NPR: Cultural appropriation is “indefensible”

 We’ve talked a lot on this site about “cultural appropriation,” whose definition is amorphous but roughly corresponds to one culture adopting aspects of another’s.  But the term usually has a pejorative connotation—that is, such appropriation is deemed harmful and unethical to the culture that’s “appropriated”. And that is the subject of an essay by K. Tempest Bradford on the National Public Radio (NPR) site: “Cultural appropriation is, in fact, indefensible.Wikipedia identifies Bradford like this:

K. Tempest Bradford (born April 19, 1978 in Cincinnati, Ohio) is an African-American science fiction and fantasy author and editor. She was a non-fiction and managing editor with Fantasy Magazine from 2007 to 2009 and has edited fiction for Peridot Books, The Fortean Bureau and Sybil’s Garage.

Bradford is an activist for racial and gender equality both within and outside of the science fiction community. In 2005 she founded the Angry Black Woman blog, and her contributions under that moniker have appeared in Feminist SF: The Blog, ColorLines NPR’s News & Notesand in African-American studies textbooks.

Bradford is exercised by Kenan Malik’s recent essay in the New York Times defending cultural appropriation. Quoting Everyday Feminism, to which she linksin her NPR essay and its followup on her own website (“A place for commentary on cultural appropriation“; see also her “Cultural appropriation primer“), Bradford defines cultural appropriation and then explains its harms (note that this is not the first definition at the given link, which is just this this: ” Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own”):

Cultural appropriation can feel hard to get a handle on, because boiling it down to a two-sentence dictionary definition does no one any favors. Writer Maisha Z. Johnson offers an excellent starting point by describing it not only as the act of an individual, but an individual working within a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.”

That’s why appropriation and exchange are two different things, Johnson says — there’s no power imbalance involved in an exchange. And when artists appropriate, they can profit from what they take, while the oppressed group gets nothing.

Note that this can work the other way around as well, as when someone in the marginalized group borrows from the dominant group and enriches themselves while the person in the dominant group gets nothing, Presumably that’s okay, though. Bradford continues:

. . . All of this lies at the root of why cultural appropriation is indefensible. It is, without question, harmful. It is not inherent to writing representational and inclusive fiction, it is not a process of equal and mutually beneficial exchange, and it is not a way for one culture to honor another. Cultural appropriation does damage, and it should be something writers and other artists work hard to avoid, not compete with each other to achieve.

This resembles the definition of racism used by the Ctrl-Left: “Racism equals power plus prejudice.”  Under that definition, blacks can’t be racist towards whites, nor can anyone in a “subordinate culture” be racist towards someone in a “dominant culture”.  This, of course. means that all “groups” can be easily ranked in an Oppression Hierarchy, with “racism:” only directed at bigotry against a group below. (I’m not sure what it’s called otherwise.)

Likewise, it’s okay to adopt aspects of a “dominant” culture (Caribbean cuisine can adopt elements from French cuisine, South African blacks can wear Western business suits, and so on), but it’s not okay when the reverse happens. It’s not okay, for instance, for whites to wear dreadlocks, for me to wear Indian clothing in India (which I do) or for whites to open a Mexican restaurant with recipes borrowed from Mexicans—at least not when you fail to make reparations. (Some have suggested that you make a financial donation to those whose culture you’ve appropriated, though for something like dreadlocks it would be hard to determine the recipient!)

The prime example of unethical cultural appropriation offered by Bradford is Elvis Presley, who incorporated elements of black music into his own—and became rich.  To Bradford, that’s unethical because the black musicians who inspired Elvis got nothing, and Elvis became a millionaire. Again, what kind of reparations are needed here. Would an acknowledgment suffice? I’m pretty sure Elvis made one, as have others, like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, but an acknowledgment of your influences doesn’t seem sufficient–not if you want material reparations.

To be sure, Bradford is not calling for writers to never write about characters from marginalized or oppressed cultures. But she says that cultural appropriators must be “respectful guests” rather than “invaders” or “tourists” (see her primer).

I’ve been trying to think of examples of cultural appropriation that fits Bradford’s definition, but nearly all turn out to be hypothetical. For example, a white artist could make a lot of money by playing music heavily influenced by black South African musicians, use the musicians in his recordings, and pay them very little. That would be mistreatment—an unethical exploitation of other people’s music. But when Paul Simon did the Graceland album, he was acutely conscious of this, paid the musicians a lot more money than they would normally get, and gave them plenty of credit—both on the album and in his interviews.  Yes, he made more money than the others, but they did fine, were not (as far as I can see) harmed, and, after all, Simon wrote the songs. He didn’t steal other people’s music per se; he used their motifs. Blatant theft of other people’s work is in fact already covered by trademark and copyright laws. So cultural appropriation appears to have been avoided, as it also was in Ry Cooder’s album with Cuban musicians, The Buena Vista Social Club.

One example of how to obviate cultural appropriation is the Australian government’s suggestion of how to create art influenced by indigenous peoples. That seems fine to me: if people have a strong feeling about religious or spiritual symbols of their culture, you’re better off being sensitive to that. And I think the use of the name “Washington Redskins” for a football team is offensive as a cultural slur, as is the caricature Indian that dances on the sidelines during the games. Perhaps that is cultural appropriation in the harmful Bradfordian sense. If you’re an American Indian, you don’t have to manufacture any outrage about something like that: it’s gut-level offensive.

But that goes only so far. I will not be made to feel bad for wearing a kurta  and Indian trousers in India, nor should whites be made to feel bad for wearing dreadlocks or trying on kimonos. Such acts are forms of flattery, and as far as I can see cause no harm. While there are Outrage Mongers who will in fact call out kimono-wearing or dreadlock-hairing, that’s a form of manufactured outrage by those looking to be offended. I am talking about real offense here, and while the distinction isn’t clear cut, it’s best to tread lightly around some things.

But how far should that go? What about other “cultures” or groups? Must we not offend Catholics or Muslims by mocking their faiths? Is there not a “Catholic culture” or a “Muslim culture”? What about a “female culture”? There are, after all, differences between these groups. Bradford fails to define “culture,” which is one problem with her essay.

Another problem is that of “palpable harm.” She says this about Elvis, for example,

Even Malik’s example involving rock and roll isn’t as simple as Elvis “stealing” from black artists. Before he even came along, systematic oppression and segregation in America meant black musicians didn’t have access to the same opportunities for mainstream exposure, income, or success as white ones. Elvis and other rock and roll musicians were undoubtedly influenced by black innovators, but over time the genre came to be regarded as a cultural product created, perfected by, and only accessible to whites.

I’m not sure that last bit is true, since black musicians became a critical part of rock, especially with the advent of soul music in the Sixties. But regardless, were any black musicians actually harmed by Elvis’s production of hits? I don’t think so. One could argue, and this seems to be the case, that Elvis and other “appropriators” awakened interest in black music, and that was good rather than harmful. When I started listening to jazz, I went all the way back to the black music of New Orleans in the early 20th century, and then onto blues.

I’m racking my brain to find real examples of cultural appropriation in literature, music, or art—examples that that really were harmful, but I’m having a hard time. Readers can help in the comments.

