Cultural Appropriation, Sometimes Known as Empathy

Eh bien, regardez-moi ├ža:

Yes, of course there’s cultural appropriation going on. (And his pink jacket looks silly.) But Claude Nougaro isn’t pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. “Je suis blanc de peau,” he confesses (“I have a white skin”). That doesn’t stop him from putting new French words on the melody of the classic spiritual “Go Down Moses,” with its refrain, “Let my people go,” long since made recognizable to practically everybody in Europe through the mighty singing of Paul Robeson. Is this okay?

The idea that enslaved people in the Southern U.S. could quote the Moses represented in their King James Bibles (Exodus 9:1) as analogizing their situation– well, that too was a cultural appropriation.

Most of the good things in any culture are appropriated, more or less creatively repurposed. Sometimes it’s the powerless taking hold of the culture of the powerful; sometimes it’s the other way around; it’s not always good in the one situation and bad in the other. You just have to hang around and wait to see what happens.

Identity is a deliberate simplification (a simplifiction, if I may sin against the dictionary) of things that are terribly, intriguingly, complicated. And so be it.

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