“What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
Over the few years, we've heard the words 'cultural appropriation' and 'culture vultures' thrown around more times than we can count as it refers to artists like Iggy Azalea, Miley Cyrus and even reality stars such as The Kardashians, but what the heck is it?
16-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg has your answer.
The young star, best known for her roles as 'Rue' in Hunger Games and young Zoe Saldana in Colombiana, eloquently breaks it all down in her recent class project titled Don't Cash Crop my Cornrows. In the four minute piece, she takes on addressing the difference between being influenced by an entire race versus straight robbing it, and uses examples such as Kim Kardashian's braids, Miley's twerking and Madonna's grills as points of reference.
Amandla goes on to point out the the parallelisms of reaping from Black culture all the while not repping it when -ish gets real, and goes on to explain the 'Black Lives Matter' movement that many "culture-appropriating" celebs often fall short of recognizing.
Basically, Amandla wants people to know that it's not cool to adopt Black culture unless you intend to adopt Black struggle too. Because as she so clearly puts it:
"Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture they are partaking in."
Peep some of what she had to say below:
Black hair has always been an essential component of Black culture. Black hair requires upkeep in order for it to grow and remain healthy. So black women have always done their hair, it's just a part of our identity. Braids, locks, twists and cornrows, etc. Cornrows are a really functional way of keeping Black hair unknotted and neat, but with style.
So you can see why hair is such a a big part of hip hop and rap culture. These are style of music which African American communities created to affirm our identities and out voices.
In the early 2000's, you saw many R&B stars wearing cornrows: Alicia Keys, Beyonce, R. Kelly and many more. As hip hop become more popular and integrated to pop culture, so did Black culture. Eminem's album went 4 times platinum and he had achieved immense success in the hip hop world. Black culture had become popular.
Amanda goes on to say:
By 2013, the fashion world had adopted cornrows as well. Cornrows and braids were seen on high fashion runways, for brands like Marchesa and Alexander McQueen and magazines had editorial campaigns featuring cornrows as a new "urban hairstyle."
When rapper Riff Raff came on to the scene, a suburban white middle class man who almost ironically took on a "Black-cent" and wore braids and gold teeth. And then James Franco took on the role of Riff Raff for his role in Spring Breakers. Pop stars and icons adopted Black culture as a way of being edgy and gaining attention.
In 2013, Miley Cyrus twerks and uses Black women as props and in 2014, in one of her videos called 'This is How We Do,' Katy Perry uses ebonics and hand gestures and eats watermelon while cutting inexplicably to a picture of Aretha Franklin.
So as you can see cultural appropriation was becoming rampant.
Not only were white people becoming rappers but they were excelling in the world of hip hop. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' song 'Thrift Shop' garnered the number one spot on Billbaords year end chart toppers and Iggy Azalea's song Fancy reached number one the following year.
In May of 2014, Forbes released an article 'Hip Hop's unlikely new star, a white blonde Australian woman.'
But at the same time, police brutality against Black people came to the forefront, in an incredible movement ignited by the murders of Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Graner and many others, people began to protest institutionalized racism by marching and using social media. Celebrities spread awareness and shared condolences, well, at least some did, as Azealia Banks, a Black female rapper pointed out.
As Azealia Banks observed in her tweets about white musicians who partook in hip hop culture and adopted "Blackness", Iggy Azalea in particular, failed to speak on the racism that comes with Black Identity:
Azealia: "it's like a cultural smudging is what I see. And when they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is 'Oh yeah, you're great. You're amazing. You can do whatever you put your mind to,' and it says to Black kids, 'You don't have sh*t. You don't own sh*t. Not even the sh*t you created for yourself.' And it makes me upset."
That itself is what is so complicated when it comes to Black culture! I mean the line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchanges is always going to occur but here is the thing.
Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.
Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture they are partaking in.
Hip hop stems from a black struggle, it stems from jazz and blues, styles of music African-Americans created to retain humanity in the face of adversity, which itself stems from songs used during slavery and to communicate and to survive. On a smaller scale but in a similar vein, braids and cornrows are not merely stylistic. They’re necessary to keep black hair neat.
What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is without the consent of the originating culture, and when the appropriating group has historically oppressed members of the originating culture. Appropriation may eventually lead to the appropriating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices. As oppressed peoples' cultures are mimicked by the dominant culture, observers may begin to falsely associate certain cultural practices with the mimicker, and not with the people to whom the practices originally belonged. This is often seen in the use by cultural outsiders of a minority, oppressed culture's symbols or other cultural elements, such as music, dance, spiritual ceremonies, modes of dress, speech and social behaviour, among other cultural expressions.
A few recent examples in the media and reactions:
The question now is, when is it okay to be inspired by other cultures and adopt their styles? And when is the line drawn?
Catch the video below:
Originally published April 16, 2015