In the end, I think that this issue may be largely a Tempest Bradford in a teapot. Much genuine artistic theft is prohibited by copyright laws, and for the rest, according to Bradford, we’d need to rely on “appropriation judges”. But who will be the judge? If anyone objects to depiction of their culture, does that mean you should stop? Beyoncé, after all, wasn’t offended by a Canadian politician adopting her lyrics “To the left, to the left” as a political slogan. And the subject of that song was clearly not unique to black culture: it was a romantic breakup of the type that happens to those in all groups. One senses here a manufactured outrage—manufactured to make people stand out from others.

It’s the difficulty of deciding “who will judge?” that’s the problem—the same problem that plagues those who call for restrictions on speech. Another big problem is the issue of what is a dominant culture.  Is there really a clear-cut hierarchy of groups, so that it’s always okay to “appropriate up” but not to “appropriate down”?  In some cases, like American blacks vs. whites or Australian aboriginals versus Europeans, it’s pretty clear, but what about Asians vs. Europeans? Is the wearing of kimonos harming the Japanese? And why isn’t social class a culture? After all, one can sensibly speak of a “poor white Southern culture”. Is ethnicity to be the sole basis for judging cultural appropriation? In that case, what about Pakistanis versus Indians, or Sunnis vs. Shiites? And isn’t there a “female culture” and a “male culture” in the U.S.? Does that mean that men can’t wear skirts but women can wear pants?

These speculations may be fatuous, but in the end I think that while the notion of cultural appropriation as harm has a limited validity, demonizing it as Bradford does is divisive, authoritarian, and hurts everyone. Most of the instances that I’ve heard involve people looking to be offended, and ignoring the fruitful rather than harmful ways that all cultures borrow from each other.

Footnote: I append, with permission, a letter that Ben Goren sent to the NPR ombudsperson about Bradford’s article, which he sees as racism. This is Ben’s opinion and doesn’t necessarily reflect mine, but I put it here so readers can react:

Racist bigotry such as that espoused by Ms. Bradford in her rant, “Cultural Appropriation Is, In Fact, Indefensible,” should not be granted the air of respectability that the NPR marque lends — and NPR has permitted itself to be tarnished by echoing her hate speech.

The dictionary Apple includes with Mac OS defines racism as, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior,” and, “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” This is exactly the position Ms. Bradford espouses with her nonsense about tourists who must consult with natives lest they turn into invaders.

Indeed, it’s nonsense with a particularly pointed animosity towards straight white men. Does she not feel shame at appropriating English, one of the primary artifacts of European culture? Clearly not — and the very absurdity of such a suggestion demonstrates the equal absurdity of her desire to safeguard oppressed peoples from the impurity of straight white men.

Were you to do a simple substitute / replace of her work, swapping those she paints as disadvantaged and privileged, the result would be indistinguishable from Nazi propaganda. Flipping the tables doesn’t make such poison any more palatable.

And, of course, there’s far too much hatred towards others coming from the straight white men Ms. Bradford so clearly hates. And that hatred and the actual harm that stems from it is also unacceptable. But to fight racism with racism, hatred with hatred? She would bomb the village to save it….





  1. Posted June 29, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Ben letter is a good one. It will fall on deaf ears.

  2. biz
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    The latest Medusa parody piece mocks the obsession with cultural appropriation:

    • Posted June 30, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I’m afraid the article blows it. The author says she is getting her boyfriend to read Germaine Greer. Germaine Greer is very much persona non grata in the ctrl-left community thanks to her asking some questions about the status of trans women as women.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Time was, there wasn’t much on my radio that wasn’t NPR or PRI. I’d listen to it on the way to work in the morning (unless I needed a soul music fix), and I’d live-stream it in the background at the office when working on the ‘puter.

    More and more over the last few years, though, I’ve found myself shying away from it, mainly because of bullshit like this. Anymore, I just parachute in from time to time to check on the hosts and shows I still care about.

    Gets any worse, I’m gonna box up all those goddamn tote bags they’ve been sending me over the years, ship ’em back in protest.

  4. Geoff Toscano
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Does this mean that when I visit Spain if I try and speak Spanish that’s cultural appropriation? Or how about eating their food?

    There are undoubtedly times when cultural references overstep the mark; one has only to think of 1970s television comedies, or the BBC ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’. These, however, were essentially racist and wouldn’t be acceptable today. Personally I’d like to see the term ‘cultural appropriation’ disappear from our memories.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      I wasn’t referring to minstrel shows, blackface, and the like. That’s not really what we’re talking about by cultural appropriation, but an expression of bigotry, and we all agree that’s offensive. That’s the way I see the “Washington Redskins”.

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Somewhere I read an excellent piece about that from a Aative American. IIRC, it is an open letter to his “African American Brothers”, to not play for a team whose name amounts to “Washington Niggers”, and goes through the degrees of offensiveness in one way or other. If I remember, the mere use of symbolism or names is not bothersome, just that they should be done with consideration that you’re talking about people, etc.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      On minstrelsy, do see Spike Lee’s excellent (though sadly misunderestimated) satire Bamboozled.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 4:14 am | Permalink

      These, however, were essentially racist and wouldn’t be acceptable today.

      As one who lived through their broadcast (and disliked them) I don’t believe they were racist *at the time*. Retrospectively racist, probably.

      Rather like a whole host of ancient behaviours that seemed ‘natural’ at the time and are now seen as unacceptable. Perhaps people in the future will look back on our modern ‘natural’ behaviours (meat eating? religion? atheism? over consumption? nuclear families? weapons of mass destruction?) and consider them unacceptable.

  5. Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Surely this cannot mean that it would be wrong for white Christian women to celebrate Islamic feminism by wearing the hijab, right?

  6. Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Cultural appropriation has occurred throughout the history (and probably prehistory) of mankind. (Come to think of it, cultural appropriation occurs among primates also.)

    When people started migrating and encountering other tribes or groups of people with different cultures than theirs,the aspects of the new cultures that were determined to be good, desirable, beneficial were incorporated. The Jews incorporated Babylonian ideas. The Mongols incorporated many elements from all the cultures they overcame militarily. After the Dark Ages, the Europeans took home many ideas, science, mathematics, etc. from the Middle East
    without which the Renaissance wouldn’t have happened. The Christians borrowed from the Jews and the Pagans. Chinese Buddhism came from India. Everywhere the military went and warfare took place, cultural appropriation occurred. Everywhere trading went on,whether via the Silk Roads, by ship or on horseback, ditto. And, it was a two-way exchange.

    Music and poetry and dance and cuisine, et al, have been shared throughout the world. Stuffed Grape Leaves all over the Mediterranean. Pasta from China to Italy. Corn and Tomatoes (and lots of other plants, vegetables and fruits) from the New World to the Old World. Cattle, goats, sheep and Old World crops such as wheat were brought to the New World. Europeans in the New World learned from the indigenous peoples and vice versa, and traded information, foods and goods. You do not see most Native Americans wearing leather garments decorated with porcupine quills any more, or using bows and arrows or atlatls.

    I don’t know of any way compensation is possible in all these situations throughout history. I, personally, think that the exchange of culture is predominantly good for humanity. More time needs to be spent on teaching history.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 2:38 am | Permalink

      Very nice exposition, Rowena.

  7. Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Until someone can tell me where one culture ends and another begins (even fallibly) I cannot make sense of the concern.

