Is just quoting Beyoncé a form of cultural appropriation?

June 26, 2017 • 8:45 am

You know the answer to the question above. According to Black Lives Matter, it’s a strong “YES!”, although nobody would have batted an eyelash about this five years ago. What happened in March is that Niki Ashton, a New Democratic Party member of the Canadian Parliament, emitted a tweet announcing that she was going to liberalize the NDP. Here it is (it’s since been deleted):

I’m not a huge fan of Beyoncé, but I do like the song from which this phrase came, “Irreplaceable“. Here it is to explain and to pep up your morning; it’s about a woman sending away her cheating man, noting that “I could have another you in a minute.”

The relevant lyrics:

To the left, to the left
Everything you own in the box to the left
In the closet that’s my stuff
Yes, if I bought it, please don’t touch
And keep talking that mess that’s fine
But could you walk and talk at the same time
And, it’s my name that’s on that jag
So come move your bags, let me call you a cab

Now a lot of people, including even me, recognize that song phrase. And I saw nothing wrong with using it as a campaign slogan. After all, lyrics are lifted all the time in various causes. Think of Dylan’s “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind”, or Hillary Clinton’s use of Tammy Wynette’s song “Stand by your man”. I’m sure you can think of many more.

The problem for some is that Beyoncé is black, or rather, half black and half Creole. And a white politician can’t just go around quoting songs from a black woman: that’s “cultural appropriation”, tantamount to racism. Never mind that Beyoncé’s song is not specifically about the black experience, as it refers to anyone who dumps a cheating partner; the Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter called Ashton out and demanded that she delete her tweet and stop saying “To the Left”. Canada’s National Post story about this tempest in a plate of poutine shows their tw**t:

Since when does the video above, showing a rich woman with a mansion and a Jaguar kicking out her man, represent “black culture”? But Ashton, a feminist concerned with social justice, capitulated and groveled.

The Post goes on to blacksplain why Ashton failed the ideological purity test:

Some experts in race, music and culture say Ashton’s post exemplifies a theme in politics: leaders use black songs and culture to make themselves seem cool while not actually doing much for the black community.

“Politicians don’t have the same kind of clout they once did … and they have to go to pop culture to be relevant,” said Mark Campbell, senior research associate at the Ryerson University Faculty of Communication and Design’s forum for cultural strategies. “The piece around appropriation is really about flexing a certain kind of white power and privilege and co-opting the social capital” of performers like Beyoncé, he said.

. . . “The difficulty for some black community members might (be that) … for some politicians, their only engagement (with black culture) is in music and food or entertainment,” said Dalton Higgins, a publicist and author of six books about race, culture and music. He called Ashton’s effort an “awkward” reference that didn’t really reflect the spirit of the song, which is about a break-up. It reminded Higgins of Toronto Coun. Norm Kelly’s Twitter feed, which is full of references to Drake and other rappers.

Well, you know, if someone used Beyoncé’s lyrics for financial gain, or regularly appropriated the lyrics of black musicians for their own gain without giving due credit, I would see that as a problem. But that’s not the case here. We have a phrase about a breakup—an event not unique to black people—used in a clever way for political purposes. And it was a one-off.  What happened was that Vancouver Black Lives Matter simply bullied Ashton, and she gave in. Perhaps she was conscious of getting black votes, or, more likely, the BLM movement played on her sense of racial justice in a way that made her ashamed.

But she shouldn’t have been. I doubt that I would have capitulated, since I see absolutely nothing wrong with using the phrase, nor do I see it as “cultural appropriation,” which is a pejorative term that is widely used but rarely comes from genuine bigotry. This is no more cultural appropriation than was Hillary Clinton’s “stand by your man” phrase (emphasizing that, as an independent woman, she wasn’t going to follow it) appropriation of the culture of poor whites in the American South.

This kind of accusation will keep being made, but we should keep calling it out rather than capitulating. In general, “cultural appropriation” is a good thing, and I can’t think of any culture that hasn’t borrowed from others. As they say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” And I admit that sometimes appropriation is not particularly savory. But it’s not unsavory just because you’re “borrowing up”, as BLM implies. They’d presumably have no problem with blacks or Hispanics borrowing from “white culture”, whatever that is. What makes the world more interesting, and better, is each group using what if finds appealing from other groups. Tomatoes and chili peppers both originated in the New World, yet one of my favorite dishes is something you find all over north India, butter chicken, or murgh makhani, made with both ingredients. Is that cultural appropriation? Even if it is, is it okay because the Indians “borrowed up”? (And don’t forget how Italians also culturally appropriated tomatoes from the indigenous peoples of Central America.)

