CULTURAL APPROPRIATION, ET AL


Listening to the great Paul Butterfield Blues band and thinking that if they were starting out today they would be solidly condemned for cultural appropriation. The Rolling Stones have just been exhorted to cancel the song "brown sugar" because the literal meaning of brown sugar has terrible associations with the plight of enslaved people. As I recall, the song's intent was thoroughly positive. I am also remembering the Stones' profile-raising support of black musicians like Muddy Waters and others. We have academics to thank for the meticulous retroactive cancelling of the fait accompli. In a global culture, in which everything is interpenetrating everything else, isn't it about time to let go of this pettiness? The left has so many ways of undermining itself in a time when we need unity. Shaming and finger-pointing where it is not justified is a means of maintaining a self-sabotaging fragmentation. I recently lost a trans friend because I publicly defended Kamala Harris.


In a recent brouhaha in the Northampton, the Arts Council just shut down its biennial because a well-intentioned woman submitted a painting that someone else deemed harmful to Native Americans. It was called "genocidal" because it apparently imaged Native people as ghosts. I looked at the painting for a long time and couldn't figure out how they came to that conclusion. No I'm not Native, but I'm well-educated, discerning, and a person of good will, and I see no such association. The Arts Council canceled the whole biennial because of it. Since the Council washed their hands of it, the whole weight of the condemnation fell on the woman who created the painting. Her accuser called her "an old white woman"--seems in this instance intersectionality skipped a beat. What happened was an opportunity for a forum on the issue, an inclusive group show, etc., but that was all lost in the vicious and unjustified attack.


I find downright petty meanness on the left to be a serious problem for our future. And are we really a left? Where is labor in our petty concerns? As someone who locates himself left of center I believe we are due for a little self-criticism.

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