    What *is* a concern is racist *portrayals*, like the cartoon “Indian” in my grade 10 history book, complete with XXX jug, etc.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      So for example, the “tomahawk chop” of the Atlanta Braves is a bit silly, so low-level and should be avoided. Using the tomahawk as a symbol for the team makes more sense to me.

      Of course, to (presumably, in my case) culturally appropriate and hence self-instantiate the concern: “two Jews, three opinions”

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        You talkin’ about the tomahawk chop that Braves’ fans appropriated from the Florida State Seminoles crowd?

  8. Randy schenck
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Very much agree with Ben on this one. Would also like to briefly explain another true example of reverse racism and anyone who has lived for some time in Hawaii but is Caucasian and from the mainland will know about this. The typical tourist may not be familiar with the term Haole but one can go to Wikipedia for a quick review. Anyway, it is not a term of endearment used to describe any Caucasian in Hawaii.

    Maybe we should also not wear any of the Hawaiian shirts that are made and sold to all the tourist who come to Hawaii. But to see the damaging side of this reversal, move to Hawaii and put your kids in the public schools if you dare.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I’ve encountered reverse racism too, or at least linguistic prejudice. I’m an anglophone Quebecer, and was occasionally mildly mistreated for it, especially through pseudonymity of BBSes. Some people complained back to me when I called them on it that they couldn’t be bigoted because francophones are the minority in Canada and North America and so on. This of course illustrates another problem: the scope of the “size” of the in group/out group. Francophones are the majority in Quebec, needless to say, after all. At the time they were also majority in greater Montreal, but they are no longer (>25% “other”/”allophone”).

      • Randy schenck
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        What are BBSes?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          Bulletin Board System, often incorporating a message board. (A bit like this site). They faded when email ‘mailing lists’ and sites like this one came along.

          They were also famous for their propensity for awesome flame wars.


        • Posted July 4, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          Usually- computers set up to allow users to send/receive messages on variety of subjects via “old school” modems.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        I’ve experienced the same bigotry in that neck of the woods myself. When we were about 18, my buddies and I went way-the-hell up in north Quebec to go fishing and camping. One night, we drove into the local town to pick up beer, saw a billiard parlor, and decided to stop by and shoot some pool.

        Turns out, all they had were snooker tables (a game none of us knew how to play). We ordered a beer anyway, and started horsing around on a tables. Seems some of the locals took cultural offense at that; they gathered round our table and started mockingly singing “Cotton Fields” to us (which we, as stone-cold Yankees, found kinda funny … at first). Eventually, we had to back our way outta that joint, cue sticks in hand.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Yes. Haole is an insult directed at whites, though few realize it. Moke was the word used for native Hawaiians or other Polynesians (though native Hawaiians looked down on Fijians and treated them as almost-Haoles). When I lived there in the 1980s Japanese people were also the target of racist terms as well, but the Hawaiian word escapes me. Often my Hawaiian friends called them “bananas” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), but that isn’t the word I can’t recall now.

      I also lived in Tunisia and the word they used to refer to white or non-muslim Asian women means, literally, “whore” (wa-qu-ah). The worst thing you could call someone was “jew” (al-yahud)

      • Randy schenck
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        Our time in Hawaii (Oahu) was from 83 to 88. Most of the difficulties were not so bad but you did need to know what beaches to avoid. I am sure that many who brought kids over had lots of trouble and some simply sent the kids back home.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Those Hawaiian shirts – are they made in Hawaii or China?

      But that’s a side issue.
      Shirts of that style are very popular in many other Pacific islands, (e.g. the Cook Islands), whose inhabitants seem to be perfectly happy with anybody and everybody wearing them. Hawaii does not have a monopoly on that style. They don’t own it. So Hawaiians absolutely cannot unilaterally object to others wearing them without indulging in blatant cultural appropriation themselves.


      • Randy schenck
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

        Made in Hawaii. It is big business there and one of the very few industries left. The top two or three in the economy of Hawaii would be Tourism, the military and government.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          From my limited recollection, the ‘Island Style’ shirts in Rarotonga were either (a) made in Hawaii or (b) locally (Cook Island) designed but made in China. The two styles were very similar.

          Is it cultural appropriation for a Cook Islander to sell a Hawaiian shirt to a tourist?


          • Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            …and what of the Chinese seamstress who sews the shirt? Is she an invader, guest, or tourist? Maybe an indentured servant, perhaps?

            For bonus points, how does the Chinese government’s treatment of Tibet factor into her hierarchy in the Oppression Olympics?




    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      I’ve got a feeling Hawaiian shirts weren’t actually worn by pre-Columbian Hawaiians.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 30, 2017 at 2:44 am | Permalink


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          + 🙂

  9. Sastra
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Yesterday I was binge-watching the latest season of “Orange is the New Black” and saw a scene which had to do with cultural appropriation. A black student from a poor inner-city school was invited to visit a privileged private school. She stands watching an all-white cast performing Dreamgirls. A teenager playing Effie belts out the heartfelt ballad “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” — with its plaintive cry of “You’re going to love me” — and the black teen quietly begins to cry. Not because the song is so moving, but because she suddenly realizes the gulf between them. This play is about the black experience, the song is rooted in both black gospel and being a poor, black woman. They just don’t get it.

    At least, I assume that was the theme. I found it interesting. I’m white. Without the backstory and juxtaposition of both worlds, I probably would have viewed a white Effie White as a nice example of colorblind casting. But instead, it seemed jarring … and insensitive. So perhaps this might be a small but problematic example of cultural appropriation?

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I think there is a case to be made to do the “do you know where this comes from?” line to help people get *that* part of the story.

      My friend Raven used to say she’d go up to parents of (white) kids wearing the feathered headdresses and ask something like: “Wow, such a warrior at a young age! So, how many battles *has* he fought in!?”

      Feathers in many NA groups are earned for accomplishments – she likened them to diplomas.

      Unlike some, her principle has always been: you’re welcome to join “us”, but follow the rules of accomplishment for doing so. (This is how she became Inuit, despite being “biologically” mostly Cree – and French, which of course suggests all sorts of problems of “blood quantum” and the like.)

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Flip it around.

        Imagine you were an American GI who went back to Vietnam, and discovered that the big fashion amongst kids was fatigues with medal-like bar decorations. Sure, you might get a kick out of playing with them about what this medal was for or what-not, but would it even occur to you to be offended at the cultural appropriation?

        Most people I can think of would smile, get a kick out of it, joke with the kids, maybe take a moment to encourage them to grow into the big shoes they’re trying to fill, maybe caution them about the true horror of war, and move on.



    • Taz
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Without the backstory and juxtaposition of both worlds, I probably would have viewed a white Effie White as a nice example of colorblind casting. But instead, it seemed jarring … and insensitive.

      Hopefully the kids putting on the play learned something. What’s the alternative? Should that school boycott works by black playwrights? That seems worse to me.

  10. Pliny the in Between
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Cultural appropriation may lead to appreciation – appreciation may lead to empathy – empathy may lead to respect – respect may lead to celebration – celebration may lead to understanding – understanding may lead to equality

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 2:47 am | Permalink

      + 1

  11. Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I also tell the story of my joy at overhearing young black Canadians talking about how they were amazed and *pleased* to hear that some “old white guy from 400 years ago” (Shakespeare) wrote about them more or less like everyone else. I commend that they hadn’t been sucked into the isolationism and their teachers for teaching them Othello, despite a lot of people’s disdain for it.

