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Monday, December 07, 2020

On cultural appropriation (Ellison)

It is here, on the level of culture...that elements of the many available tastes, traditions, ways of life, and values that make up the total culture have been ceaselessly appropriated and made their own—consciously, unselfconsciously, or imperialistically—by groups and individuals to whose own backgrounds and traditions they are historically alien. Indeed, it was through this process of cultural appropriation (and misappropriation) that Englishmen, Europeans, Africans, and Asians became Americans...

Everyone played the appropriation game.... Americans seem to have sensed intuitively that the possibility of enriching the individual self by such pragmatic and opportunistic appropriations has constituted one of the most precious of their many freedoms.... [I]n this country things are always all shook up, so that people are constantly moving around and rubbing off on one another culturally.

Ralph Ellison, from "The Little Man At Chehaw Station"

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