Afrikin Black art and culture
Miley Cyrus twerking.
Kim Kardashian wearing cornrows.
Marco Pierre White cooking Jerk Chicken and rice and peas.
Is this appropriation or appreciation?
Appropriation is defined as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” Sounds like theft because it is. But can people “steal” culture?
That depends on whether or not people can own it.
Appropriation is simply exploitation not appreciation when that which is considered offensive by a dominant power is then adopted by said power, making it acceptable only to them and not the people from whom it was stolen.
Collard greens are a go-to insult when describing the diet of Black Americans, yet high-end retailer Neiman Marcus sold out of their $66 collard greens in two days.
Earlier this year, a young Black girl was sent home from Banana Republic for wearing blonde box braids, a style they deemed “too urban and unkempt.” Meanwhile, fashion magazines laud “Boxer Braids”, historically called Cornrows, Cornrolls, Cane Rows depending on which part of the world these people of color inhabit.
It’s common for white people to identify something in their own terms to give it credibility. Musician Macka B adheres to the Rastafari lifestyle, a connection to life energy, which includes a diet of “ital” food, food that is “vital” to the individual. White people found his songs spreading the message about livity and have made him a Vegan icon. He’s not a Vegan. He’s a Rasta. His diet has nothing to do with their hipster ideals, but their sudden interest has definitely driven up the price of kale.
When the usurpers discover something they like, they are determined to prove that they can do it better than people who have done it for ages. Bobby Flay has consistently battled celebrated Black chefs with his “updated” versions of classic cuisine, foods that have a deep history in our community like escovitch fish, gumbo, chicken and waffles and more. His arrogance has him honestly believing that–after a brief lesson–he can undo recipes that have pleased generations of people using his staple peppercorns or brie.
The thieves think they admire other cultures when they incorporate it in their marketing, but it generally has nothing to do with whatever they’re peddling and over-sexualizes what is revered. Victoria’s Secret recent “Nomadic Adventure” show featured white women dressed in Native American garb to play up their hideously bland lingerie.
Creativity of Our People
The creativity of our people in naming our children is often derided and used as a reason to deny us various benefits that white people enjoy including jobs and school admission. However, they delight in sharing the “eclectic and unique” names they bestow upon their offspring.
But is it cultural appropriation if the trend stolen is something that is not owned by that community, but instead thrust upon it by others, i.e. stereotypes? When someone is said to be “acting Black” they are describing speech consistent with Ebonics, dress of baggy, saggy jeans and behaving in a loud and disruptive manner. Interestingly, this is the time white people want to give “credit” to Black people.
Capitalizing on the plight of a community for profit while ignoring those same issues is a common byproduct of gentrification, the cousin of appropriation. Brooklyn hipsters invaded the predominantly West Indian neighborhood of Crown Heights to open a sandwich shop decorated with faux bullet holes and 40 oz bottles of wine in paper bags, marketing the space as an old illegal arms dealer. Is this appropriation? Crime is this neighborhood’s culture, but is it one that Black people want to own?
Appropriation is theft and exploitation. Plain and simple.
How can someone even consider this appreciation? You cannot appreciate what you don’t respect. When that changes, we will all be able to embrace the artistry and beauty of everyone’s culture.Check out more about Black power movements in America