    Shakespeare used Italians and Illyrians, Moors and … the way that Gene Roddenberry used Vulcans and Klingons: to tell us about everyone.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      “The black writer Maya Angelou, called upon as a child to recite a poem before her church congregation in Stamps, Arkansas, chose Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice. ‘Nobody else understands it,’ she recalled, ‘but I know that William Shakespeare was a black woman. That is the role of art in life.’ We identify with the great characters in fiction because we recognize our own experience of the world in theirs—not because of the color of their skin.”

      -From James Atlas’s “The Book Wars”

      • Posted July 4, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Like Othello, Merchant of Venice is one of plays people demonize. It is precisely for this reason we were assigned it – same as The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      Curiously enough Mrs DiscoveredJoys and I, plus some friends, visted Shakespears Grammar School in Stratford-upon-Avon, started by the religious guild but taken over by the town. (Girls were educated separately by well-off ladies as charitable works).

      Although most lessons were in English all of the written work, classical texts, and religious elements were in Latin. Was that cultural appropriation or ‘just the way things were’?

      • Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        With the tip of my tongue barely touching the cheek, I point out it was actually cultural imperialism – the very opposite of cultural appropriation.

      • Gareth
        Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Latin speakers were the imperialist oppressors, so it can’t be cultural appropriation 😉

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Yesterday afternoon, I saw the marvelous Broadway show “An Evening with Janis Joplin” in which the actress playing Joplin talks a lot about her musical influences, almost all female black blues singers. The show in addition to featuring Kacee Clanton’s marvelous renditions of Joplin has a cast 4 African singers singing songs done by her chief influences, Nina Simone, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Odetta, and Bessie Smith. The show is virtually a celebration of cultural appropriation(!!) and is almost sold out, but is not at all “selling out” 🙂 .(See definitions 2 and 3 at if you are confused by my pun.)

    Now, where I tend to be on team Bradford is the 1940s white jazz bands such as Glenn Miller and the ironically named Paul Whiteman. Wikipedia reports
    “He [Whiteman-JLH] encouraged upcoming African American musical talents and initially planned to hire black musicians, but Whiteman’s management eventually persuaded him that doing so would be career suicide due to racial tension and America’s segregation of that time. However, Whiteman crossed racial lines behind-the-scenes, hiring black arrangers like Fletcher Henderson and engaging in mutually beneficial efforts with recording sessions and scheduling of tours.”

    I am even more on team Bradford re Pat Boone’s many re-recordings of black songs since Southern radio stations would not play the black recordings of those songs.

    Not so much on team Bradford re Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” but I still will admit the recent reworking of the show by an African-American woman, Suzan-Lori Parks (morphing it into a Broadway musical) was well-done as it significantly expanded the character of Bess (a major aim of the redo). (I respectfully disagree with Stephen Sondheim’s view that the new version is sacrilege. Ms. Parks has a point that the classic version might as well be simply entitled “Porgy”. For an unrelated work, Parks is the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama!)

    But Whiteman and Presley are artists caught up in an economic system that is racist, not people personally trying to colonize black culture.

    To appropriate the work of a particular artist you need permission, a right recently granted in the early 20th century. The Joplin show mentioned above required Bob Dylan’s permission to use Nina Simone’s rendition of “I Shall Be Released”.

    Now here’s a rather ugly piece of white-on-white cultural appropriation that would be illegal today. My beloved great-great-great-…aunt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, the classic anti-slavery novel. But her character of Simon Legree, shows up in the pro-slavery novel “The Leopard’s Spots” by Thomas Dixon. The latter’s sequel is “The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan” which was the source novel to the film “Birth of a Nation”!!

    Here’s a series of clips from both the best “jukebox musical” I have ever seen (others I have seen include “The Buddy Holly Story” and “Ring of Fire” about Johnny Cash), but the coolest act of cultural appropriation I have ever seen. The African musicians enter about half way through. This clip has Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin. Last night I saw Kacee Clanton, who has also performed in “Love, Janis Joplin”

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      The early days of Rock ‘n’ Roll were rife with invidious appropriations — instances where white artists (and their even more unscrupulous agents and managers and producers) lifted wholesale from the tunes and rifts of black performers, without either giving credit or paying a dimes’-worth of royalties. That continued for the better part of a generation. (I’m lookin’ at you, Messrs. Page & Plant.)

      But so long as due credit and cash exchange hand, I’m all for open-bazaar cultural miscegenation. It’s salubrious for both sides. Hell, with their early R&B stuff, the Rolling Stones (whose very name was lifted from a Muddy Waters’s tune) helped give second acts to the careers of many black artists, including Muddy himself.

      That’s why so many artists happily engage in the interchange, flowing in both directions. (Dylan for one, who has himself drunk so copiously from the public-domain trough, encourages sampling of his stuff by rappers or anyone else who can contribute to the musical weal.)

      Cast your bread upon the waters, is the way to look at it. (Come to think of it, artists’ve been appropriatin’ from Ecclesiastes even longer than from Muddy or Howlin’ Wolf. 🙂 )

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Interesting that you mention Led Zeppelin. African artists in the USA tend to give a pass to Brit performers who borrow from their music.

        Valerie Tarico reports of a survey of secular humanists who were asked what was the best/wisest book in the Bible.
        The clear winner was Ecclesiastes, so it seems that secular humanists and the arts community think alike.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          Ecclesiastes does have some of the Bible’s most musical language; it’s whence Pete Seeger appropriated “Turn, Turn, Turn” (Byrds’ cover at link).

  13. Sebastian
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    On this particular issue I am very hesitant to give in to the authoritarian left by even an inch.
    Unlike many other far-left issues, which often have a valid core that should be discussed and hopefuly solved by more reasonable people, Cultural Appropriation strikes me as a completely bunkers, made-up non-issue. Assuming a white artist were to borrow from native culture, creating a work of art. It really escapes me how the existence of that piece of art would put the native people in a worse place than if nothing had happened.

    I happen to be German. Should I be outraged by North-Americans appropriating our Octoberfest culture every Fall? I sought hard for it, but I really can’t find any trace of outrage about this in myself. Rather, I found (undeserved) pride that other people find something worthwile in my culture.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      And lots of those Octberfesters are second, third or fourth generation German as well. It is too bad they have not figured out how to copy the beer.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      On the other hand, the existence of an American fast food chain that sells hot dogs entitled Wienerschnitzel, when that is the name of breaded venison- that is actually really offensive cultural appropriation!!

      • darrelle
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know about cultural appropriation, but it is a travesty!

    • Denise
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      You’re missing the power element. Certain people would like all rules of behavior to be rewritten as two sets of rules, one for the oppressor class and one for the oppressed. There would be no standards that applied to everyone.

      • Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        What do you mean, he’s missing the power element? The US beat Germany to a pulp, and literally bombed parts of it back to stone age (sans the age, maybe) over the last 100 years or so. Twice.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I am still waiting for something more than an assertion of harm. If you want us to accept that your political argument is valid, please provide real examples. One might argue that white musicians profited from adopting black music styles, but ultimately that helped break down the race barrier in music, and made black music main-stream.

