Editor’s Note: This opinion piece features explicit language.
Last week, I finally watched the film, Dear White People. I loved it because it shed a light on the dramatic and passionate bullying of some black activists.
It showed me that even when blacks have a valid racial standpoint, sometimes we let our anger get the best of us because we’re angry.
We’re angry that our culture is so easily stolen, commercialized, ridiculed and so on. We’re angry that black women have had to deal with the social and self-analytical stress of our natural hairstyles not being “appropriate” for the professional workplace, when white celebrities can wear the same style and overnight it’s a sexy new trend.
Even celebs are speaking out against what we call “cultural appropriation.”
Rapper Azealia Banks clarified on the radio station Hot 97, when she blasted white rapper Iggy Azalea for her cultural appropriation.
She called it, “cultural smudging.” Azealia makes a point that Iggy’s entire image was stolen from black women.
The looks, dress, slang and entire cultural image of a southern black girl was white -washed for American entertainment. Azealia expressed that this cultural appropriation is like telling black kids, “You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself.”
Black America is frustrated with those who enjoy black culture but don’t actually care about black issues in America. What does Iggy Azalea have to say about police brutality?
Long story short, this plagiarism of black culture by the media and fashion industry has got us black folks like, “damn can we have anything?” Hunger games actress and activist Amandla Stenberg clarified appropriation as, “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.”
But really, who are the “privileged” and what exactly is meant by,“for themselves?”
In short, we try to act like this is a general concept, but it’s mostly attributed to white people, and the frustration the black community feels about not getting recognition for things we created. This is what has lead to a discussion on the difference between assimilation and appropriation.
Is it not cultural appropriation when black girls wear straight blonde weaves? The concept of cultural assimilation highlights that black women have learned to style their hair in a way that resembles European styles in order to fit into and survive in a society that was not created for them.
What about when individuals get tattoos with Buddhist or Chinese references that they have not been culturally educated on? Are we exhibiting another form of racial generalization when we dress up like a sexy, romanticized Pocahontas for Halloween and don’t even think twice about it?
These questions left me blank as well, however there is a valid argument when it comes to African Americans appropriating African culture. Many say we are incapable of doing so because as a result of slavery, so many blacks are unaware of their specific origins in Africa and are simply paying respect to the motherland when they wear things like dashikis and expressive facial paint.
As with many issues, it’s not just black and white, but sometimes we make it this way.
As soon as celebs like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift exhibit any style that may be attributed to black culture, black social media is “lit” with hate and criticism because once again, we’re angry, and rightfully so; but where how do we actually draw the line on who this applies to and when?
Rihanna expressed her short unpopular opinion on cultural appropriation in the November 2015 Vanity Fair issue when she referred to Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who fought for civil rights in blackface as, “a bit of a hero,” and included that “she legit changed people’s perspective a bit.”
Maybe RiRi has a point.
Perhaps we should appreciate that whites can see the beauty in black culture, and in a way, want to be like us. However, the problem falls on the fine line between appreciation and appropriation. Why did Dolezal have to pretend to be black to fight for a black cause?
If the general consensus on this issue is not to say that whites can’t style their hair however they would like, but that they should simply pay credit where it’s due, how should they go about this? Should celebrities include cultural attributions in their Instagram posts?
If so, how do they know when this action is necessary, and how would they cite the source? How much does a white celebrity need to speak on black issues to be able to wear a grill?
All jokes aside, cultural appropriation is real. Black culture has been stolen rather than shared in America since the first slave was sold. The same goes for Native Americans and all of the minorities who have lived this continuous struggle for recognition and respect.
I understand the anger, frustration and disrespect, and I hope celebrities, the media and the general population can learn to embrace and respect every culture.
While we work on distinguishing that fuzzy line between appreciation and appropriation, the black community must not let its frustration or a separatist mindset hinder the ultimate goal of “one love.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Rachel Dolezal rose to prominence this year after lying about her racial background.
Racquel Royer is a freshman journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.