Modern Blackface: The Cultural Appropriation of Rap

Modern Blackface: The Cultural Appropriation of Rap

15168
views

The tradition of African American satire first manifested itself out of necessity: a simple coded joke, in the presence of white oppressors.

But over time African American satire has become more layered and complicated — reflecting the progression of black identity in America. Increasingly, African American humor became heavily coded and drenched in what W.E.B Du Bois would call “double consciousness.” Although the days of slavery and segregation are over, there is a different strain or racism that still plagues the United States. It disguises itself as a joke, reinforcing black stereotypes and burrowing itself deep under the surface of American culture.

The rap genre in general seemingly panders to these stereotypes instead of deconstructing them. While there are a myriad of examples from the genre that could potentially fall into this category, this is an assumption that dismisses the possibility that modern rap is simply another manifestation of African American satire. There is a growing strain of rappers that feel rap is a vessel to rewrite black identity beyond the racial stereotypes typically associated with the rap genre through satire. The backpack rappers, alternative rappers more concerned with the underground than prime real estate are being thwarted, however, by those who appropriate black culture for sales.

Rap emerged at the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a way to bring attention to important social issues within the black community. It was the music that helped characterize a revolution in race relations. It was a way to survive a world where discrimination, racism, and notions of inferiority were still a reality despite the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was legislatively successful. Coded language and jokes resurfaced in rap in order to mobilize a movement.

In the case of modern rap, it functions in direct opposition with the newest antagonist of the rap narrative: cultural appropriation fueled by the capitalist machine and notions of color blindness.

In America, the game of forcing a subculture to submit is no longer in vogue. There’s a new game called “consensual domination,” a term coined by Simona Hill and Dave Ramsaran in their research about Hip-Hop and Inequality, where the dominant culture takes away the subculture’s ability to say “no” to domination by allying with key players from any particular subculture in order to embed submission into the culture’s identity. Consent is “manufactured” rather than forced. In our color-blind, capitalist society, Hip-Hop serves as a capitalist game piece to advance social stratification and keep the dominant culture dominant. Modern rap uses satire to fight against the cultural colonization that is increasingly pervasive in the rap industry.

Being considered “too white” to rap was not an issue in the rap genre until the dual emergence of the prevalence of white rapper appropriation and the alternative rapper. This idea of being “too white” is only bestowed upon black rappers who don’t sound “gangsta” enough or “thug” enough to be considered a Black rapper. This is a classification that emerged as a result of new inequality that has entered the rap genre as it becomes more integrated. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be white rappers, but rather this obsession with pigeonholing Black vernacular in rap to just one type of sound needs to cease. In Childish Gambino’s song “Backpackers,” he describes himself the way other people in the industry see him:

“that well-spoken token that ain’t been heard
the only white rapper who’s allowed to say the N word.”
Donald Glover in “Bonfire” music video

Gambino is not white. He’s black, but he people in the industry do not associate him with his Black identity because he doesn’t attempt to adopt a sound that is not his.

Somewhere along the way, Hip-Hop became more about edge and less about the content of the message. It became about sales and the more white people, who had potentially never been truly exposed to Black culture firsthand, began to buy the music, the music inevitably had to change. The music had to change from reality to perceived reality. If it didn’t make white, suburban youth feel so grateful to live in suburbia where life is not “rough, ” then the music had not accomplished its purpose. Rap is perceived as deviant — a way to rebel against parents and to hear and learn about topics possibly too taboo to bring up at the family dinner table. The white community finding ways to identify with struggles portrayed in rap music is not a bad a thing. However, it becomes problematic when the point is missed entirety for the sake of identification. Hip-Hop has come to represent “the rebelliousness of youth” rather than the rebelliousness of the individual seeking to perpetuate real change.


Tire marks, tire marks, finish line with the fire marks
When it really starts I’m a runaway slave-master
-Iggy Azaela, D.R.U.G.S.

Iggy Azalea rose to fame in early 2014, with her Grammy-nominated single “Fancy.” In 2014, she won the Grammy for the favorite artist of the year. Her music has been a source of controversy, as she continues to spew racially charged, questionable lyrics. In “Fancy,” Azalea’s display of superiority is pervasive. There’s no humor, nuance, or perspective. She’s just fancy. It’s bland, it’s stale, and it’s uninspired.

It doesn’t take much effort to find words that rhyme with “me” and “good.” Iggy takes a piece of “land” (rap) that doesn’t belong to her and digging in her white flag of privilege. In the context of history, this is colonization. As she adopts a southern twang native to parts of Georgia, like Atlanta, she both stereotypes rap and appropriates it. This is a two-fold endeavor that complicates both her misdemeanor and its effect on Black identity.