Sop this sucker up with a pile of fresh, warm chappatis.

Would you have withdrawn a tweet like Ashton’s if you were called out?

h/t: Charleen

Who lobbied Indiana’s governor Pence to sign the pro-discrimination bill? He ain’t saying.

March 30, 2015 • 12:00 pm

Three days ago I posted a picture of the signing of Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Bill” by governor Mike Pence:


Apparently there was another photo, too, with a different group of “guests” at the signing, including lobbyists  And some of those guests were identified by the GLAAD Facebook page with the caption, “Some of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s guests at the signing of the state’s ‘license to discriminate’ bill look familiar to us.” (GLAAD’s former name was “Gay & Lesbian Alliance against defamation”.)


To make it easier for you to see what these people have said about homosexuality, here are the links (note—it ain’t pretty!):

Curt Smith
Eric Miller
Micah Clark

Note that, according to GLAAD, Governor Pence refused to identify lobbyists in the photo when asked by the Indianapolis Star newspaper  That is indeed the case, for here’s the Star‘s article verifying it:

Who did Gov. Mike Pence invite to a private ceremony at his Statehouse office for the signing of a controversial “religious freedom” bill?

His office won’t say.

The event was closed to the public and the press. His staff even told a reporter to leave the governor’s office lobby/waiting area during the ceremony. And when asked for a list of attendees, they declined, promising a photograph would be posted on Pence’s Twitter account.

His office then declined to identify those in the photo.

The photo includes Pence sitting at his desk, surrounded by 18 others. The legislation’s primary sponsors – Sen. Scott Schneider, Sen. Dennis Kruse, and Rep. Tim Wesco – are pictured. So, too are several Franciscan monks, nuns, and orthodox Jews. One of the monks appears to be Fr. David Mary Engo of the Franciscan Brothers Minor in New Haven. He testified in favor of the bill during legislative hearings.

But according to people who attended, there were dozens of others present as well, perhaps as many as 80 total.

Another photograph, posted on Twitter by the American Family Association of Indiana’s Micah Clark, shows Pence at his desk surrounded by a different group. They include the state’s three most prominent lobbyists on conservative social issues: Clark, the Indiana Family Institute’s Curt Smith, and Advance America’s Eric Miller.

Those three, with their connections to a vast network of conservative churches, led a failed effort last year to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana’s constitution. The governor has tried to distance the religious freedom legislation from that issue.

Pence is a real piece of work: a dissimulator and a liar who continues to deny both that the new bill legalizes discrimination or that it was motivated by animus against gays. However, both of those happen to be true.

As Pundit Fact reports:

At least five times Sunday, ABC This Week host George Stephanopoulos asked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence a variant on a simple question about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act: “If a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?”

And at least five times, Pence would not answer.

The article goes on to analyze how this bill differs from those of other states, and fact-checks claims by Pence and others about it.  It’s well worth reading.

This, of course, is the predictable outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which ruled that a family-owned business could, on religious grounds, refuse to pay for contraceptive care for its employees. That opened a whole can of worms, which allows the damn Republicans to follow suit everywhere, denying gays equal protection. How far one can legalize this kind of unconscionable discrimination is unknown, but there will be plenty of cases. And if you can discriminate against gays on religious grounds, who else can you discriminate against?

To show the pervasiveness of this kind of discrimination, and the baffling animus against gays (I can understand it only as a byproduct of religious “morality”), here are two comments that people attempted to post on this site in the last three days:

From reader “R.C.”:

I’m thrilled about this new bill! Go Pence! Indiana is putting an end to LGBT “rights” insanity.

And from reader “DesertDaave”:

Perhaps in Indiana, I, a cake baker, can now choose to not bake a wedding cake specifically depicting a same sex marriage. Or, I a florist, don’t have to deliver flowwers [sic] to celebrate a gay marriage.

So fricken’ what? There are lots of bakers and lots of flowers. Why should the baker of the florist have to recognize what he or she believes is sinful.

As to the rest of what the haters are ranting, it just isn’t true.

Read and pay attention to this: [link to piece on religious freedom laws].

As a side note, I believe that those who have sued and received damages have deliberately gone to those they knew wouldn’t do it, just to create a legal issue. Freedom goes both ways you know or should.

