribal medicine’ and use anything they find useful to make big profits. In that case, the tribe involved should share in the profits.
    I do not really know the details, but the use of Hoodia, where local Bushmen share in the profits, appears the right way to go.

    • BJ
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      This doesn’t really make sense to me. Should pharmaceutical companies that produce drugs from opium flowers be sharing a portion of their profits with every group out there that uses opium?

    • Gareth
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Funny enough, it was in this sort of context that I first encountered the whole ‘appropriation’ thing when studying social geography almost 20 years ago. The most cited example involved patenting genes of crop strains used by indigenous people practising subsistence farming in India. Unsurprisingly it actually made alot of sense, especially considering that it was those people who developed these strains in the first place.

      It was of course the same time that the whole frankenfood meme took off, unsurprisingly, the latter stuck.
      I do note though that India has been giving some biotech firms involved in gene patenting a hard time of late.

  25. Neil Faulkner
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    Did Elvis appropriate black music, or did black music appropriate Elvis? Or to put it more broadly: Do people have cultures, or do cultures have people?

  26. Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    “What is it about social media…”

    Social media is like driving: isolation begets callousness.

    Nobody would ever push in front of you in line at the supermarket or the ATM, but put them in a glass bubble and they don’t think twice because they aren’t dealing directly with another human, they are dealing with a piece of technology.

    The same is true with words on a computer screen.

    • BJ
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      But there’s a key difference that your metaphor in the first sentence doesn’t quite cover: it’s like driving, but when you cut people off or drive recklessly and put everyone else in danger, you have thousands of people’s voices beamed into your car cheering you on because the people in the other cars are “on the wrong side of history.”

      • Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Haha, yes. Or insulting them, which both have the same encouraging effect.

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