Iggy Azalea is a prime example of cultural appropriation within the rap sphere because of the way she uses language, linguistically. Because rap is so heavily rooted in identity, there’s a lot of focus on the way one already talks. By taking on this persona without any real attempt to tackle issues relevant to the community she is “paying homage to,” Azaela enforces an acceptance of already existing black stereotypes without adding anything new.

When attacked by people who say that she is practicing cultural appropriation, Azalea insists that she deserves to be part of Hip-Hop culture. She doesn’t find it strange that she’s a white rapper in a predominantly “black genre.” She states:

“If you go back to the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley and Eminem — they’ve all basically done black music. I felt this wasn’t that far from what we’ve seen in music history over and over again.”

In his webpage “White Rapper FAQ,” Comedian Aamer Raman describes what exactly makes Azalea offensive:

“A white rapper like Iggy Azalea acts out signifiers which the white majority associates with black culture — hyper sexuality, senseless materialism, an obsession with drugs, money and alcohol — as well as adopting clothing, speech and music — as a costume that they can put on and discard at will. It’s a cheap circus act.”
Raman compares Azalea’s perfromance to blackface. 
(Image courtesy of Aamer Rahman)

Azalea is not attempting peaceful coexistence.

The danger, however, is not her (or others like her) mere presence in the industry. It is her failure and refusal to truly understand the context of rap and it’s an easy mistake to make. Rap music and Hip-Hop culture provides easy, instant access to the black community to those who might be far removed either socially, geographically or both. However, despite being in the industry, Azalea (like the suburban youth she sells her music to) manages to maintain a safe distance from the actual culture from which her genre was birthed.

Striking a balance between taking part of a culture that didn’t originate from your community and colonizing that culture can be a challenging endeavor. There is a very clear distinction between “paying homage” to something you admire and culturally appropriating it. The act of paying homage becomes cultural appropriation when a dominant culture attempts to take a subculture entirely for their own devices, leaving nothing for the subculture.

Wanting to take part in a culture that does not belong to you is valid and necessary to fully understanding other human beings. It becomes problematic when there is not attempt to understand others and instead, a sound or a cultural nuance is considered novel and therefore marketable. This is where the true issue lies because this is where inequality is perpetuated. This is how stereotypes evolve from benign to something much more dangerous, of L.A. race riot proportions — where a human being is no longer a human being, but rather a set of preconceived notions that help enforce the dominant culture’s superiority.

Cover Image Credit: mybrownbaby.com

Popular Right Now

18 Ways The Disney College Program Destroys You

"I can only hope we never lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse" - Walt Disney
23636
views

The Disney College Program, three little words that may or may not forever change your perspective of the world. Working for Disney has been my dream since I was a little kid. That’s all I ever wanted to do with my life-- to become a part of the magic. It wasn’t just because it’s Disney World, the most magical place on Earth. It's because I truly admire everything that this company stands for. Disney is all about bringing families and friends together, creating memories that will last a lifetime and sprinkling a little pixie dust over this magical place that I’ve called home for eleven months. I knew all of this when I received that “Congratulations!” email. Excitement rushed through my veins . The world of possibilities had finally opened its door for me. What I didn’t know, was what those possibilities truly meant, until post DCP depression kicked in. It's a real thing my friends.

1. You are always going to be an extremely friendly and approachable person.

No matter where you are or who you are talking to, you can't help to smile. You always carry a welcoming vibe with you, no matter what situation you are placed in. Working for Disney taught you how to have the patience of a Saint when it comes to dealing with people. You learned that the best way to communicate is listening to everyone with an open mind, even if they’re screaming in your face about Test Track being out of FastPasses.

2. You are constantly finding hidden Mickeys in the real world.

Admit it, your mind creates hidden Mickeys out of almost every random three circle formation. You can’t help it. You have Disney on your mind all the time.

3. You are FULL of Disney Park fun facts.

Did you know that there are 11,324 triangles that make up Spaceship Earth?!

You love sharing your vast pool of knowledge of random Disney Park fun facts. Sometimes even when people don't care about it, you just have to talk about all the things you learned as a CP.

4. You also may speak ride spiel.

“We're not gonna make it, we're not gonna make it"- Dinosaur at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

When you work for Disney, you live and breath Disney. You couldn't even count how many times you've been to the park, even just to hub grass and chill or ride the People Mover four times in a row. Those spiels were a part of your everyday life. You know when you are riding Hunted Mansion with a boatload of cast members when everyone in the stretch room whispers, "I am your host, your ghost host". Going to the park almost every day is a part of CP culture. Accidentally referring to ride spells still sometimes slips into your daily conversation. Did you really do the college program if you don't know at least one ride spiel?

5. You constantly feel the need to get down the small child's level and talk to them about their favorite Disney characters.

"Hi Princess! My, you look dashing today, what Kingdom did you travel from?!"