“What he or she believes is sinful”? Seriously? What if Christians think that Jews are sinful by denying the Messiah Jesus Christ? Can they discriminate against Jews? As for those who were discriminated against and sued, I don’t believe for a minute that they planned it.

h/t: Amy

Women in Saudi Arabia protest driving ban by driving

October 27, 2013 • 7:55 am

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women to drive. Even foreign women can’t drive.  This is part of the religiously-based conservatism that pervades that Islamic nation. You might have heard about the biological consequences of driving: about a month ago a prominent Saudi cleric declared that driving while female damages the ovaries.

Well, Saudi women have had enough, and yesterday mounted a protest of the driving ban.  As CNN reports:

Several Saudi supporters of the campaign told CNN that at least 25 women had driven Saturday, and that more planned to do so.

Five women who were spotted driving in the Saudi capital were stopped by authorities and “each case was dealt with accordingly,” Col. Fawaz Al-Meeman of Riyadh police told CNN.

Al-Meeman, an assistant spokesman for that city’s police department, explained that the women weren’t taken to police stations. Instead, they were kept in their vehicles until their male guardians arrived, at which point the women were released after signing pledges not to drive again.

Their “male guardians”? What a great way to infantilize one gender.

Driving campaign supporter Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher, told CNN she is one of the women who drove Saturday — and posted a video of her action to YouTube.

She said she drove from home to a grocery store in Riyadh, and then back with her groceries. “I drove on the highway and was noticed by a couple of cars but they were fine with it,” she said. 

“I’m very proud. I feel like we accomplished the purpose of our campaign.”

Al-Swayan, who has taken the wheel before in defiance of the ban, said she was worried about what might happen before she drove Saturday, but now plans to keep driving.

Here’s a BBC video from yesterday showing Al-Swayan during the protest. In 2011, she spent nine days in jail after posting a YouTube video showing herself behind the wheel:

As Time magazine notes, this gender bias rests, of course, on religion:

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ban on women driving is based on a very conservative interpretation of Islam that prohibits granting driver’s licenses to women and requires women to get permission from men in order to travel, open bank accounts, attend school, and get married, among other things.

Humor is a great weapon against this type of insanity. Here’s a Saudi dude using a Bob Marley song to parody the driving ban:

The video has gone viral, and you can read more reaction to it at Twitchy.

New study shows gender bias in science against female students

September 22, 2012 • 8:01 am

In February of last year I reported on a study by Ceci and Williams  showing that, at least according to the authors’ methodology, there was little evidence of gender bias against women in academia for getting grants, being hired as a faculty member, or getting papers published. Although women still occupy faculty positions disproportionately less often compared to their acquisition of degrees, I found this result heartening. It was, however, a meta-analysis of many other studies, and these can be problematic.

I was therefore disheartened to see a new study, by Corinne Moss-Racusin et al. in the same journal—the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (download free at link, I think; if you’re unable, email me for the pdf)—showing bias against women of a different kind: the hiring of students to be laboratory managers. This is not a meta-analysis, but a single sociological study, and—though I’m not an expert in the field—the results look sound to me.

The authors did a simple thing: they sent a group of application materials from a fictitious undergraduate looking a lab-manager job to 127 American biology, chemistry, and physics professors of both sexes. The applications were not for jobs in the professors’ own labs, but simply applications that the faculty were asked to evaluate for the student’s competence and hireability, as well as to decide what salary and how much mentoring the applicant could expect to get from them.

The applications were identical except for one thing: they had the name of either a male ( “John”, n = 63 applications) or a female (“Jennifer”, n = 64 applicants).  As the study states, “Faculty participants believed that their feedback would be shared with the student they had rated . . ”

The applications were designed to be good but not perfect: that is, the applicant had a few flaws. This was done to ensure that there would be discernible variation in how the applications were judged. If the applicant was perfect in every respect, it would be harder to judge any bias on the part of the raters.

The results are disappointing, for they show a substantial disparity between males and females in all categories, with women at the bottom. Surprisingly, female faculty were as biased as male faculty. All of the male-female differences in perceived quality were statistically significant.

This graph tells the tale for perceived competence, hireability, and mentoring; women are lower on all counts:

Fig. 1. Competence, hireability, and mentoring by student gender condition (collapsed across faculty gender). All student gender differences are significant (P < 0.001). Scales range from 1 to 7, with higher numbers reflecting a greater extent of each variable. Error bars represent SEs. n(male student condition) = 63, n(female student condition) = 64.

