Cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion re­ally about cen­sor­ship

The Daily Observer - - OPINION - LORRIE GOLD­STEIN lgo­ld­stein@postmedia.com

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 such as 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 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.’’ Fair enough. 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 their evils, 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 lev­el­ling 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 ev­ery year 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.

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