It seems to me the debate about so-called “cultural appropriation” is really about censorship.
Cultural appropriation — which can be positive or negative — is inevitable.
Without it, Shakespeare doesn’t write The Merchant of Venice, Joseph Conrad doesn’t write Heart of Darkness, John Howard Griffin doesn’t write Black Like Me and Gord Downie doesn’t write The Secret Path.
The fact that they all did is a positive thing.
So is the fact that through the appropriation of black music and musicians like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and many others, white artists like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many others popularized black music.
That led to the blues, Motown, R&B, rap and hip hop breaking into mainstream culture, which in turn made global superstars out of Beyonce, Drake, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Rihanna and for that matter, Eminem.
All art is derivative, either “appropriated” from what came before, or as a rebellion to what came before. That’s how art evolves.
That said, it’s understandable why many indigenous people see the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo as an insult, or Victoria’s Secret using Native-American style headdresses on its models, or Katy Perry aping a geisha at the AMAs, or Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMAs.
As (ironically) pop/hip-hop superstar Nicki Minaj told New York Times Magazine in calling out white singers like Cyrus who mimic black culture:
“You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.’’
But what about when a group like Black Lives Matter absurdly describes any objection by whites to anything it says or does — such as demanding no uniformed police in Toronto’s Pride Parade — as white racism and white privilege, while gutless politicians meekly fall in line behind them?
What about the indigenous groups, and indeed, whites, who denounced Sen. Lynn Beyak as a racist, resulting in her practical excommunication even from her own Conservative party, for pointing out that residential schools, for all the evil they did, did some good as well, a view shared by some indigenous people?
That isn’t about cultural appropriation.
It’s about silencing people — and points of view — by leveling false allegations of racism against them and intimidating others who share their views.
Beyak ran into a shirtstorm because she touched the third rail of Canadian politics, how best to allocate the billions of tax dollars spent year in and year out on indigenous issues such as high unemployment, poverty, disease, suicide, drug abuse and imprisonment.
Do we stick with the status quo — which clearly isn’t working because we can’t even get clean drinking water onto many reserves — or do we deploy our resources to better integrate indigenous people into society, which inevitably attracts knee-jerk charges of assimilation, racism and white privilege, often from those who benefit from the current broken system.
That’s what’s really going on here. It’s the censorship of ideas. Call it what it is.