  15. Jeff Rankin
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    This is the kind of stuff that makes me say – “OK, no more money for public radio from me!” – but then I realize all this does is hurt the local public radio station.

  16. Robert Ryder
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ll say first of all that I get much of my news from NPR and I still think it’s an excellent news source–for the most part actually “fair and balanced,” instead of so only in the realm of fantasy like some other sources. This article is absurd, although I don’t agree with Mr. Goren that NPR shouldn’t have published it. Let’s leave censorship to the right and the regressive left. It does make me sad, however, that this stuff appears to be gaining so much traction in many places. I realize that much of it is a reaction to Trump, but not all, as it has been going on for a while. The trope of Elvis Presley “stealing” black music was old forty years ago. And if white English boys like Clapton and the Stones were in fact stealing the music of the black blues men, then they were stealing music that virtually no Americans, black or white, had much use for in the early 1960s. It’s all so ridiculous. A question that always occurs to me when this appropriation issue comes up is who gets to decide when racism (as defined above) has subsided to a point at which it is okay for an open transfer between cultures? What a load of crap.

    • fizziks
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      It would not be “censorship” for NPR to exercise a bit more discretion about who they choose to give a voice to on their website. Ms. Bradford should be free to hold and disseminate her opinions, and NPR is free to choose whether to provide those opinions with the limited resource of NPR promotion.

  17. Jeff J
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    There is another subset of people who feel strongly that white people should stick to white culture and traditions: white nationalists.

    I’m of the opinion that horseshoe theory is complete garbage, but it is curious that some individuals on each of the ends of the spectrum have come to the same conclusion.

  18. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    The argument behind Cultural Appropriation is not accessible to reasoning, but can be rather felt through connotation and association with colonialism, imperialism, theft and exploitation of oppressed groups. The trouble is: there is no actual colonialism, and no actual exploit taking place.

    Cultural Appropriation is more about making “virtue signalling” more conductive. There seems to be some kind of psychological stress among a certain demographic that they are in such need of elevating themselves above other people (especially US atheists-skeptics, a “movement” infested with people in need to show how much cleverer, and now woker they are). The two strategies I see are:

    A) “Overcoming cheap signalling”, which leads to the behaviour commonly associated with so-called “social justice warriors” — the person feels a stress to not matter enough, and recognizes that common progressivism is no longer a feature that sets them apart from their flock. To become “special” again, the SJW engages in excessive thoughtpolicing and seemingly costly ritual of burning bridges to show just how “woke” they are.

    B) “Cultural Appropriation” is a complementary strategy of relieving the same stress, but this time a larger set of normal attitudes are declared “problematic”. By adding costs to “progressivism proper”, essentially carving out arbitrary rules like Kosher Food, the individual can make themselves stand out without lifting a finger.

    In essence, one strategy tinkers with the foreground (engaging in fancy peacock woke behaviour), while the other tinkers with the background (declaring more things problematic without a need to adjust own behaviour). The act of tinkering itself doubles as making oneself seem more virtuous.

    All of this ends up being an expression of US American (especially) tribal/partisan mindset which is shooting through the roof, and perhaps driven by the disorientation in the global village, surrounded by fake news. Identity and tribe seem to give such troubled individuals back some sense of control.

  19. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The main thing that concerns me about this crap is the ammunition it will give to the Right. It translates to more votes for Trump when he rus for reelection.

  20. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    the Left has totally lost its collective mind w shit like this. Embarrasment

  21. BobTerrace
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    “…science fiction and fantasy author and editor.”

    That says it all for me. No reason to take her seriously; her writing is just another fantasy.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      I could name a hundred SF and fantasy authors, ranging from Asimov to Clark to Theodore Sturgeon to Douglas Adams to Terry Pratchett (95 names omitted for bandwidth) whose work says you’re dead wrong about that.

      What I would say is that anyone can *claim* to be a SF/fantasy author (or any other sort of author for that matter) – and they may even be one, in the sense of having written something in the genre – but was it any good?

      Good SF/fantasy often shines a light on ‘real life’, just as much as any ‘serious’ novel. And often, I have to add, far more readably.


      • Mark Joseph
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

        Yes, Mr. Terrace’s comment demonstrates a considerable lack of understanding as to the nature of the best of science fiction and fantasy (it’s not all 1930s pulp adventure).

        Adding to your list: Ursula K. Le Guin, Iain M. Banks, Gregory Benford, Heinlein (regardless of what you think of his politics), Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Moorcock, Joe Haldeman, Sheri S. Tepper, Octavia E. Butler, ad infinitum. Two current black women science fiction and fantasy writers definitely worth reading are Nalo Hopkinson and N. K. Jemisin.

        Or, go for specific works–1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale… Even Harry Potter–say what you want about the writing, is there any other book that explores more deeply the nature of friendship? Or that has encouraged more kids to read and write?

        The problem with Bradford is not that she’s a science fiction and fantasy author; it’s that she’s a out and out racist. A year or two back she was pushing to have people not read any white male authors for a year (there was a photo of her carrying a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods with a red “not” symbol overprinted). I immediately lost all respect for her–how, based on Martin Luther King’s dictum of judging a person by his works, instead of the color of his or her skin, is she any different from the alt-right crazies she criticizes?

        I’ll read whomever I goddamn well please, Ms. Bradford. The difference between us is that I will allow you to do the same as well. That’s because I’m not interested in arrogating to myself unearned cultural power and influence by playing off one group against another.

        • Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          «A year or two back she was pushing to have people not read any white male authors for a year»

          Oh, Gods of the Underworld! So that was her… Why am I not surprised? I remember some of the noise—and the related bullshit popping up a bit earlier, about how white authors should write/submit less to make spaces to black authors—but not the names involved (to my shame, I tend to ignore the byline, especially for stuff published online).

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted June 30, 2017 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

            It’s all a ploy to gain cultural power and influence, without doing anything (like writing good books) to earn or deserve it. Same with the Special Snowflakes, the cult of taking offense, Evergreen college, ad infinitum. About all they do is induce a reaction, often violent, among the right-wingers. Well, that, and turn off the people who should be their natural allies.

  22. Pliny the in Between
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had some experience with bigotry (When I was a kid the KKK once tried to burn a cross in our front yard – once…)

    It seems to me that the conflict over cultural appropriation is all about understandable anger. “Basically, you like x,y,or z about my heritage but you treat me like shit. You eat my food, sing my songs, and act like that means you aren’t a bigot the other 23 hours of the day. You want to benefit from what you enjoy about my people but not engage in really understanding the challenges they face or the part you play in them.”

    Not hard to appreciate that.

    • Taz
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Basically, you like x,y,or z about my heritage but you treat me like shit. You eat my food, sing my songs, and act like that means you aren’t a bigot the other 23 hours of the day.

      The assumption behind charges of cultural appropriation is that this is an accurate description of all white people.

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink


        It’s racist, and actually so in exactly the same way that we are told that “cultural appropriation” is allegedly so.




        • Pliny the in Between
          Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          Probably true of more than we’d like to admit. Plus I never said it was a good expression of anger just an understandable one.