And here are the means, grouped by sex, for perceived competence, hireability, mentoring, and the salary that was deemed appropriate for the candidate.  Note that the gender of the faculty member evaluating the application is also given.

In the part of the table below, the categories—”competence” through “salary” are in the same order as above, but this time the applicant was Jennifer instead of John:

The caption from the paper: Scales for competence, hireability, and mentoring range from 1 to 7, with higher numbers reflecting a greater extent of each variable. The scale for salary conferral ranges from $15,000 to $50,000. Means with different subscripts within each row differ significantly (P < 0.05). Effect sizes (Cohen’s d) represent target student gender differences (no faculty gender differences were significant, all P > 0.14). Positive effect sizes favor male students. Conventional small, medium, and large effect sizes for d are 0.20, 0.50, and 0.80, respectively (51). n(male student condition) = 63, n(female student condition) = 64. ***P < 0.001.

Oy vey!  The ratings of the female applicant were substantially lower than those of the male in every respect.  Means with different subscripts between the tables (e.g., a vs. b) are significantly different, while those with identical subscripts don’t differ significantly.

The salient results:

  • For competence hireability, and willingness to mentor the applicant, women were ranked roughly 25% lower then men.
  • This ranking did not depend on whether the professor who did the rating was male or female, so whatever bias is reflected here is shown by faculty of both genders. To me that is surprising.
  • Male faculty offered female applicants only 88% of the salary offered to males. The disparity was even greater for female professors, who were willing to offer the female applicants only 85% the salary of male applicants.
  • When they did a path analysis, combining “competence” and “salary” into one “composite competence variable,” the authors found that the strongest cause for all the disparities was this: “the female student was less likely to be hired than the identical male because she was viewed as less competent overall.”
  • A separate analysis of the faculty members’ views using something called the Modern Sexism Scale showed that the assessments of female (but not male) competence reflected “preexisting subtle bias” against women.  This supported the authors’ a priori hypothesis that “subtle bias against women would be negatively related to evaluations of the female student, but unrelated to evaluations of the male student.”

The conclusions?

  1. There is gender bias against women—and it’s pretty substantial—at this level of hiring.  This is, of course, in conflict with the results of the Ceci and Williams study mentioned above. It’s possible that once women get past being hired as a faculty member, discrimination lessens substantially, but I am not sure the Ceci and Williams study, being a meta-analysis, is sound.  In addition, every woman I know who is a faculty member in biology, and has discussed the issue with me, says she perceives sexism in the community at some level. Granted, those are anecdotes, but I know a lot of female faculty.
  2. Because the bias is evinced at the student rather than postdoc/faculty stage (if you accept the results of Ceci and Williams), interventions promoting female advancement in science should take place early in the academic career, while one is still an undergraduate.  This could involve, among other things, education of undergraduate advisers about the problem. As the authors note, “Because most students depend on feedback from their environments to calibrate their own worth, faculty’s assessments of students’ competence likely contribute to students’ self-efficacy and goal setting as scientists. which may influence decisions much later in their careers.” This suggests that women may abandon careers in academic science not because of bias manifested after they’re hired, but bias they perceive early in their careers.
  3. The bias against women was manifested equally by both male and female faculty.  This surprised me, but I’ve also been told by women that women are often harder on women than on men (again, anecdotes).

The authors’ conclusion is clear:

The dearth of women within academic science reflects a significant wasted opportunity to benefit from the capabilities of our best potential scientists, whether male or female. Although women have begun to enter some science fields in greater  numbers, their mere increased presence is not evidence of the absence of bias. Rather, some women may persist in academic science despite the damaging effects of unintended gender bias on the part of faculty. Similarly, it is not yet possible to conclude that the preferences for other fields and lifestyle choices that lead many women to leave academic science (even after obtaining advanced degrees) are not themselves influenced by experiences of bias, at least to some degree. To the extent that faculty gender bias impedes women’s full participation in science, it may undercut not only academic meritocracy, but also the expansion of the scientific workforce needed for the next decade’s advancement of national competitiveness.

I have only one beef with this.  I don’t give a hoot whether the USA beats all other nations in the quality and output of its scientists.  That, to me, is a form of chauvinism, and science, being an international venture, should be promoted everywhere. A rising tide lifts all boats. We should try to eliminate gender bias not because it will make the U.S. more competitive, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.


Moss-Racusin, C. A., J. F. Dovidio, V. L. Brescoll, M. J. Graham, and J. Handelsman. 2012. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, published online before print September 17, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211286109