Or idiots. Or both at once.
Randa Jarrar is back to remind us just how atrocious an idea “cultural appropriation” is.
A few weeks ago, the Palestinian-American feminist made a splash with an article in Salon explaining “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers.” Her argument, to the extent she offers one, is that this is a peculiar form of exploitation called “cultural appropriation.” She ends with the advice: “Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.”
Now that is an interesting principle if we were to apply it consistently. The mind reels. Enormous parts of our culture have been influenced by and therefore “appropriated” from someone else. Much of contemporary American popular music was “appropriated” in one way or another from Southern blacks, as are whole styles of dance. Tap dance was appropriated by whites from blacks, who appropriated it from the Irish. Or maybe the other way around, or both. Parts of the American Arts and Crafts style were “appropriated” from traditional Japanese homebuilding. Franz Liszt encouraged his contemporaries to “appropriate” melodies from the Hungarians like all get-out. Classical architecture was “appropriated” from the Romans by the descendants of the very barbarians who sacked the empire. And so on.
What Jarrar condemns as “appropriation” is actually “learning.” It is the transmission of new ideas, and the more sources they come from, the more vibrant the culture.
Naturally, the stupid bint kept digging, violating the very first rule for people like her. They almost never follow it, which is great for the rest of us, because it leads to more hilarity–and very bad for the handful of “liberals” with any sense at all, because their humiliation at being associated (rightly) with such blank halfwits is compounded (rightly). But Tracinsky is making a larger point:
Perhaps Jarrar can be dismissed as a crank (especially if you read the rest of her rambling, non-responsive reply). But the idea of “cultural appropriation” is pervasive and keeps cropping up. Consider the reaction to the story of Jennifer Grout, a blonde-haired girl from Massachusetts who took an interest in Arab music and ended up almost winning “Arabs Got Talent,” an Arabic-language version of “American Idol.” One commenter on the story says, “She sounds amazing. Should she be allowed to do this, though? Isn’t this cultural appropriation?” I love the word “allowed,” as if everyone has to apply to a United Nations Office of Appropriate Culture to decide how they can speak, what they can wear, what they can sing, and so on, based on their genetic heritage.
I cannot improve on the earthy eloquence of another commenter’s reply: “People like you suck. What, she can’t sing in a different language in a different style? Here, let me use some good old New York language for ya since that is where I am from and I guess all that I am allowed to use.” What follows is some very New York language, indeed.
And that gets to the crux of the issue. The left loudly promotes its flattering self-image as the side of the debate that is more culturally open and advanced—more intellectual, artistic, and cosmopolitan. But the doctrine of “cultural appropriation” shows how the left’s obsession with racial identity and resentments ends up imposing the narrowest kind of parochialism.
This is the basic contradiction of the left: it is a highly intellectualized form of anti-intellectualism. It uses wide, abstract, universal concepts—in order to break us down into tiny, Balkanized subgroups defined by physical attributes and geographical accidents.
Well, they know what they’re doing: it’s easier to control and manipulate us that way. Hey, it’s worked out pretty well for them so far.
Myself, I fully intend to keep swiping all the blues licks I can manage from dead black guys. If you think that’s RACIST!™ and get all foamy and purple-faced screaming about it, here’s the most honest and sincere apology I care to offer: fuck you.