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To Praise Cultural Appropriation, Not to Bury It


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Glenn Loury Substack

with Heather Mac Donald
Glenn Loury
May 2, 2023

Tolstoy is mine! Shakespeare is mine! As a man of the West, I am an inheritor of all of its traditions and great figures, just as surely as I’m an inheritor of the traditions and great figures particular to African American history. That’s true true not just of me but of anyone who cares to lay claim to the Western tradition by immersing themselves in the study and lived experience of those traditions and their fruits. Shakespeare is mine, just as Duke Ellington and Ralph Ellison may “belong” to an Englishman born in the 1990s.

We cannot know who will inherit the traditions we create and perpetuate. Surely one of the most startling and pleasing developments in recent years has been the ardency with which Asian and Asian American musicians have pursued and performed music in the European classical tradition. Anyone doubting whether a person of Asian descent can adopt the Western tradition need only listen to Yo-Yo Ma perform Bach’s cello suites to have those doubts dispelled.

The irony is that the very Western traditions that other cultures are adopting, perpetuating, and perfecting are now regarded in many corners of the US as mere epiphenomena of Western imperialism, colonialism, and slavery. You have to wonder whether these leftist skeptics have actually sat down and listened to the music, considered the art, and read the literature they’re so eager to toss into the dustbin of history. Heather Mac Donald’s new book, When Race Trumps Merit: How the Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty, and Threatens Lives, serves as a rejoinder to those who would abandon the greatness of the West’s cultural legacy in the name of a superficial and confused narrative of historical injustice. In this excerpt from my recent conversation with Heather, we discuss how these traditions are being carried on, why the leftist critique of them misunderstands what makes them great, and why we ought to praise cultural appropriation rather than burying it.



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