According to the report I saw, a yoga group at American University spontaneously disintegrated after an “American University student … complained to AU’s President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion … after seeing a non-Indian group perform an Indian epic in the school’s yoga club.” The episode well illustrates the insanely anti-humanitarian malice at the heart of the ill-conceived ideology that pretends to demand respect for the diverse ways in which people living in various times and places expressed their special understanding of themselves and the world in which their life unfolds.
I particularly emphasize the word “special” for good reason. Many of the same people who foment the noxious obsession with cultural ownership pretend to cherish the prospect of peace, cooperation and unity among the world’s diverse peoples. Tragi-comically, their purblind obsession with cultural “property” leads them adamantly to discourage people from celebrating the thread of shared feelings, responses and moral judgments that allow people of goodwill to acknowledge the singular conception of humanity. Despite the different forms, coverings and colorations we use, that conception emanates from our individual and social activities. It invites us to taste and see, try and enact, in our relations with one another, the common sense of purpose, hope and glory that reveals, in many races, the sharable experience of one.
For those of us who, by birth or conscious choice, comprise the people of the United States, accepting this invitation is an indispensable imperative of our national identity. We have become quite literally a people comprised of individuals who come from almost every racial, cultural, political and religious background on earth. Our sense of human justice and rights, including liberty, assumes the perspective of God, which encompasses humanity and all Creation, as a whole.
So does our sense of fellowship with other Americans. Can that sense truly exist if we are not, in mind and action, open to “trying on” the various expressions of human experience we represent? Our national identity requires the ability Atticus Finch, the character in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” famously epitomized:
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
When I’m tempted to curse the viciously anti-American personalities I see in today’s entertainment industry – and pray God to consign them all to perdition – I have only to be reminded of the times when this or that product of their skill helped me to do what Atticus recommended to his daughter. Thanks to some of their productions, I have bridled at the persecution of the Jews in Europe. I have experienced and admired the hardy virtue of clan loyalty among the Scots. I have even come to understand, a little, those who could lament the demise of chattel slavery in the United States, though it denied the very premises of justice and liberty their war against the Union purported to defend.
The warriors against “cultural appropriation” pretend to cherish peace and cooperation among people of radically different backgrounds and persuasions. But, their cultural offensive effectively subverts the imperative of wholesome humanity that, in practice, best impels Americans to seek peace and cooperation – amongst ourselves and with all nations. The effort to implement this humanitarian imperative has more than once caused us to battle amongst ourselves. Like Israel (né Jacob) wrestling with the angel of God, we have wrestled with God’s wholesome intention for human community.
On account of the Christian ethos that presided over our moral conscience, the trials involved in this spiritual and moral contention led to moments of awful consequence. In violent civil and uncivil war, we battled to preserve the idea that informed our special nationhood, or else let it vanish into the mists of oblivious time. Until now, the American people have always held on to our nation’s special identity. We were able to do so because, like Israel, we held fast to God, despite the strenuous effort involved in doing so.
We were able to heal the spiritual wounds our struggles inflicted because enough of us accepted the invitation to affirm the shareable nature of our differences. Enough of us sought to understand, rather than simply reject them. We were particularly called to do so because our prevalent religion focused our minds upon people and places distant in time and circumstance from our own, yet present to our thoughts in the histories and songs, prophecies and parables through which the Bible conveys the tenets, examples and practical wisdom that inform the Christian faith.
With only a modicum of reflection it should be obvious to Americans that we cannot sustain our national identity unless, in various ways, we continue to practice the habit of “cultural appropriation” identity politics babblers decry. People already here must do so in order to accept those who immigrate into our midst. People who immigrate must do so in order to accept and appreciate the unique assumption of common humanity inherent in our special national identity.
From its very inception, the nationalism of the people of the United States has been cast in terms of the perspective of God. This perspective impels us to revere the sharable human goods (such as justice, rights and self-conscious knowledge) with which God endows and informs the nature of all humanity. Viewed from this perspective, to view efforts to walk in the skin of others as a criminal disposition, is an insidious attack on our vocation as a people. Since God’s endowment of our common humanity is the defining focus of that vocation, this attack targets humanity itself.
After all, if various peoples more and more adamantly hoard their distinctive expressions of humankind’s potential, the conception of humanity will be torn to shreds. It will disintegrate, like the yoga group at American University. I suspect that “cultural appropriation” warriors’ campaign aims to promote this disintegration. They target efforts to “walk in the other person’s skin” no matter how sincerely and respectfully they are pursued. Their goal is to poison the wellspring of goodwill that feed the confluent streams of God-endowed humanity the people of the United States has come to embody, and ought to preserve, as a hopeful example for all the world.