          • Diane G.
            Posted June 30, 2017 at 3:12 am | Permalink

            I think it’s understandable as well, and no accident that its uptick parallels what I see as a resurgence of overt racism in the US.

            Many years ago Rodney King said something we could afford to listen to again…

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 30, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

            Yes, I can totally understand where a lot of the anger comes from. As a woman and someone who has friends who are not white, I get that most of what is racism, is not easily perceived by others. I perceive every day racism that must be a fraction of what my friends experience and I experience sexism that others don’t see.

            However, as you say, it isn’t the right way to express anger since clearly all white people aren’t like that and it’s the supportive white people who have helped change things (like there are supportive men who have helped end sexism).

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Most cultures are a mixture of nice, average and shitty elements. I think spreading and preserving the nice parts while rejecting the shitty parts is the right thing to do.

      The Phoenicians gave us the precursor of modern alphabets, the money, the far-distance navigation. They were remarkable people. Nevertheless, I am glad that their culture (read: religion) has gone extinct. I wouldn’t want them around.

      In Nazi Germany, there were important sci-tech advances such as electron microscopy and the role of RNA in the tobacco mosaic virus. I see nothing wrong with taking these achievement while regarding the Nazis as the shit they were. (This is not to imply that these inventions and discoveries were done exactly by Nazis; but neither were the food and songs of a culture created by the hypothetical member of this culture who complains of being treated like shit.)

      • Pliny the in Between
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        Not really the direction I was pointing with my comment. In the US there is white privilege. Even the non-bigot contingent of whites enjoy it even if they don’t imagine for a moment that it’s the natural order of things. Whites can partake of these privileges and at the same time sample other cultures at will while always returning to their normal status when they want. People of color can’t – they don’t get to be ‘white for a day’. It only works in the one direction. Anger over cultural appropriation is just one response to that disparity.

        It’s easy to miss the difference between being called a bigot and having attention pointed to the fact that many are enjoying disproportionate privilege.

        • Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Whites can partake of these privileges and at the same time sample other cultures at will while always returning to their normal status when they want. People of color can’t – they don’t get to be ‘white for a day’. It only works in the one direction. Anger over cultural appropriation is just one response to that disparity.

          But is that anger helpful? Seems to me it’s much more of an “own goal.”

          Excluding whites because of their whiteness isn’t going to get non-whites any additional access to the privileges whites enjoy — quite the contrary, it’s just going to embolden the Trumpers to continue the tit-for-tat and be even more brazen in their own racist bigotry.

          Two wrongs don’t make a right, but two Wrights can make an airplane. The answer to frustrations such as you express isn’t to punch back tenfold, as Drumpf is doing to the media; it’s to politely-but-firmly insist on everybody playing nicely. Be better than the reprobates; don’t sink to their level, aiming for even lower.




          • Pliny the in Between
            Posted June 29, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

            It’s not helpful, but I don’t think totally discounting it is either.

            I think it’s partly blow back from the election. We all patted ourselves on the back about how Obama being elected meant the complete end of racism only to find that it’s alive and apparently quite healthy.

            • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

              Oh, there’s no question that Drumpf’s base was mobilized in no small part by a very sincere (if incomprehensibly alien) outrage that one of those uppity niggers got so far out of place that he dared soil the White House with his mud blood.

              And while it’s true that Clinton was perhaps the worst Democratic candidate on the merits put forth in the modern era, it’s also true that, for a significant portion of the anti-Obama crowd, women in authority are an hair’s breadth away from being as horrific as non-whites in authority.

              Still, the wisest reaction is most emphatically not to mirror the racists, but to be mature adults who recognize the irrelevance of superficialities and judge people instead by the contents of their characters.

              As I just posted in another reply, compare restricting meeting attendance to members only with a race-based entrance policy, and also consider the horrific implications of a race-based membership policy. No matter which race is favored.




        • Diane G.
          Posted June 30, 2017 at 3:55 am | Permalink

          I couldn’t agree more.

          When our first child was born (we’re white), one of my husband’s black colleague’s family also had their first kid and we shared each other’s joy and terror (omg what do I do with this thing?!) as first-time parents. When my son got to the stage where we were sending him out into the world on his own (think preschool; even at that stage it’s scary to contemplate how the world will treat your kid when you’re not there to protect him) I couldn’t help but think about how much harder it must have been for Phil & his wife…how shattering to know your innocent little child would without a doubt run into bigotry at some point. (Despite the fact that Phil was an MD at Harvard Med School…reminiscent of Obama remarking that if he’d had a son he would resemble Trayvon Martin…)

          (Many years later we attended the wedding of one of my husband’s lab techs…the couple were both black, the wedding reception was huge–200 people or so–and we and another couple were the only whites in the room. We had a lovely time, it was a great party…but also a memorably strange sensation of feeling so, er, noticeably different. Quite the role reversal.)

          Yeah, I guess I do have a lot of white guilt…

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted July 2, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

            I’ve felt the same weird feeling at some social occasions my wife takes me to – a hall full of Cook Islanders and I’m the only ‘white’ person. It’s quite disconcerting even though I *know* (from experience) that they will all treat me with perfect politeness and respect. (I’ve got used to it by now).

            Must be much more intimidating for a black / ‘brown’ person who is confident of no such thing.


            • Diane G.
              Posted July 3, 2017 at 2:09 am | Permalink

              Indeed! And think of how much a part of daily life it is for minorities.

  23. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I think too much good faith goes into these discussions with people who accuse others of appropriating. I have never seen a case and I could be wrong where anyone bedsides a white person was accused. The entire term is designed to be a tool of telling white people to stop doing something. I see it as a blatant form of racism.

  24. nicky
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Cultural appropriation is a much abused term, most cases it is more like cultural radiation, I’d say. If it is good, use it! It is flattering for the original culture, I mean, who wants to emulate fundamentalist Islam? moreover, I really do not want to be deprived of my sushi. Here in South Africa Japanese chefs are training locals in making proper sushi.
    Yes, there are some forms of ‘cultural appropriation’, the clearest example is pharmaceutical companies sifting through traditional medicine of ‘primitive’ tribes. As long as they give a fair share of the revenue when something is used, I do not have much problems with that. I do not know if the condition mentioned is always met though. In the case of Hoodia and the Bushmen there appears to be some support and ‘reward’ for the local community.
    Elvis and Muddy Waters is another case that can be looked at a bit jaundiced. I don’t think Elvis has given enough credit, but that is just my opinion.
    I agree with our host that ‘cultural appropriation’ rarely is negative, and propose to call it ‘cultural radiation’ instead. I’m open for a better term, of course.

  25. Bruce Gorton
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Personally I think opposition to cultural appropriation is just racism.

    It is a philosophy favoured by morons who don’t think about the consequences because they don’t think.

    The major argument for tolerance is basically that if you have a bunch of people from different backgrounds they can all have different approaches to various things and thus produce novel and superior solutions.

    But if those solutions suddenly become a matter of cultural property, that whatever group is dominant is somehow “appropriating” – and thus verboten, then quite frankly there is no real argument for tolerance beyond guilt.

    There is no win-win, there is instead “take the loss because you’re in a stronger position.”

    And somebody who is in a stronger position can just turn around and tell the people saying that to go fuck themselves.

