originally posted on www.onlyblackgirl.com
I learned about cultural appropriation way back in community college, back before it became a buzzword for everyone with a twitter handle to use. I don't say that to try and sound like some old geezer whining about "BACK IN MY DAY, WE DIDN'T HAVE AIR...!", but rather to point out that before the internet started to use it for everything, people actually had to study the facts and learn what it means. Now, the internet uses it so commonly that, the average person using it, doesn't even know what it means. They just blurt it out because they know it's "bad" and that it throws people into an immediate fit of rage. Like most things overused on the internet, its actual meaning has been lost and people are using it without fully understanding what it means. As a result, those who participate in appropriation don't take it seriously, because y'all don't know what you're talking about and just start blurting out random shit that don't make no damn sense. I wanted to take some time to really lay out what exactly cultural appropriation is and how it works.
First thing I want to address...
What Is Culture
We can't fully understand appropriating a culture if you don't really understand what culture is. There's this great thing called a dictionary that can answer all your basic questions such as this one. Merriam Webster provides several explantions, as culture has many meaning depending on context, but the two I want to focus on are these:
a) the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time
b) the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization a corporate culture focused on the bottom line
Pretty self explanatory. Culture basically just means a shared set of beliefs, practices, customs etc. Culture exists in everything and everyone. It's not just racial. Church is a culture, specific religions have different cultures. Southern vs northern culture. Dating culture, internet culture, blogging culture, age, technology, business, specific business fields, television, movies, the list goes on. Anything you can think of, probably has a culture. I also want to make a point that many racial cultures (especially those in America) are developed from survival tactics. We all (except Ben Carson) know that black people were brought over here from Africa as slaves, so naturally in the beginning years, our culture was still that of whatever African counties those slaves came from. However, after awhile, we have to adapt to survive here in America, which is where African-American culture comes from. Parts may have originated in Africa, but a whole lot of our values and customs come from what we as slaves had to do to survive under the white man's reign. Jazz, for example, is derived from Negro spirituals, negro spirituals were songs that were derived from old religious hymns that also doubled as a secret code slaves used to communicate. Slaves would quite literally encode messages in Negro spirituals to communicate to each other plans of escape. Obviously they weren't able to hold town slave meetings and discuss their rebellion plans, so they had to get creative. Negro spirituals was one of those creative solutions. Harriet Tubman used this method quite often, when she would make trips back to rescue slaves. I bring all that up to make the point that our cultures are not just something we pulled out of our asses and said "Hey this shit is cool, let's make it part of our culture!", No, our cultures are rooted in blood, sweat, tears, murder, injustice, brutality and every other adjective you can think of to describe the struggle. So when you do appropriate cultures, you're basically shitting on us and our history, saying we and everything we built for ourselves does not matter.
What Exactly Is Cultural Appropriation?
The term actually comes from Anthropology, it isn't just some term pocs made up to get annoying things like justice and rights (the nerve). In fancy words, cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. In more regular people speak, it taking something of cultural value and exploiting it and/or not giving credit to those you stole it from. It's wearing native headdresses, dressing up as a geisha, wearing black hairstyles and pretending you invented them (also see columbusing).
"Twisted Mini Buns", they're fucking Bantu knots, and black people have been doing this shit since before y'all knew how to bathe, ingrates.
What Cultural Appropriation is NOT
It is not simply participating in another culture. I'm going to address appreciation vs appropriation in my next point, because there is a way to participate in culture without appropriation. The key factor in appropriating is taking things of cultural significance or value. Not necessarily something someone of a certain race invented. When I see conversations about CA, brought up, there's always some obnoxious person who just names random shit that has nothing to do with culture and says it's appropriation. "YOU CAN'T WEAR JEANS, BECAUSE IT'S WHITE!", or 'DON'T EAT PIZZA THEN, BECAUSE ITALIANS CREATED IT!", that's all cute or whatever, but please provide me with factual evidence that pizza is a cultural value to Italians. What weight does it hold? What is it's meaning? How are jeans a part of white culture? Honestly, if you can give me answer, with facts and APA cited sources to back it up, I'll never eat pizza again, but you can't, because you know you're full of shit. My personal favorite is the "blonde or straight hair" argument. First, blonde hair is not exclusive to white people, there are people of color, black people included, who have naturally blonde hair meet Melanesians.
And we don't really need to address how literally every race on the planet has people with naturally straight hair. Furthermore, blonde and/or straight hair, hold ZERO cultural meaning or significance to anyone. So suck it. Just because YOU don't care that native war headdresses and cornrows actually have a cultural purpose, doesn't mean they don't.
Can POCS Appropriate Culture
Yes, absolutely. I mentioned before, everything has a culture of some sort and just because you're adjacent to that culture doesn't mean you are a part of it. Just because I am black doesn't mean I get to just jump into any other poc culture I please. In fact, there is a large debate within racial groups themselves about appropriating within each other. African vs African American being one of them. Many Africans feel that AA cannot participate in African cultures because we do not actually understand the significance and values. AA are born here in America, many never leave and most never have or will step foot in Africa, so does that mean we get to just wear dashikis and african tribal print? Well that's what the debate is about. One could say the same for Africans who come to America and jump into AA culture. But that's another discussion for another day. The point is, yes people of color can appropriate other peoples' cultures. There's something called horizontal oppression/racism as well.
