The University of Michigan has recently announced that it seeks to hire a “bias incident-prevention and -response coordinator” whose job will entail the creation of “cultural appropriation-prevention initiatives.” In other words, it will be this individual’s job to decide under what circumstances white students taking yoga classes, or wearing hoop earrings, have committed that newly minted sin. Professor Fred Baumann responds with an open letter to the university’s president, Mark Schlissel:
It occurred to me . . . that the last official I know of whose job was to prevent cultural appropriation was Hans Hinkel. So who was he? When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, as you may know, every Jew in any cultural position was fired. My father was a young assistant director at the Berlin City Opera and he and his boss, Kurt Singer, also a Jew, lost their jobs. My father had the idea of telling the Nazis, “Okay, you say we’re a different culture; well then, you logically need to allow us to have our own cultural institutions.” Out of that came the Jewish Cultural League, which was headed by Singer, and was able to carry on Jewish cultural life with Jewish artists for Jewish audiences until after the beginning of the war.
My father directed operas but was also the “internal censor.” The man he worked with to make sure that the Nazis were okay with what was being performed and didn’t think the Jews were appropriating Aryan culture was a special commissioner for “cultural particulars” named Hans Hinkel. Now I gather you are taking up the same line of work. From Hinkel to Schlissel, or so it appears.
Unfair? Well, President Schlissel, it grieves me deeply that you seem to have so little memory of the past. . . . Cultural purism is folly and its genesis is invariably chauvinist and very often racist. So why, oh why, are you encouraging the rebirth of this hateful thing?