There is an ongoing debate on cultural appropriation and I personally believe that some people (Blacks and Whites alike) refuse to understand the meaning of it, and until we do, we will never stop talking about it.
As Amandla Stenberg says “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’re partaking in”.
When a culture is practised by people who have historically been exploited, seen as inferior and vilified, their practices and traditions have the same negative connotations. On the other hand, as soon as the appropriator (usually from a dominating group) takes it, it becomes beautiful, glamorous, fashionable, trendy.
Looking at world history we can say that people of European descent are part of the dominating group whereas people of African and Asian descent, Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians are the dominated ones. We have been subjected to many atrocities, our cultures and traditions were demonised and made fun of to the point that we lost pride in them.
Our Afros mean that our hair is dirty and untidy, our braids and cornrows our ghetto, our traditional clothing are not professional.
However, when they are on White people, they are cool and even a new creation (they just change the name).
Our cultures become disposable acessories that White people decide to wear when they feel like it. They are completely oblivious of the meaning and history behind them. And to use our cultures as fashion statements is utterly disrespectful.
Can we appropriate White/European culture?
White culture in the U.S. doesn’t really exist for it is Black culture. In Europe, traditional clothing and songs still exist and are visible in special occasions, celebrations and national festivities.
In order for us to appropriate European cultures we should colonise Europe, dehumanise her people, demonise their practices, set up beauty standards that Europenas can’t possibly attain, ridicule their cultures while using our media to glorify them when we’re partaking in them.
But by now you may rightfully wonder why the title of this post is”genetic appropriation” and not simply “cultural appropriation”.
Just replace ‘style’ with ‘features’ in Amandla’s definition and there you have it. It means that physical features that are normally present on or associated with Black and Brown bodies are criticised but when on White people they’re glamorised.
Although stereotypical, a big bum, curves, dark skin and full lips are some of the characteristics that make a Black/African woman who she is.
In history, our bodies were seen as ugly, grotesque, masculine. We were accused of being sexually promiscuous and hence our large buttocks. The most famous case is that of Saartjie Baartman.
But then came Jennifer Lopez, Iggy Azalea, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner and all of a sudden those grotesque features became the epitome of beauty, femininity and sexiness.
It was very interesting to see the different responses to Jenner’s full fake lips and to those of Aamito Lagum. People dragged her calling her all sorts of racist names but every girl wanted to have Kylie’s lips.
Some time ago I saw a picture on Facebook of two White women wearing braids and for the umpteenth time I read something like “why do you get mad at White women wearing braids but you go around with Blonde hair and blue eyes?”.
Please explain to me how blonde, straight hair and blue eyes are cultural. The comparison doesn’t work.
Say it’s ‘genetic appropriation’. It would be more appropriate but still wrong. The reason: again Black/African people aren’t the dominating group. Blonde hair and blue eyes are not used to mock White people while being deemed beautiful on Black people. If you want to play the victim of cultural and/or genetic appropriation, let us enslave and colonise you.
Black women are pushed by society to align with a certain ideal of beauty. Our natural selves aren’t always appreciated, especially in the workplace and in schools*. If we put wigs and weaves on is to be socially accepted and to have an easier life. It’s almost a matter of survival. When society, you, will be able to appreciate everyone for who they are, we won’t have this problem anymore.
We must not forget that we have also been conditioned to believe that our hair, skin, noses, lips are ugly and unattractive. As Black people we need to empower each other and understand that we, too, are beautiful. Hopefully, with time, we will be able to love who we are and stop changing our bodies.
I will always wonder why White people have to appropriate our cultures and features. Is it necessary?
I love Indian clothing but I would never go and buy a Sari just because it looks nice. It’s a culture not a costume.
You don’t need to be in a culture to appreciate it, you can do it from afar.
The Love Life of an Asian Guy put it out perfectly:
“You wanna talk about cultural APPROPRIATION vs cultural APPRECIATION? Fine.
At what point in your “appreciation” did you suddenly decide to switch from observing the culture to actually inserting yourself into it?
That’s what I don’t get. I don’t get where folks find the gusto to stand up and say, “Damn, that traditional dance was beautiful! But it’s missing something…. ME! I’m gonna do it myself!”
What? You can’t just support the people who have been doing it longer than you’ve lived? You can’t just visit the festivals or travel to the native land or watch them on YouTube? Is there an ominous being hovering over your shoulder, force choking your pale ass into a dashiki?
When you dress up as a shitty white samurai or an Asian in a native headdress, you aren’t doing it out of appreciation. You’re doing it for fun. You’re doing it to play dress up. Your crappy outfit ain’t going to electrify the Natives with your bootleg cosplay.
“Wow! That white dude is shaking things up for the Native community with his cardboard box headdress! Let’s make him our new leader!”
Cause let’s face it, if you’re wearing a Kimono in Kentucky or a Sari in San Francisco, and you’re NOT from that culture, chances are, you didn’t HAVE to wear it. You could have thrown on the two-sizes-too-small sweater you got for Christmas, or even the full-body, latex sex suit you found in the sale bin at Goodwill.
Bottom line: You can appreciate a culture by being a spectator. You can observe how they do it, film it, put it on Instagram with the tag #CulturesRcool, talk about it during summer class, donate to their cause, befriend the members of the community, visit their restaurants and businesses, vote for policies that positively affect them, or simply watch and be in awe.
YOU CAN DO THAT.
So do that instead of your “appreciation” BS.”
Our cultures, skins, hair are not fashion statements. We are not costumes.