Cultural appropriation: identity politics gone mad?

This thread is not a left v. right situation and I am genuinely interested in how Dopers (most of whom, let’s face it, are on the left) feel about it.

Although there have been other incidents, the one this week in Montreal really brought it home. The Montreal Jazz Fest featured a performance called “Slaves” in which mostly white actors played the part of slaves and, among other things, sang Negro spirituals. After a huge protest by the black community, the organizers of the Fest finally canceled it. The cry went “Cultural appropriation; only blacks should be allowed to play black roles”.

If you accept that then you should ban Hamilton, you should not let black sopranos sing Italian opera. And the Negro spirituals should be sung only by Jews since they seem to be based entirely on the Passover story (of redemption from slavery, to be sure, which is their main message). Cultural borrowing (as I like to call it) has been going on for as long as cultures have met.

What think ye, Dopers?

I think expecting anything resembling consistency or intellectual honesty from people who use the phrase “cultural appropriation” in a serious fashion is probably a lost cause.

ETA: In case you didn’t know, I’m not “on the left”, so this opinion may not be what you’re seeking.

Not knowing the context, but I think the fact that you had white people playing slaves, in a production called “Slaves,” was more of a problem than just singing spirituals.

Here’s a link to the news story, for anyone interested. Personally, I’m more in favor of artistic freedom than in worrying about so-called cultural appropriation. But people are also free to protest, so this wasn’t the government shutting something down. In the free market of ideas, this show lost.

The USA used to be called a “melting pot,” where all cultures could come together and share the best of each. Now in the age of “cultural appropriation” that seems to be getting replaced by “you stick with *your *culture, I’ll stick with mine.” To the detriment of us all.

No no. Only Slavs can play Slaves. Not Blacks at all.:rolleyes:

Slaves stole the Slavey culture.

The specific example given is an example of ignorance - whites were enslaved too. However, in general, I think ‘cultural appropriation’ is a good thing. We learn from each other and take the best bits from each other. Be that a song or a shoe or a suit. Now, if you want to complain about a white person taking something from a non-white culture, I’ll want to know why you’re not applauding it in the way you do when a non-white person takes from a white culture.


I mean, if a bunch of Germans started singing Yiddish songs while dressed as Auschwitz inmates, wearing striped uniforms and with numbers drawn on their arms with Sharpies, I would probably find the experience somewhat troubling.

…since that’s basically what happened, minus the Yiddish songs. Many victims of the Holocaust were Germans.

But it’s OK for Jewish actors to play all the Nazis in “Hogan’s Heroes”, right?

Seriously? You’re going to teach me about the Holocuast? Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

The premise of whites playing African American slaves and singing negro spirtuals doesn’t necessarily elicit strong feelings in me, but I would need to know the particulars before I issue any judgment–good or bad. Like, are they acting out stereotypes? Is the casting intentional–to send a specific message–or did it just happen that way?

Lastly, is the performance any good? Is it believable? If the performance is terrible, I might be tempted to think it’s all an attention ploy. And then I’m liable to think “cultural appropriation” might be an apt description.

But if it’s awesome, then I’ll probably think, “Those honkies sure can act and sing.”

I see no problem casting a different race in any situation as long as their acting chops were good enough to make up for the jarring aesthetics of the ethnicity they are portraying, and without more info on who tried out for these parts and/or how much outreach took place I can’t say whether this was a good or bad move.

In general though, I don’t find cultural appropriate a useful concept. The vast majority of thing people claim is CA are either legitimate cultural influences or loving tributes.

However, in theory the term could be used for those who think that cultural imitators are the real deal and thus think less of the original. Another probable example are fake Indian spiritualists (in mostly the American sense of Indian but there might be some fake gurus out there) who don’t fully understand the culture they pretend to be connected to and whose clients come away thinking they got a genuine cultural experience. However, the term “cultural appropriation” is so overused that even in those rare cases it would be appropriate, I still am loathe to use it so as to not encourage its use in other situations.

If they deliberately chose to portray slaves with an all-white cast to make a point, I think that is legitimate as well. However, outside of this, the fewer africans chosen to play them the higher my eyebrows get raised. If there were none at all then chances are low that there were enough superb white actors to overcome that looks barrier to justify the casting.

To me, it’s more important to know if something is in good taste or bad taste than if it’s cultural appropriation. But tastes vary, of course, so my tasteful interpretation of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (say) might be tasteless to someone else.

In this particular case I think it would be important to know if there were any black actors that were passed over in favor of white actors.

Regarding the Jazz Fest, I would have to know more details before I passed judgement.

In general, I believe that cultural appropriation is the price you pay for desegregation.
If Tiger Woods is allowed to play golf, then Justin Timberlake is allowed to rap.
If the Hamptons must be integrated, then so must Harlem.

Kim Kardashian get accused of this all the time, mostly for hair stuff, but never for the one act that could be said to truly meet the term, marrying a black cultural figure in Kanye West.

The idea that marrying someone is a form of cultural appropriation, is absurd.

Edit - I guess that can come off like I’m being snarky to you, I don’t intend it. I’m just confused by that line of reasoning.