    People in a stronger position will not in general be guilt-tripped into giving it up for no benefit. Opposition to cultural appropriation represents reducing that benefit and thus reducing any incentive towards justice.

    And that is without even getting into how the argument is just a modernised version of Jim Crow.

  26. Linda Calhoun
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    What if the clothing, jewelry, etc. is a gift from someone in that culture?

    Do you insult the giver by not wearing it, or do you insult the culture by wearing it?


  27. Kevin
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Cultural appropriation. It’s never going away. It’s always been here. There is no escape from the shallow criticism that one person has somehow invented or gets supreme monopoly on any aesthetic portion of anyone else’s culture. It’s all ours.

    Tonight my white hands stretch across the fretboard to play Hendrix. I must be a gigantic racist pig, according to much maligned Bradford.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink


      You may be able to play Vivaldi on your guitar, but _only_ if you’re Italian.

      Wait, no, that doesn’t work either. The guitar can be traced back to Greek origins, so you need to be of Greek heritage to play it at all.

      So, if you’re Greek, you can play it AS LONG AS you play music that is Greek or of another heritage you can claim.

      “What if I’m trans-Greek,” you ask? Well, then….#!###INFINITE LOOP ERROR

  28. revelator60
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    “Let me tell you this—–when I came out they wasn’t playing no black artists on no Top 40 stations, I was the first to get played on the Top 40 stations—but it took people like Elvis and Pat Boone, Gene Vincent to open the door for this kind of music, and I thank God for Elvis Presley. I thank the Lord for sending Elvis to open that door so I could walk down the road, you understand?”
    –Little Richard, 1970

    • revelator60
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Elvis’s first single was a “hillbilly” version of a R&B song (“That’s Alright Mama”) and a R&B version of a “hillybilly” song (“Blue Moon of Kentucky”). It was a cultural marriage ceremony, and still offends cultural separatists like Bradford.

      Bradford insists on defining cultural appropriation as an act of “members of a dominant culture” taking elements “from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” But Elvis was a poor southerner—not a member of the “dominant culture,” unless one wishes to believe that “white trash” were the cultural arbiters and economic overloads of the South, let alone the U.S. Bradford has nothing to say about the issue of class, which is often inseparable from race and questions of cultural dominance, and makes no notice of class differences within racial groups.

      She also presumes that culture can be easily separated into racial strands. But rock’n’roll wasn’t invented in Africa—it came about from several hundred years of African and European musical traditions mixing it up in the south. As a working class southerner, Elvis had a birthright to that mongrel music and naturally grew up with it.

      I’ve already commented above that Little Richard went out of his way to credit Elvis with opening the doors to greater exposure for black artists. Any look at the Billboard charts pre-and-post 1956 will bear this out. So if Elvis was a supposed appropriator, he disproves Bradford’s notion that “when artists appropriate, they can profit from what they take, while the oppressed group gets nothing.” She also ignores the fact that rock’n’roll came to be seen as white music after the British Invasion, not during its initial multi-racial phase.

      On the other hand, since Elvis did the “hard work” and did not simply copy African American artists (compare his version of “Hound Dog” with Big Mama Thornton’s—and keep in mind that the song was written by two white Jewish guys!), perhaps he doesn’t qualify as an appropriator by Bradford’s own standards, which are themselves problematic. She complains about Malik painting her and her ilk as gatekeepers, but then starts gatekeeping by introducing purity tests to determine appropriation. Does the work of art fit the protocols devised by The Australian Council for the Arts’s protocols? Is the artist acting as an Invader, Tourist, or Guest? Gatekeepers want to know! Well, Elvis was none of the above. He was a native–raised on gospel, country, R&B, blues, and pop, he sang all kinds. Other folks in the south, black or white, had the same idea. They gave us rock’n’roll.

      • Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        «It was a cultural marriage ceremony»

        Surely, you mean cultural rape! Or, at the very least, unlawful cultural miscegenation.

  29. josh
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    As usual, people decrying cultural appropriation can’t actually come up with an argument about why it is wrong or harmful per se. In Ms. Bradford’s example people are oppressed (well, a group of related people *were* decades ago and then she elides the difference), and then someone appropriates and this doesn’t help them. So? I do hundreds of things every day that fail to help people worse off than I. If one wants to argue that we should help the downtrodden then by all means make that argument, but it doesn’t have a thing to do with the spread of culture. If I should think and do more about the plight of poor Mexicans, presumably I should do it regardless of whether I’m eating Mole Poblano.

    Similarly, if a racist caricature is offensive, the problem is the offensive elements of the depiction, not that one “borrowed” the image. It’s not like early white Americans “stole” crude stereotypes of lazy, cartoonish blacks from some appropriate setting within black culture.

    If we’re talking about profiting off another’s ideas, we already have laws about intellectual property. There’s a lot to be said about the case for and against that kind of protectionism and artificial scarcity, but, regardless of how you feel about that, a white person “stealing” from another white is as harmful as taking from a black person, or vice versa. It’s an issue about individuals or legal entities, not nebulous cultures.

    Black people’s problem in the 50s and 60s was racism at the state and individual level, not Elvis’s popularity. If anything he probably brought attention to black musicians who otherwise might never have had any influence on ‘mainstream’ white music. But, whatever more he should have done to combat racism in his time, it’s hard to see how not playing partly-black-influenced music would have helped.

    I really don’t think people like Bradford have a leg to stand on.

  30. C. Morano
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Culture is not sacred. Culture is not owned. It can’t be copyrighted or trademarked. It can be appreciated, borrowed from, destroyed and raped. Nobody owns culture. There is no collective ownership of anything. The only valid culture is borrowed elements, the best from many cultures. The majority of all cultures is garbage and should be destroyed. Culture in and of itself, like tradition and intuition, is not virtuous or valuable. Only the individual can take, borrow or steal elements and make them of value to him/herself or others.

  31. Tom
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    All this cultural appropriation nonsense rings a little bell in my mind.
    Didn’t the Nazis have the a problem deciding what was Germanic and what was pollution from “inferior” races?
    Perhaps the Ahnenerbe Institute papers could help the cultural purists?

  32. Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    For their first US TV appearance on Shindig! in 1965, The Rolling Stones insisted that Howlin’ Wolf accompany them, and in fact made him the feature of the show. The Stones were honoring & acknowledging their creative debt to their hero, inspiration and muse, not making reparations for appropriating negro music culture.

    “Cultural Appropriaton” is a lunatic concept, and must be completely rejected whenever put forth.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      When I saw the Stones at the Akron Rubber Bowl in the summer of ’73, their opening act was Stevie Wonder, then going through a slack stage following his early Motown hits. That tour helped create a whole new audience for Stevie; shortly thereafter, he released Innervisions and a little while later, Songs in the Key of Life, and Little Stevie was back on top again!

  33. Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    And what do we call it when white folks appropriate things from other white folks -sub-culture appropriation? The Daily Bonnet recently reported that Canadian Mennonite grandmothers successfully sued the millennial hipster dudes for appropriating the hair bun. Three billion according to the Bonnet [proudly and openly satirical].

    • Filippo
      Posted July 1, 2017 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      Is one “appropriating” if one wears a backwards-oriented baseball cap, or wears trousers below the lower limb of ones gluteals?

