Last month, the long-running debate about cultural appropriation was rekindled when several protests over a painting at the Whitney Museum made national headlines. “Open Casket” depicted the body of Emmett Till, whose 1955 lynching helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement. The artist, Dana Schutz, says the inspiration for the painting of the murdered 14-year-old came from listening to interviews with his mother, who displayed her late son's body during his funeral to "let the people see." Detractors argued that a white woman ought not render such a subject. And a petition called for the painting to be removed from the exhibit and destroyed.
As debate raged, I asked Jonathan Blanks, a researcher at the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, if he would correspond with me about what constitutes cultural appropriation, whether engaging in it is wrong, and his frustration with the way some on the right are exploiting the backlash against cultural-appropriation claims.
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