The idea behind this is that, while we are all minority groups, as in on the same power structure, our actions may not have a great of an impact in the grand scheme of things, but it does further contribute to the oppression of the groups by reinforcing these ideologies that were set in place by the oppressor. This doesn't just apply to racial groups either. There's a lot of outrage from the LGBTQ+ community about appropriating their slang "Yaaaaaaasss" "slayyyy" "hunty" "spill the tea!" etc, especially when so many pocs are still extremely homophobic, transphobic and in general against the whole LGBTQ+ community. So while pocs appropriating one another may not directly contribute to oppression, it doesn't help either. It's the equivalent of kicking someone when they're already down. Yeah you didn't start the fight or give them the beating that dropped them, but your kick did what? Sure didn't help them. It's just beating them for no reason at all, adding to the injuries that already exist.
Appropriation vs. Appreciation
As I said before, there is a way to participate in cultural without being an asshole. Appreciation can be done is many ways, but the basis of it, is that you are giving the credit to the proper group(s) and/or you were invited by a member of the group to participate in something specific. For example, in college, I was a part of many different student clubs, one of them being Pacific Islander Club. I was with them for 4 years and through that was taught many things about their different islands and cultures BY people of those cultures. I learned bits of the different languages, their history, songs, practices and more. Because of the work I did with them, and them with us (black students) we have had many mutual exchanges of cultural practices, items and clothing. Now had people not known I was gifted those things by the elders and asked to particiate, it could look like appropriation, but because I was invited by them to learn, it is appreciation. On the flip-side, I also don't take that knowledge and strut around like "Hey look at me, I know some islanders and their culture so I can do whatever island thing I want! Watch me do the hula!" because that is not my culture and I do not know what life as an islander is really like. It's simply something I can appreciate from the outside and when invited to participate, I do. That's it. Another example is someone like Bruno Mars. We all love him, he's a great artist, but his entire persona and sound is old school, funky 60s Teddy Riley, James Brown styles of black music. However, Bruno Mars has never claimed to created this sound, in fact he has always been vocal about being inspired by these older black artists, he works closely with black producers, writers, musicians etc, damn near his entire band is black. He is participating in black music while not stealing the credit. That is appreciation. Now had he done the same thing but came out stating things like "You know I just woke up this morning and had this great idea for funky soul music and I just moon-walked into the studio and let my creative thoughts flow and now I have created funk", that would be appropriation.
Appropriation vs. Assimilation
"Cultural assimilation is the process by which a person or a group's language and/or culture come to resemble those of another group. ... Full assimilation occurs when new members of a society become indistinguishable from members of the other group."
I don't know if you all know this, but white people attempted to strip all pocs in america of their culture. I mentioned a very few select examples of this previously. Even today, people are facing repercussions for simply practicing their own cultures, in an attempt to force them to assimilate to whiteness and white standards. Black people have been kicked out of school for having natural hair styles, I, personally have been told to straighten my hair or not be hired, the military banned black hairstyles not to mention things like Muslims being killed for minding their damn business and praying or just simply existing and many other horrid things that happen daily. I bring that up to make the point that, some people have just given in and assimilated to whiteness for the sake of their lives being spared. So yeah someone might "act white" or alter their appearance to look white, because Y'ALL FUCKING TOLD US TO! You don't get to then turn around and whine "appropriation" when for hundreds of years you, and your people have been forcing us to assimilate and leave our individual cultures behind.
Why You Need To Stop
It all boils down to something Paul Mooney (look him up) said,
"Everybody wanna be a nigga, but don't nobody want to be a nigga". In other words, everyone wants to participate in the "fun" parts of people's cultures. Take the hairstyles and clothes you think are cute, so you can get likes on Instagram, but you don't actually want to have to live life as us. You don't want to actually be treated like a nigger, you just want the cute fun parts of being a nigga. You don't wanna be killed every 28 hours by police, you don't wanna be kicked out of school for wearing your natural hair, you don't want to have lesser pay, you don't want to be called a nigger, you don't wanna be lynched, beaten, oppressed and every other struggle we deal with every single day. We don't get to leave our blackness behind. We don't to pretend to be white, it doesn't work both ways. We are black 24/7, 365 days a year. Our culture is something we live constantly, not when it's convenient. So you don't get to pretend to be black (or anything else) for fun, and then when shit gets tough and it's time to fight for black lives, all the sudden you ghost and hide behind your whiteness. Nah, we don't need to share shit with you, we don't need to get over it, because we still do not have equal rights or justice. So until YOU receive the same punishments I do for wearing cornrows, dreadlocs or walking into a store while black, you don't get to take part in my culture.