Apr 17, 2015

Muse: What If We Love Black People As Much As We Love Black Culture?

Sometimes when I come across cultural appropriating issues whether it be fashion editorial spreads gone wrong or anyone with the code name of Igloo Australia, I admit to finding the situation hopeless to explain especially when said issues come up in mixed company. Some aren't listening. Some take defense. Some believe that it's a personal diss towards the individual, and not what the individual is actively doing that is inappropriate. Some just roll their eyes and believe you're overreacting. All of it just becomes too exhausting to contend to after awhile and thus, I tap out and keep the thoughts to myself. Still mum I shouldn't be as cultural appropriating is an issue, a B-I-G one, and if undetected it becomes easier for us all to pass it off as "normal" behavior when it's far from that.

Maybe next time whenever I find myself combating with small-minded folk, I'll directed them to actress Amandla Stenberg's nuanced breakdown of culture appropriation and the historical and sociological context behind it.

With classmate, Quinn Masterson, Stenberg -- who played Rue in The Hunger Games ---- created the video, Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows for her history class and posted it on her Tumblr. Though the video was posted three months go, it hit its viral streak this week, and thank goodness it has because this is the kind of explanation we need when it comes to such a complex and tender topic like cultural appropriation.

In the video, Stenberg gives a clear and concise rundown of how cultural appropriation occurs in popular culture, mainly focusing on the politics of black hair and the rise of hip-hop and urban culture in the pop mainstream. She takes to task several white music artists such as Iggy Azalea, Macklemore, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus, who have all routinely profited off of facets of black culture, and yet have failed to take a conscious effort to speak out for and align themselves with people of color against the continuous prejudices that face them.

Before the film fades to black, Stenburg concludes with the brilliant inquiry: "What if we love Black people as much as we love Black culture?" Nobody really wants to answer this question honestly because hovering over it is the fact that persons of color (specifically, in this case, black people) are continuously mistreated and marginalized in their own countries and to consider them as actual people is too damn difficult for racists to process. Culture vultures thrive off of this systematic way of thinking, some never completely understanding that they are engaging in inconsiderate behavior, hence why Stenberg's assessment is important viewing as she clearly lays out the ways appropriation crops up in even free range areas of expression, like art and fashion.

The hurt feelings and pouts of privilege have already begun towards Stenburg and her video, but they can stay mad, can stay slumbering in their denial. When cultural appropriation is called out, it's not because of over-sensitivity or an attempt to infringe on others who want to engage and enlighten themselves through another culture. It is human nature to appreciate and be inspired by a culture outside of your own, and when celebrated properly it can be a wonderful uniting mechanism to further understand an individual and their culture from a totally new viewpoint. But it becomes a serious issue when we can't tell the difference between what is appreciation and what is an insensitive mocking. Stenberg does a great job of plainly explaining appropriation vs. appreciation when she says: "Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racial generalizations and stereotypes where it originated but is seen as high-fashion or cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves." 

Okay, I'll stop butting in because Stenberg lays everything out in the video better than I can rattle off here...and she's 16. 16! Sweet sixteen and already has her head screwed on right.

I give her all the A+'s for this.

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