Playing the Indian Card

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Compilation of Leftist Views on "Cultural Appropriation"

Grey Owl.

Reading my friend Xerxes’s column is a valuable window on left-wing thought. He wrote recently on cultural appropriation. This week, he printed responses from readers on the topic.

I am herewith appropriating their comments in order to analyse them. This counts as fair dealing, I believe: for research purposes and for comment.


I got letters of support for my views about “cultural appropriation.” [He, uncharacteristically, did not take the usual leftist line, and refused to condemn it.] But I noted that they came, mostly, from white males. Who are, of course, the dominant social group that minorities and marginalized rebel against.


If you stop and think for a moment, that is lucky for the rest of us, and selfless and generous of white males. Just suppose if they started objecting to anyone else “appropriating” anything developed by white males, like so many other groups do.

Want a list?

Fortunately, however, some of these “white males,” at least, still believe in the brotherhood of man.


X, who describes herself as “Dweller on unceded Algonquin territory,” wrote, “Please add to your analysis the context of colonization on Turtle Island. This is what matters in the recent debates. Not ‘freedom of expression’ or quid pro quo. Abandon those. Forever. Please.

Excuse me. Unless she is simply being incoherent, she just called for abandoning freedom of expression, forever.

No. She is a Nazi.

You can see what the alt-right is on about.

Xerxes, again quoting X:

… “At a larger level, please give up on reconciliation. It is a proposition fueled by white liberal guilt.”

Right. She is also against reconciliation. Instead, she demands “decolonization.” She does not say what this means.

She is declaring war to the death. Just so we’re clear.

Xerxes (quoting another reader):

“Our laws protect your words or your invention based on their ‘fixed form.’ They don't protect a people's stories or cultural practices, so the non-Indigenous have appropriated them and don't see the problem: after all, it's *legal* to rewrite my story in your own words or manufacture your somewhat-modified version of my widget.

Dear Reader is confusing two things: the moral aspect of imitation of another’s work, and the idea that you own someone else’s work because of your race. The first is just morally and legally dubious; the second is an unrelated and obviously immoral claim.

The latter is the claim made by those who condemn “cultural appropriation.”

It is, among other things, extreme racism.

Xerxes (still quoting the same Dear Reader):

“… those who dismiss cultural appropriation as ‘political correctness’ show a definite lack of empathy. They don't get the point that they may be misrepresenting what they appropriate, violating a religious taboo,”


Interesting to hear someone on the left express concern about violating a religious taboo.

Currently on Facebook, for example, I see protests against the Trump entourage because, in posting a photograph of the NATO leaders’ wives, they failed to identify as such the male gay “wife” (or “husband”) of Luxembourg’s PM. This is supposedly “homophobic.”

Does it not matter that even including him in the photo "violates a religious taboo" for not just one, but most or all of the world’s major religions? Matrimony, after all, is a sacrament.

Religious rights must be allowed fully and equally to all. Not just to preferred groups.

Xerxes (quoting the same reader):

... or even -- and this is a sore point-- blocking the way for the people who can tell the story from lived experience and full awareness of its meaning.

This is a classic straw man argument. Blocking the way? Nobody ever, anywhere, has argued that aboriginal writers should not be allowed to write, or should not be published.

Actually, of recent years, we have instead heard aboriginal writers complain instead of being taught English and how to write. That’s the residential school thing, for example.

Xerxes, quoting Dear Reader:

“… the reality is that it's (still!) hard for a non-majority-culture writer to get his or her stories published.”
This is perfectly counterfactual. The reality is that everyone is fascinated by Indians, and there has always—always—been a healthy market for anyone claiming to reveal aboriginal culture. An obvious example currently is Joseph Boyden. Do you really think he assumed an Indian identity because he thought it would make it harder to get published? Did Grey Owl? Elizabeth Warren? Iron-Eyes Cody? Carlos Casteneda (“Don Juan Maquis”)? John Neihardt (Black Elk Speaks)? Ward Churchill? Jamake Highwater? Hyemeyohsts Storm? Zane Grey?

For all of North American history, claiming to be aboriginal has been a clever if dishonest way to get published.

The problem rather has been a shortage of competent aboriginal writers to meet the demand. In the end, you have to be able to write. Even today, most Canadian (status) Indians do not finish high school.

Xerxes (Dear Reader):

“The loudest voices in favour of the ‘Appropriation prize’ were certain middle-aged white males not noted for sensitive journalism.”

This is a deeply racist observation, and a profound assertion of privilege. As well, of course, as a classic ad hominem.

Some are not allowed opinions because of their sex or race? Uppity white males, shut up?


Y, ..., seems to have followed the controversy closer than I did: “It was NOT the idea of people from dominant cultures writing about non-dominant cultures that was at the root of the dispute. It was the idea of an award for such writing that offended people, and rightly so, because as several people pointed out, such an award would become another way for (mostly) white, (mostly) male authors to receive kudos at the expense, or perceived expense, of people of color and/or women. The consensus was yes, please, learn and write about cultures not your own, but no thank you, no awards.”


The problem is that the awards might go to someone of the wrong sex or race?

The author apparently believes that art should be valued not for its quality, but for the race and sex of the person who created it.

This is racism of the most pernicious sort.

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