Cultural Appropriation is an Incoherent Concept

Cultural appropriation has bled out of the academic left into the mainstream. As a notion, it is nonsensical. All culture is an appropriation and adaptation of cultures of the past and elsewhere. The idea of cultural appropriation assumes an ethnically essentialist ownership over cultural phenomena. Coldplay and Beyonce are the latest to spark protest among some. Other examples are far too numerous to note: Iggy Azalea, Israeli use of Palestinian food, etc, etc, are continuously in the tabloid news and left-leaning media for imagined outrages.

To be sure, the outrage is often real. The feelings derive from the context. Wealth and power imbalances are the underlying source of the sensitivity. However, to conflate the symptom (anger, annoyance, hurt feelings, over cultural fusion) with the cause (structural iniquities) is to trivialize injustice. Focus is diverted from compelling arguments against inexcusable iniquities to exercises in narcissistic examination of emotional reactions.

It is one facet of the contemporary left culture’s unhealthy preoccupation with personal feelings and self-expression. It is enough to note that one feels offended; there is no obligation to present a reasoned and moving portrait of injustice to engender a shared sense of outrage in the reader. One must only lazily announce to the reader that they are outraged. The reader may not understand the outrage but will merely learn how to avoid causing offense and to mouth the correct platitudes. The political is reduced to the social sphere. This cultural drift on the American left seems to have begun in the late 1960s (note the emphasis on expressive, rebellious, fashion in contrast to the strategically-oriented conservative suited look of protesters during the Civil Rights Movement of the early ’60s) and has continued apace to the present.


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