The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

The new crime of interracial painting


Cathy Young (writing in the Forward) rightly criticizes the "cultural appropriation" objections to a white artist's painting of Emmett Till—indeed, objections that include a call for the painting being destroyed—as well as more similar madness.

Artistic, literary, musical, philosophical and scientific topics do not belong to one race or one ethnicity. The glory of modern communication, transportation and genuine diversity is that these subjects are free for all to discuss, depict and develop. People cannot get some special property rights in such matters simply because of the color of their skin or the culture into which they were born. People cannot be excluded from any aspect of art or science because they are black or white or Asian or Jewish or Christian or gay or straight or female or male. And to the extent that some people have a special perspective on certain subjects because of their culture or their ancestry, that is all the more reason to have the maximum possible range of cultures and ancestries discussing those subjects.

If Rush Limbaugh wanted to come up with an example of illiberal, intolerant, balkanizing "multiculturalist" identity politics, he couldn't invent anything better than such objections to "cultural appropriation." Indeed, if he had invented such objections, people would be mocking him for creating a straw man and an obviously unrealistic parody. But there's no parody, it turns out, like self-parody.