Cultural Appropriation

So this morning as I was looking through the New York Times I came upon an article that stopped me cold: Lionel Shriver’s Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival”.  Apparently Ms. Shriver offended her audience while delivering her keynote address on the topic of cultural appropriation to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival in Australia. So what exactly is cultural appropriation? Basically it’s the criticism of an artist borrowing from any ethnic group outside their own for the purpose of their art, be that music, artwork, dance, literature –really any form of creative expression. In fact, one woman in the audience, Ms. Abdel-Magied was so offended that she left stating later that Lionel Shriver’s talk  “…became a celebration of the unfettered exploitation of the experiences of others, under the guise of fiction.”

Not to add fuel to the fire, but isn’t this just another form of censorship?   Is this going too far? If everyone stayed within the lines and the limitations defined by their birth imagine all that we would miss out on. Where would the Rolling Stones  and countless other white rock legends be today were it not for the blues music of black artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon? Furthermore what would have happened to this great music created in the 40s and 50s if it hadn’t been reintroduced to a larger audience by musicians of other ethnicities?

I think that before people take offense to a work of artist expression, they need to understand the creator’s intention. The Rolling Stones initially formed their band because as Keith Richards put it, they wanted to turn people on to blues music. For example, I just spent the past 18 months working on a novel, Windy City Blues about the blues. And yes, one of my main characters is a black bluesman from the Delta. Should I have not written from the perspective even though it was absolutely necessary in order to tell the full story?  (I’ll be writing and blogging more about that in the coming months because I have a lot to say about it.)

I would love to know what others think about this. Thanks!