Megyn Kelly was recently fired by NBC. The stated reason was that in an on-air round table discussion about appropriate Halloween costumes, Kelly seemingly defended “cultural appropriation” when she noted that wearing “blackface” or “whiteface” was “OK when I was a kid as long as you were dressing like a character.”
Kelly will not be hurting financially. Her contract included a $69-million buy-out should her show be cancelled. But this whole affair seems like a pretty big to-do over someone expressing a contrary view.
What is “cultural appropriation”? The term was first coined by sociologists in the early 1990s. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” This has been applied to all kinds of behavior — from the clothes one wears, to how one styles their hair, the language one uses and the food they eat. For example, if a white person braids their hair in cornrows, a white band plays soul music or jazz, an actor darkens their skin to play a role, or a white kid dresses up as a black athlete … it’s cultural appropriation. It doesn’t matter if you are doing it out of respect; you are taking part of someone’s culture without permission.
But where does one go to get permission to do the moon-walk like Michael Jackson; wear their hair like boxing promoter Don King; or have a Mexican fiesta party? Who are the culture police?
I understand that actors in minstrel shows once dressed in blackface to mock blacks. That was crude, insulting and insensitive, and it contributed to a negative stereotyping of African-Americans. I get that. And today, such behavior is, as it should be, socially unacceptable.
Cultural appropriation, however, is not just about demeaning another’s culture. It is about preserving the uniqueness and purity of a culture by excluding others from emulating it. According to the EverydayFeminism website, “unlike cultural exchange. in which there is a mutual interchange, appropriation refers to a particular dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” Hmm. That seems like a rather contrived principle to me.
I’m of German heritage. The United States has fought two major wars against Germany in the last 100 years. A lot of people didn’t like us; many Germans changed or anglicized their last names to avoid discrimination; and we were mocked and stereotyped in films. I think Germans could qualify as having been systematically oppressed by the dominant English establishment in the United States. So I guess it would be OK for me to engage in mutual cultural exchange … I just can’t find anybody who wants to trade for sauerkraut and polka music.
If nobody wants my culture, I guess I have no choice but to appropriate theirs. But wait, I know: we Germans have hot dogs, hamburgers, beer and Christmas Trees! The dominant English have terrible food, and once they even banned Christmas in Boston. Maybe they’ll let me use their language in return for good food; beer instead of ale; and a jolly Christmas with Santa Claus, reindeer and a decorated tree!
That may sound silly. But America was built on cultural assimilation. People should be proud of their heritage, but nobody owns a culture. If the left thinks we should be free to choose our sex, shouldn’t we be free to choose our culture?
America is not a collection of different, insulated cultures. We are a blend of cultures. When I was in Europe, I frequently encountered people who considered America and Americans to be crude and uncultured. I was once asked disparagingly, “What is an American, anyway?” I proudly explained that we are a bit of everything because as our culture evolved, we kept the best of what others had to offer and discarded the rest.
The United States may have started as a collection of British colonies. But just as businesses evolve to remain competitive in the marketplace (for example, brick-and-mortar stores are rapidly being replaced by internet retailers), our culture evolves. However, change almost always meets resistance.
Usually that resistance comes from conservatives who want to keep things as they are. But the new left seems more intent on molding society to fit its standards than allowing the free exchange and assimilations of culture.
This intolerance is apparent in the firing of Megyn Kelly. Yes, her ratings had been dropping and she had clashed with upper management at NBC. But the bottom line is that she expressed her opinion in a round table discussion, leftists didn’t like what she had to say, and they called for her to be fired. This is not a unique situation. Unfortunately, political correctness has made people in America increasingly afraid to express their opinions in public.