  34. Ed Collins
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    How about all the native persons dressed in t-shirts and baseball caps in my part of the country? Are they appropriating my culture?

  35. Sixtus
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    As I’ve mentioned here before, the tonal harmony system used by Elvis, as well as those who’s music he ‘appropriated’ was invented around 1600 — exclusively by white males, mainly in Italy, many doing work for the Catholic Church. This is never brought up in appropriation debates.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 1, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if castrati appropriated contralto opera roles.

  36. Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    “they were stealing music that virtually no Americans, black or white, had much use for in the early 1960s”

    I am afraid that you are very wrong in making this claim. Examples abound.

    One of my favorites of the mid-1960s was “Go Now” by the Moody Blues. It reached #1 in UK and peaked at #10 in the US. Bessie Banks original (written by her husband) reached #40 on the R&B charts.

    Larry Williams wrote and recorded a ton of great rock songs in the late 50s and was pretty much (but not solely) only known to the R&B crowd at the time. If you think of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Bad Boy, and Slow Down you probably think of the Beatles almost note for note remakes, and same with the Rolling Stones remake of She Said Yeah.

    I really could go on and on, but won’t. This wasn’t all bad: a number 1 song on the R&B charts at the time would reflect many fewer sales than a #1 song on the mainstream charts. So Bessie and Larry might well have made more money from the remakes than they made from their originals.

    • Servatius
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Check out the Rush version of Bad Boy live it is not note for note!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      And it sometimes goes the other way.

      I suspect Dolly Parton probably made far more from Whitney Houston’s recording of ‘I Will Always Love You’ than she did from her own original version.


    • Posted July 1, 2017 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Did the Beatles and the Stones pay royalties? I don’t know the history.

      If not, I see a problem, even if the ripped off artists were actually made better off. It’s not enough to make someone better off. You have to pay them a fair price, which could be more.

      The same goes, potentially, for Elvis (again, I don’t know the history: whether appropriate royalties were paid).

  37. toni j.
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    There’s an issue of ‘sloppy’ language here. For clarity’s we should differentiate between racism as commonly defined, (which is often transposed with bigotry meaning to treat members of a group other than one’s own with hatred and intolerance), and ‘systemic’ or ‘institutional’ racism generally defined as racism by formal or informal social groups,governed by behavioral norms that support racist thinking and foment active racism that manifests in disparities regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power, education, etc.

  38. Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    The definition of ‘cultural appropriation’ would include white musicians playing jazz or rock ‘n roll.

    • stuartcoyle
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      The essence of the jazz culture though is inclusivity. Anyone can play in the band as long as you are good enough. Yes there is an eliteism but it is purely based on skill.

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but it is still white guys playing black music. I am trying to illustrate the absurdity of the ‘cultural appropriation’ prohibition.

  39. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I have really, really gotta stop listening to the 1812 since Tchaikovsky blatantly, deliberately and explicitly appropriated the Marseillaise. And furthermore in a derisive context, since it celebrates a French defeat. I expect everyone to join me in my campaign to have the 1812 banned from the repertoire of every symphony orchestra.

    While I think of it, just exactly who ‘owns’ Shenadoah?


    • loren russell
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Dunno about 1812, but I believe that Phil Sheridan settled the matter for Shenandoah in 1864,

    • darrelle
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      To up the ante as it were, my favorite recording of 1812 is conducted by Ricardo Muti, an Italian (!) and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. God only knows how mongrel that group of musicians was. A veritable orgy of cultural appropriation.

      • Posted July 4, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        And what does everyone make of the fact I once heard an English version?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 4, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          How do you have an ‘English’ version of an orchestral piece?

          Oh, you mean, ‘English made’ not ‘English language’.

          Of course, everyone’s done it.

          Classical music is probably as close to an ‘international’ medium as you can get.


  40. Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Though skinheads are stereotyped as racists these days the movement began as a working class adoption of elements of black culture. Most of those skins were just as poor as the black kids attending the same music venues so there was no power dynamic between whites and blacks.

    The same can be said of many of the white musicians in the US who borrowed elements of black culture for rock and roll – who were, in turn, ‘appropriated’ by Teddy Boys in the U.K.

  41. Filippo
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    “Is the wearing of kimonos harming the Japanese?”

    I once knew a beguiling woman, 3/4 Thai and 1/4 Chinese, who had a beautiful portrait made while wearing a kimono. Did she “appropriate”?

    Have Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis somehow musically appropriated?

  42. Posted June 30, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    If the notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ itself is a product of the culture of an embattled minority (which it seems to be), would it be cultural appropriation if old white men accepted the concept and acted accordingly?

  43. Dragon
    Posted June 30, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I had the distinct pleasure to listen to Paul Simon at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday night with seven family members. It was great. Graceland was excellent, among many other songs.

    Cultural appropriation is extremely ill-defined. I agree that people should acknowledge the cultural roots from which they gain inspiration. Paul Simon, to his credit, does just that. Beyond that, I cannot fathom what people like Bradford want.

    Just as one example: If no white author is able to include black characters in their story due to “cultural appropriation”, won’t people like Bradford complain next year that white authors are ignoring black characters?

    I prefer “cultural appreciation” of the good things from many diverse cultures.

    • Posted June 30, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I understand that Simon’s closing Sounds of Silence was quite powerful.

      • Dragon
        Posted June 30, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        Indeed it was! I always thought that song was profound. Until his commentary prior to song, I was not aware of the original context. To me it speaks to a wide variety of subjects so many people ignore.

  44. Posted June 30, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    As a child growing up in Concord, CA (mostly white), the music my mother (a midwesterner from Missouri) listened to was country and western. Much of the C&W from the south had roots from Scots-Irish music. My brother and I, late at night, listened to a radio station from Pittsburg, CA (mostly black and tan)that played black music (or, that “nigger” music as my Mom called it.)That’s where we got R&B and negro spirituals (I’ll never forget “Didn’t It Rain, Children” and “Amen”). In school, I learned to appreciate classical music, with sources from all over the world. In a capella choir and ensemble, we performed everything from ancient religious music to classical choral pieces to popular songs to Broadway musicals.

    As I’ve said in an earlier post, appropriation
    only takes the good stuff. If people like it, it proliferates and many more people get to enjoy it. As others here pointed out, a number of white musicians who appropriated music of black musicians have been quite vocal and supportive in crediting the source writers and performers.

    There’s a big hole in my music listening experience from the 70s through the 90s as I was taking care of my family, going back to college belatedly and working full time. Now that I am retired, I have time to catch up on what I missed. I’ve started with guitarists and am currently listening to Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. The music he writes draws from
    all over. As a result of listening to one of the music compilations he selected for a movie, I’m now listening to Django Reinhardt, a Romany
    (gypsy) who played most everything, including great jazz. Anyone have a great guitarist to recommend?

  45. eric collier
    Posted June 30, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    You say Bradford was a science fiction author/editor? There’s nothing culturally whiter than SciFi is there? Isn’t Bradford culturally appropriating something rooted in white Europe and geeky America? I used to be quite a scifi buff–I feel that Bradford has truly crossed a line. I feel that something vital to my identification as white has been compromised. Somehow.

    • Posted July 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Japan has a lot of science fiction, so I guess not.

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