The term “cultural appropriation” is constantly thrown around these days, help especially on the internet. It’s come to a point where many people use it loosely and devalue the prominent issue that cultured communities face. So, cure to begin let’s look at the definition of cultural appropriation:
So, now that we’ve got that cleared, we can dive into why it is harmful, or blatantly disrespectful. From a historical standpoint, it is already a disadvantage for our youth to be taught their history from the people who have enslaved their ancestors. Black people who were indigenous to America and also brought from Africa were completely stripped from their culture. Anyone who has studied anything of canonized American history will know black people have been seasoned systemically to adapt and comply to their new domineers. Languages, spirituality, music, food, clothing, all of these things were purposely stripped of our people in order to instill the mentality that they are a slave. This is not a theory but literally a purposed system during days of slavery said by slave masters. Even then, black people still had rhythm in their hearts – true soul sparking in the midst of physical, mental, and spiritual oppression. From negro spirituals to the jazz era, the blues, rock and roll, r&b, rap, pop, etc., we have constantly created new milestones in a world that hates us, yet enjoys our rhythm and variety of aesthetic. If examples are needed there are plenty of white musicians from the ‘50s on who ended up paying millions to artists due to being found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism”. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was barely anything different from The Chiffon’s “He’s so Fine”. Of course there’s much more you can google yourselves.
Most of our creations were done by people who were dead poor, yet their imagination was the key to keeping our culture evolving. The issue is when our communities are impoverished due to systemic racism and constant limitations, the privileged of America are making bank from the adaptation of our originality. This is not to say we cannot enjoy the culture of one another, we want everyone to enjoy fashion, food , music and all there is to culture – but there is a discrepancy to enjoying the black community and not giving credit to its adaptations, or enjoying a community when it allows you to step out of character whenever you choose and not only drop it when it is no longer of use to you, but then demonize it; returning to your “innocent” essence. Nonetheless, black people continue to set a new criteria time after time successfully.
People may say money is the only argument behind cultural appropriation, this is simply not true. I don’t think people realize true creativity and accomplishments aren’t gained from a monetary agenda. We see this in distant countries as well where sacred texts or religious persons give their knowledge freely to Western travelers and these same people come back to the Americas with “New Age” philosophy which isn’t new at all. This is an example of how deeply things can get appropriated and profited from. None of the money these authors profit from go back to these third world countries they gained their knowledge from. If anything money is the prime agenda behind the appropriator. Even in today’s music we see so many white artists remake lyrics from rising black stars or even collaborate with them in the moment because of their wide success. I’ve been a fan of The Weeknd for many years, and to be honest, his music prior to Beauty Behind the Madness was equally beautiful, however not many popular artists sought to collaborate with him during his days of struggle and drug usage. His talent then was just amazing as it is now, the only difference is his successful radio hits attracted an audience who saw their own gain and infatuation within his rising stardom. This does not stop with artists, but also famous models, actresses and more who enjoy the black culture in its richness and are exempt from association during their humble upbringing. Ask yourself, would these models and famous personalities associate themselves with our black artists if they were “regular” people who have not touched fame or riches?
The issue with adopting black culture is not because we are selfish and want division, remember we were not the ones who advocated for segregation. Our issue is the constant ravaging of our originality and treating our love for non-material genius as a temporary item until the next big thing arises. From our hair, to our clothes, even the way we talk were all causes of our differences in the eyes of America. Some may say we don’t need to change our appearance for anyone, but that’s easier said when you aren’t told to straighten your hair to keep a job, or adjust how you dress because you can become a target of police or clumped up with others’ idea of a thug. We are told indirectly to assimilate or die, meanwhile what we are shunned for is creative and stylish in the media. We are not disposable, and our identities are not mannequins put up for show and take.
Written by Leahnora Brown