If you’re a college student or a celebrity, there’s a good chance that you’ve been accused or have accused another person of the social crime of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the adoption or the use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. Often framed as cultural misappropriation, it is portrayed as harmful and is understood to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture. It has become one of the slights that self-righteous left-wing zealots vehemently condemn.
As someone who generally identifies with conservative lines of thought, I see the absurdity in the outrage over cultural appropriation. For instance, non-Mexican faculty members at the University of Louisville were intensely criticized for dressing in Mexican sombreros and ‘staches on Halloween. The college’s president later apologized. Even celebrities aren’t immune to being criticized for supposed cultural “insensitivity.” Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Selena Gomez are just a few who have been charged by the appropriation police.
I’ll admit though, certain acts of cultural appropriation could very well be legitimately unacceptable. For example, Rachel Dolezal is the former NAACP leader who for years pretended to be black (she is white). She is a poster child for unacceptable cultural appropriation. Lying about one’s cultural experiences and background, especially for the purpose of personal gain, is simply wrong. Her guilt wasn’t necessarily in her appropriation (if that were the case, white rappers would be barred from their profession). Rather, her lying about her racial makeup and her cultural life experience was her wrongful act.
Senator Elizabeth Warren was also called out for similar cultural appropriation. For years, she claimed Native American ancestry. Her Native American status was even touted by her former employer, Harvard University. Aside from a potential boon for affirmative action policies, it seems this would also help her with “progressive street cred.” Self-identifying with one of this country’s most disadvantaged minority groups would immunize a blonde hair, blue-eyed, fair-skinned politician from that other liberal criticism: “white privilege.”
At the risk of appropriating liberal left-wing jargon, I’m calling out the most dangerous form of cultural appropriation affecting our country right now: political appropriation. We’re dreadfully past the point where we should condemn those who are lying about their identification with conservative values. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who identify themselves as Conservative, Republican, or “right” are really anything but.
A fundamental truth behind what it means to be politically conservative or Republican (I’ll use these interchangeably) is the tenet of “equality for all and favoritism to none.” This is one of the central values on which our political philosophies were built. “Equality for all and favoritism to none” by definition disqualifies white supremacists — or supremacists of any kind — from having anything to do with Conservatism.
The political party that “owns” the original intellectual property right to this tenet is indisputable. The Party of the abolitionists brought freedom for all. The Party of the suffragists brought voting for all. These American milestones were spearheaded by the Republican Party. More meaningfully, these milestones were born out of the value system by which the Party was founded. Whether you’re a staunch Republican who calls out “RINOs” or a moderate Republican who criticizes the rigid right, we can agree that “equality for all and favoritism to none” draws us to conservatism.
Sadly, the Grand Ol’ Republican Party isn’t appearing very grand these days. Blame the President, liberal mainstream media, and/or Congress. But there’s something else that for a long time has been infiltrating the Party and poisoning the GOP well. As King Abdullah of Jordan called out, “a drop of venom can poison a well.” He said this with regard to the relative minority of Muslim extremist terrorists hijacking his religion of Islam. Well, there are parallels to how he feels about his religion and how the vast majority of Republicans feel about our Party.
Recognizing the political owner of the “equality for all and favoritism to none” tenet is as important as recognizing the meaning of it. The meaning is clear. So neo-Nazis and white supremacists who believe they are superior to another are by no means observing this very basic tenet. Yet they have continued to be identified by others, and identify themselves as “the right;” Or more accurately, as their fabricated warped version of the right. It’s become clear that attaching to an established organization empowers this racist fringe group with an appearance of legitimacy. But really, they’re like a Lyme-infected tick attaching itself to the GOP elephant.
Racism simply has no place in either Conservative or American values. Which is why it’s especially frustrating, for example, to have Democrats cite Republican opposition to affirmative action as a proof point of our alleged underlying racism. For a truthful explanation of the sincere thought process behind such a stance, I suggest reading “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed.” This book was written by a black conservative thought leader, Jason Riley. Another reference can be found in the Affirmative Action chapter of my book, “Bleeding Heart Conservatives: Why It’s Good to Be Right.” Any other distortion of the facts has consequence; especially when echoed through the megaphone of liberal media. It’s no wonder then that the racist sub-class of Americans hears this mischaracterization and thinks, “Hey, this is something we can get behind.” This puts into motion the vicious cycle of racists appropriating our Party, ranting about their inexcusable beliefs, and bringing more racists out of the woodwork.
King Abdullah has also said, in the context of his religion, that “[w]e too must populate our media, and more importantly, the minds of our young people… [as] extremists rely on the apathy of moderates.” His advice applies to politics, too. If we’re going to fix our Party, then we should heed this advice. And we must stop letting racists get away with identifying as anything to do with right-of-center ideals. “Extremist” implies the staunchest of a given idea. Neo-Nazi white supremacists are certainly not the most extreme form of the “equality for all and favoritism to none” idea. And I highly doubt that they would describe themselves as such. Similarly, they would not identify with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Thatcher (an honorary Republican, I’m sure), and Ronald Reagan. Well, it is the spirited thoughts of these people which drew me into this Grand Ol’ Party. Racists, throw your own “party” and stop appropriating this one.
Photo credit: Tony Crider
Allison Lee Pillinger Choi is the author of Bleeding Heart Conservatives: Why It's Good to Be Right. She can be found at bleedingheartconservatives.com and on Twitter: @GoodToBeRight.