John McWhorter’s article “You Can’t ‘Steal’ a Culture: In Defense of Cultural Appropriation” was published in the Daily Beast. John discusses the topic of cultural interaction in the post, as well as the common perception that certain groups of people are imitating others. The author of the article explains what is known as “stealing” other people’s culture as a long-standing practice. The article is insightful in that it discusses some of the groups that have been accused of stealing a community or a way of life from a specific group of people. As a consequence, the core message transmitted by such arguments is that culture is being robbed. Notably, the author does not incorporate a clear thesis statement. The author uses rhetorical appeal to dismiss such claims as stealing of culture.
When a person is accused of stealing culture, it only means that authenticity and creativity are desired from them. What should be taken positively turns out to be a condemnation. There is the case where a black woman accuses white gay men of copying their expressions and gestures (McWhorther). Such a prerogative illustrates that the woman feels that their culture is being stolen. Some other cases surrounding the same matter of culture are mentioned by the author, such as that of Miley Cyrus who was associated with the culture of the blacks. The author does not seem to agree with the term steal because it does not deprive people their culture; it is only borrowing.
One of the techniques used by the author to bring out his argument is ethos, which is primality used to develop characters. Ethos means the use of ethical appeals to convince people on the topic being addressed and prove that what is being discussed is in full setting and has been proven to be consistent in the society. The articles have several sections that adequately depict this technique. First, the author states that what seemed like legitimate comments have turned out to be a source of offense. A case of a black woman accusing white gays of copying their gestures, Eminem not being regarded as an actual rapper, and Elvis Presley being accused of stealing rock music, the author uses all to mean that ‘stealing’ of culture has become a common claim in the society (McWhorther). By giving such examples, the author successfully convinces the audience of the situation that is being addressed. Typically, the cases may be different, but they point to the same thing. The author also shows and explains the current trend in the community.
Another technique that the author applies is pathos. Pathos is making an appeal that targets the emotions of the audience. This technique is used to elicit feelings from the audience and make them decide based on the emotions such as anger and pity. The author uses the example of Presley to invoke feelings. Cultural incarceration is evident in the fact that white pop is resented for emulating black genres which help them make money (McWhorther). According to this statement, it is likely that the resentment has its origin from the success that these artists gained through the songs, resulting to jealousy. Presley and others were getting financial rewards more than the originators of the genre. Additionally, the author states that “We are now to get angry when whites happily imitate something that minorities do” (McWhorther). From this statement, the reader can understand that the author is sad with the reactions received when people imitate a culture with good intentions. The action of the white gays to copy the gestures of the blacks is driven by admiration. However, the work is interpreted differently.
The third technique used by the author is logos. Mostly, logos is used to argue out a case by reasoning. Through the technique, the author strives to persuade and convince the audience using logics. To induce the reader’s logic, the author asks, “what does it mean to “steal” someone’s culture when we’re not talking about money?” (McWhorther). This statement makes the reader look at the possibility of stealing money. John goes on and compares culture with money to conveniently expound on the case of ‘stealing’ culture. Logically speaking, it is impossible to imitate others and deny them their culture. Moreover, the word steal is inappropriately used since it does not describe a material thing. Another reasonable argument is that it is impossible to appropriate culture to a particular group of people only. The evidence behind this argument is human history, which has a lot to do with human diversity (McWhorther).
To support that confinement of culture is impossible, John also looks into language. According to him, language is a result of imitation. Most languages are made up of borrowed words from other languages. There are other situations which trigger reasoning. For example, some dialects have been adopted from the blacks by the whites. In this case, no complaint raised regarding stealing of culture. “…many extremely white young men today have “appropriated” from black men certain vocal cadences, expressions like “Yo” and “Bro” and greeting styles” (McWhorther). The author states that people have the tendency to copy good things from others, and stopping that is impossible. The assumption that the author makes in the publishing of the paper is that everyone is accustomed to the idea because they are likely to be motivated by facts. “A great deal of black culture was “appropriated” by young America as recently as the ’90s” and “In the ’20s, white Carl Van Vechten started feeling so comfortable” (McWhorther).
The author uses a confident tone in his writing to present his appeals to reason, logic, and emotions to convince the readers to stop having the notions that culture can be stolen. The title of the tone itself reflects the stand that the author makes; “You Can’t ‘Steal’ a Culture: In Defense of Cultural Appropriation” (McWhorther) Using the affirmative tone, the author also encourages people to embrace and view the appropriation of culture as a good and beneficial. This can be seen when the author affirms that is impossible to stop culture appropriation and him the fact that not all borrowed cultural aspects lead to condemnation. Another important feature that has been well chosen by the author is structure. From the article, the author uses narration to bring out his argument to the audience. John chiefly uses the third person pronoun narration, then shifts to a first-person narration in some sections. “…I doubt it” (McWhorther). Lastly, the author incorporates the use of questions in the essay, where he later gives his reaction to the question. “What’s the evidence? All of human history” (McWhorther) .The means the author uses to address the scope and how he structures his article help to build his argument.
John McWhorter’s “You Can’t Steal Culture” was a very in-depth. He gave the reader all the information they needed on how the appropriation of culture is being viewed in the contemporary world. John gently directed his audience toward his opinion and other people’s opinion. He treated the audience as respectable as if he was speaking to them in person. His tone throughout the whole essay was like he was teaching and expressing his feelings on the topic. Therefore, John manages to convince people to embrace cultural interaction and adoption successfully. His strongest arguments were how culture cannot be confined to a specific group only. His weakest part was portrayed by leaning much on the Blacks’ culture and did not dwell much on other cultures.
McWhorther, John. You Can’t ‘Steal’ a Culture: In Defense of Cultural Appropriation. 15 July 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/15/you-can-t-steal-a-culture-in-defense-of-cultural-appropriation.html