Cultural appropriation is wrong when it results in failed art. Iggy Azalea, her astonishing powers of mimicry aside, has nothing interesting to say as a musician. Cornrows, which can look stunning on black people, tend to make whites look as if they’re wearing centipedes. That goes for everyone else’s borrowing, too. I wanted to like Babymetal. I did not succeed.
But T.S. Eliot said as much long ago.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
Eliot might be fending off a Twitter social-justice mob had he said that today, but it’s still true. If you make good art, if you love good art, all cultures are yours.
[This is an edited excerpt of an article that first appeared at The Federalist.]