Wildly appropriating: My thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

Hello readers of my blog! Today is the day that I first attempt to tackle the topic of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation has become somewhat of a popular term this year. This phenomenon has, by definition, existed since different cultures began interacting with each other. However, accusations of cultural appropriation have become somewhat rampant this year.

So before I jump in. I will acknowledge that yes, I am Caucasian. To many people, my whiteness negates the validity of my opinion on this subject because my culture cannot be appropriated in the sense of the word commonly used today (some think that cultural appropriation is synonymous with acculturation which could apply to any culture, but I’m not dealing with that definition in this post.) A rough definition of cultural appropriation as the term has been used recently would be the inappropriate use of other culture’s symbols, traditions, etc. by someone not of that culture (very rough definition, indeed.) To be honest though, I have an opinion on the matter and whether or not my ethnicity negates it’s validity, I am still going to write about it. Mostly, accusations of cultural appropriation tend to confuse me.

I will start by saying I can COMPLETELY understand peoples’ anger around certain exhibits of cultural appropriation and similar offences. I am definitely of the opinion that “blackface” is a no and will always be a no. The fact that Johnny Depp was chosen to play Tonto in the Lone Ranger also seemed incredibly bizarre to me. Also, the white guy playing the Prince of Persia… Really? Furthermore, the “sexy” First Nations’ themed Halloween costumes are in incredibly poor taste and quite offensive.

Do you know what I do have an issue with? Being told that I can’t like certain things because I am Caucasian. This month, I have been given a list by the members of the internet of all the things i am NOT supposed to like. For example, I read last week that my love of rap music is illegitimate because I have never experienced the struggles some rappers rap about. In light of Miley Cyrus’ much criticized behaviour, I am apparently not supposed to “twerk.” My clothing choice is also supposed to be limited to prints that have not been inspired by any print coming from Africa because that is appropriation as well.

Please don’t be offended by my sarcasm. I literally have read posts on all of those things and if I was smarter I would have bookmarked them but I didn’t. If you google Cultural Appropriation though, I’m sure you could find them.

There are several reasons why these things offend me. First of all, I will listen to whatever music I want to listen to. Since I first discovered music aside from my parents’ funk and disco collections, I fell in love with rap. My friends mostly listened to rap back then and most of my friends now do too. Do you know what else? I don’t think any of my friends black or white have gone through the struggles of some American rappers who grew up in places like Compton and the South Side of Chicago. I live in Canada, it’s pretty struggle free for most of us. Does that mean that no Canadian can like american gangster rap? I’m not sure. I’m confused on that one.

As for the twerking. Yes I can twerk, I do twerk and I can tweak well. If you want proof ask one of my friends I have gone clubbing with. They will attest to it because no I will not show anyone because I don’t do that kind of thing anymore. WHY CAN’T I TWERK? I’m seriously baffled by this one. A style of dance is now appropriating. What about salsa? Can I not salsa?

Finally, the “African Print” thing. My Nigerian step-mum suggested she get a traditional outfit made for me which I’m sure will feature something you could call an “African Print” and I love the idea. Know what I don’t love? Realizing that someone somewhere could see me wearing it and scream cultural appropriation at the top of their lungs and hunt me down.

See, all ranting aside, sometimes it appears to me that anything that involves incorporating other cultures is suddenly deemed unacceptable cultural appropriation. I am never sure where the line of acceptable multiculturalism and unacceptable appropriation lies.  I’m aware that people who talk about cultural appropriation are usually doing us a service, bringing our attention to ways we may not be aware we’re being offensive. But sometimes I just feel like I can’t enjoy anything that doesn’t come from my own culture. And that seems weirdly segregate-y to me. So yes I will continue to be against sexy Native American Halloween costumes and shake my head at “blackface.” But I will also continue to listen to rap music and twerk in front of my mirror. And yes I really hope I get to wear a traditional Nigerian outfit out somewhere, ignorant of my wild cultural appropriation by virtue of my music preferences, dance abilities, and interracial family.

Am I the only one who feels like this? Tell me your opinion please and thank you.


9 thoughts on “Wildly appropriating: My thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Accusations of cultural appropriation have got absurd. Are people not allowed to even appreciate another culture now?! Different cultures should be shared and celebrated. Why are we advocating a world in which people’s actions have to be restricted by their own culture? That is what creates segregation!

  2. Pingback: On “Mis/appropriation”: Corruption vs. Appreciation of Culture | angasa writes

  3. I wrote about cultural appropriation and appreciation on my blog. IMO, I think it’s wrong when people wear cultures as a fashion statement (lady gaga and burkas or crosses being an accessory) or part of a new persona (like Miley) because it’s basically adopting all these things that are part of another culture and making them commodities. You know how hipsters love wearing headresses and all that? THAT’S appropriation because to them it’s not about spirituality, it’s just about being cool or whatever.

    A better example would be rock & roll and hip hop. Until Elvis made it popular, it was just a black thing, right? And then he started doing his thing and all the sudden it’s a legitimate genre of music. Elvis gets famous, but his influences, the innovators of the genre don’t get credit at all. But with hip hop, it’s very much a black thing (with diversity of course). It didn’t take some white guy to start rapping for people to be like “hey, this is kind of cool”. That’s the difference between appropriation and appreciation.

    Hope that made sense. And girl, if you wanna twerk then twerk away! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your opinion. I am so horrified at the whole lady gaga with a burka thing. I can’t even deal. But thanks for the example of rock and roll vs. hip hop. that is actually such an interesting way to think about it.

  4. I definitely think the approach matters. I don’t know that it’s so much about Miley twerking, as it is that she seems to have black people around her as props. She is using them to give her authenticity. “Hey all, I’m not country, I’m street. I’ve got the black people to prove it.” Gwen Stefani and harijuku girls was the same thing. I think it’s a delicate line and it gets especially murky when you are trying to capitalize on it.

    You wearing African clothes that your step-mother made is not appropriation. It is honoring her culture. Listening and liking rap music is not appropriation. People who make those claims are just idiots. That’s like saying someone born in the 80s can’t like 60s era protest music because, you know, they “…weren’t there man.”

    BTW, I stumbled across your website today after googling “hip hop and feminism” (spurred by listening to Make it Rain and being utterly offended). You say some great stuff.

    • Thank you for this. I feel validated in my understanding of what is and isn’t appropriation. Don’t get me started on the harajuku girls.. I’m glad to hear how you stumbled across my blog. Means more people than my facebook friends are reading it. lol. Thank you !

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