It’s 2015, and black cultural appropriation is alive and kicking like a seven month-old fetus. There’s loads of non-blacks who want the “cool factor” of blackness but not the experience that comes with it.
With all this talk about appropriation, you might be wondering, what is it, exactly?
Cultural appropriation as it’s technically defined, is taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or artifacts from someone’s culture without permission. In most cases, it’s mainstream culture borrowing cultural elements from people of color, who have been marginalized by racism, stereotypes and global oppression.
Recently, young actress Amandla Stenberg, star of The Hunger Games, posted a video online calling out Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Madonna and Katy Perry for appropriating Black culture in music videos by using African American vernacular and hip hop lingo, and wearing cornrows.
Black cultural appropriation didn’t begin with Iggy Azealea or Rachel Dolezal. The problematic borrowing of culture dates back to minstrelsy and vaudeville shows in the early 20th century. Here’s a much-needed timeline because nope to all of this.
Jolson was a famous singer, actor and comedian in America in the 1920s and 1930s. He often performed in blackface and was credited with single-handedly introducing African-American music such as jazz and the blues to white audiences. At the peak of his career, he was named “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.”
Elvis Presley is by far one of the biggest cultural icons. Even in death, he is still hailed as “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” This doesn’t always sit well with people, particularly the African-American community, because Elvis owes much of his musical influence to black artists like Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton”, who he stoled his hit “Hound Dog” from with no credit. Presley even said he was largely influenced by blues musician Arthur Crudup, the originator of his song, “That’s All Right.”
Mick Jagger has always made it known that one of his biggest musical influences was James Brown, which would explain those “moves like Jagger” the Rolling Stone lead singer still displays to this day. He was also influenced by blues artists like Muddy Waters and in the film “Cadillac Records,” and more famously Tina Turner, who’s credited for teaching him how to dance. James Brown’s 2014 biopic, “Get On Up,” was executive produced by Jagger and has been criticized for telling a “whitewashed” story of the music icon (even though Chadwick Bozeman gave an amazing performance).
In Jagger’s case, however, the rock legend has been more collaborative with Black artists then merely using. If you asked Turner on her thoughts of Jagger, he’s likely to get the Emimen pass and we won’t argue with that.
The music icon is an artist who’s constantly reinventing herself and using Black culture to do so. Whether she’s rocking grills, comparing her “struggles” to Martin Luther King Jr. or spitting the n-word, Madonna is another repeat offender when it comes to cultural appropriation. How-some-ever, like Jagger, Madonna is often collaborative with African American artists, and work with them to make strong political statements against racism and sexism and for that we kinda fux with Madge.
Arguably one of the best rappers and lyricists of his time, Eminem rose to fame in the 1990s and early 2000s becoming a hip-hop icon. Often rapping about growing up in a Detroit’s suburb, be clear a suburb on 8 Mile, the issues with his mother, volatile relationship with his ex-wife and love for his daughter, he brought listeners into his twisted world. Even with his undeniable talent, Eminem receives a pass when it comes to some of his lyrical content (even though he has been the subject of protests due to his past homophobic and sexist material).
These past two years have been a rebirth of some sort for Miley Cyrus. The former Disney star went to great lengths to shed her child star persona “Hannah Montana” and introduce the world to a new sound and look. Cyrus new look includes twerking, which is nothing new, but if you let the mainstream media tell it, it’s a new dance craze. Performing at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, Miley twerked on stage and fondled the backsides of her backup dancers who were all Black women.
Perry is one of the most highly criticized pop stars in world who often disrespectfully engage in cultural appropriation from various communities of color. Just Google her and cultural appropriation think pieces about her will pop up like summertime dandelions. During her performance at the 2013 American Music Awards, Perry was dressed as a geisha and declared it a homage to Asian culture even using the term “yellowface.” In her video for “This Is How We Do,” Katy wears cornrows, uses African American vernacular among more insuting activity including eating watermelon, a gross Black American stereotype before showing a picture of Aretha Franklin.
In 2013, the singer took a shot at a career comeback after a four-year hiatus with a video for her song “Hard Out Here.” Her intentions were for the video be a satirical by objectifying music video clichés, instead, she became what she despised. The video features all Black backup dancers scantily clad being used as props.
The rapper and his musical partner Ryan Lewis had two of the biggest songs of 2013 with “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us.” Their newfound success garnered the duo four Grammy Awards at the 2014 ceremony including “Best Rap Album”, “Rap Song” and “Rap Performance”. Going up against fan favorite Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City album, even Macklemore thought him beating out K.dot was a travesty, posting a text message exchange between the two apologizing for “robbing” the Compton MC.
While introducing a new pop sound, America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift, premiered the video for “Shake It Off,” which featured elements of hip-hop culture as a backdrop. She’s even seen holding a beat box radio and trying to break dance while surrounded by Black female dancers popping their asses in the camera. Here’s a fine example of Black culture being used as a way for artists to appear “edgier”.
The performer has become the new face of Black appropriation and arguably she’s the most extreme offender of like ever. Raised in Australia, Azealea talks in interviews with an Australian accent and raps on wax with a Black southern accent. This has caused a broad, national backlash and criticism from artists like Q-Tip, Jill Scott and notoriously from her rival Azalea Banks.
While Chet is no known celebrity, he publicly disgraced his legendary actor pops Tom Hanks. Young Hanks is an alum of Northwestern University and an “up and coming emcee”. His recent “I’m a gangsta rapper” antics hit the press due to the aspirational trap artist’s purposeful use of the n-word on hot 16s—which Chet makes no apologies for, by the way. We blame all of his “Black friends”.
In what has to be the most bizarre and hilarious story of the year, Rachel Dolezal’s creepy obsession with Black culture caused her to believe that she’s actually a Black woman when indeed and um, genetically, she’s a White woman with White parents from Montana. What Rachel doesn’t understand about her actions is she’s making a massive mockery out of Black culture–from her hairs to her well-intentioned activist work. In the future if Dolezal chooses to trans-race back to whiteness, her privileged position in society allows that kind of fluidity, and the rest of us Blacks aren’t can’t walk through that revolving door and frankly, we don’t want to.