Cartoon of an individual wearing feathers with a big "x" in a dialogue box

The Banality of Appropriation

By Mackenzie Fowler, Christopher Shaw, Jerrica and Jennifer

“What boils my blood,” Mackenzie Fowler explains, “is what appropriation signifies: the history of colonialism and privilege of the West. In this podcast, I can be heard asking the listeners to think of how they perpetuate colonialism in their day-to-day life,” a question that emerged from her reading of Frantz Fanon.

“There was a danger that demoralizing Eichmann would clothe him in a metaphysical aura of ‘satanic greatness’ that he in no way approximated” (The Portable Hannah Arendt, xxv).  This audio essay extends Hannah Arendt’s indictment of the “banality” of evil to contemporary scenarios that dramatize, in one way or another, the violence of cultural appropriation.  In part through tensions that emerge in and through interviews, this essay stages a set of complex questions:  what counts as “culture”?  how does a certain “banality” lead to the violence of appropriation?  What makes cultural appropriation recognizable as a form of oppression?  What, ultimately, is the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation?

References and attributions

Hannah Arendt, “The Two in One” from The Life of the Mind Vol. 1, available in excerpted form in The Portable Hannah Arendt. Ed.Peter Baehr (Penguin Books 2000, 408-418).

Hannah Arendt, “Banality and Conscience: The Eichmann Trial and its Implications.” The Portable Hannah Arendt. Ed. Peter Baehr (Penguin Books 2000, 313-408).

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks. (Translated by Philcox, R.). (New York: Grove Press, 2017).

“Storm Passing” by Podington Bear (Free Music Archives); licence CC BY-NC 3.0

Suggestions by the creators

Drawing inspiration from Hannah Arendt and Franz Fanon, this podcast is aimed at encouraging people—in particular white people—to think. With many topics relating to culture and its appropriation packed into 20 minutes, we advise you to explore these suggested readings. We urge you to think.

Portable Hannah Arendt – Specifically the whole section “Banality and Conscience: The Eichmann Trial and its Implications”, but the chapter “Truth and Politics” could be useful as well. We encourage listeners to read the whole book.

Black Skin, White Masks by Franz Fanon – This book provides insight into life of a colonized society as Fanon explores his own experiences as a person of colour in a French colony.  But this book holds tremendous import for all of us who want to condemn and combat injustice. As Fanon writes, “And we see that through a specific problem there emerges one of action” (p.204).

In The Wake – On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe – Chapter One, The Wake, gives insight on the author’s experience of “wakefulness”; the coming conscience of how her and her families lives are structured, the awareness of their being. The entire book is a good read.

What Writers Really Do When They Write by George Saunders – Saunders gives sound advice about writing. However, there are valuable messages within his tips. Topics such as story building and cliché promote thinking: people are more than what we see, with inner dialogue and an essence to their being.

The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon – Another book by Fanon, where he explores and analyses what he refers to as the “dehumanizing effects of colonialization”.

A Dying Colonialism by Franz Fanon – The chapter Voice of Algeria gives insight into the consciousness of those living in an occupied country. Once again, though this chapter is good, and the whole book is recommended.

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