What you would do to get back to the days when you were paid to sit on the ground to talk to a child dressed up as Cinderella. You see a child at your real world job and you feel the need to ask them about the about their favorite Disney movie. You catch yourself accidentally referring to people as princess in the real world, but it instated of the magic it used to produce, they look at you like you’re a crazy person. *sigh*

6. If your friends hear you say, ”So this one time in Disney…" one more time they may punch you in the face.

OMG-- this reminds me of this one time in Disney when...*insert story of an amazing day you and your Disney fam had here.*

You can’t help it, every single day was filled with an adventure during your CP. You want to share your stories with everyone you encounter. It's like word vomit. The second something reminds you of your CP there is no stopping you. Your friends back home may either get really annoyed or end up learning everything you did when you had free access to Disney World.

7. Boy do you miss the days when Mondays were happy.

"We love you Mondays, we do."

For some who were into the social scene, you blankly gaze out your window on a Monday night wondering what county you would have been playing at Son On The Beach. You watch your remaining CP friends' Snapchat stories and think to yourself, "Anzacs VS. Gayllerie!? Ugh, must have been a good game." You miss the days when your only struggle was to make it out of work on time to get to Happy Mondays. Your friends back home wonder how you are so freakishly good at flip cup. It’s a CP thing.

8. 90% of your best friends are long distance.

Skype dates are essential.

You created bonds with people from all over the world during your CP. You celebrated holidays with these people. You spent every single day with them during your time in Florida. Your program would never be as magical if it wasn't for the amazing people you met here. Some of these people turn into your life long best friends-- even if they currently reside 12 hours ahead of you. There isn't a day that goes by that you don’t think about you CP BFFs. When they say you will meet the most amazing people you will ever interact with working for Disney, they were not kidding. These people are even more than friends to you, they are family. If it means staying up till 2AM to Skype with your old roommate, who now lives on the other side of the world, it doesn't even cross your mind how late it is. Catching up with them is always worth it.

9. You probably have roughly 500 "I'm Celebrating" buttons.

"Happy squad-iversary!"

You found every excuse in the book to rock an "I'm Celebrating" button when you and your squad hit the parks. "I'm celebrating ERs" was a great one to sport when you got off work early. The button days were the special days. You could probably fill an entire cork board with all of the buttons you collected over your CP. Thank goodness for that, you'll have a tangible memory of those magical days for a lifetime.

10. The clock strikes 3:00PM and you know the Festival Of Fantasy Parade is strolling out of Frontier Land.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the time has come to take your places” -The Festival Of Fantasy Parade.

You continuously catch yourself looking at the clock around 3PM and feeling a little empty inside. To all the days before work when you watched that parade with your roommates, you were the greatest. You can always spot a cast member as “dreams that glow” blur down Main Street. They are usually the ones dancing along and singing as their favorite floats pass by. What you would do to relive those days.

11. You know a lot about the world and the people it's made up of.

I’d be real keen to learn about your culture over some Maccas, eh.

You know to never tell an Australian their accent sounds like a Kiwi's or visa-versa. You can spot the difference from miles away. You’ve learned the lads from down under are some of the funniest people you’ll ever interact with, and there are in fact, no kangaroos in New Zealand— just wallabies. You know that the people from Spain and Brazil are usually down for some fun and it's always a good time to kick back with your friends from France or The Netherlands. It's true that the Italians are loud and outspoken, in the best way possible. The people from Japan are simply the some of the sweetest. You meet so many people from all over the world and learn so much about their culture. You get more of a feel for all of the greatness the world is made up of than any textbook could ever explain.

12. You could draw a map of Magic Kingdom blindfolded.

“Nearest FastPass kiosk?!” “Down the pathway to the left!

Not only is Disney World your home, but you know every square inch of it. You could still probably give someone directions to the nearest quick service restaurant of your location, from wherever you are currently sitting in the world.

13. Applying for jobs? Disney always makes you stand out.

“Wow, you worked for Disney World? Tell me more about that!”

Your resume stands out among the thousands. Potential employers want to hear about your Disney College Program experience and you are over the moon to share. You tell them about the days where you immersed guests into the theme of your location and all of the magic you made. Working for the number one entertainment company is something to be proud of.

14. You are constantly checking airline prices to reunite with your roommates and get back to the place that started it all.

There is nothing better than reuniting with your Disney family. Your most visited web pages are airlines sites. You count the days where you can rule the parks again with your favorite people by your side. You can't help but to run to them in the middle of MCO with tears in your eyes and magic in your heart, ready to create even more memories together. You know you found forever friends in them, it's never goodbye— it's see ya real soon.

15. You have a strong emotional attachment to certain rides of shows.

"The best part is, you'll never run out of wishes"- Wishes Nighttime Spectacular.

There are some shows and rides that take you right back to the days where Walt Disney World was your usual hang out spot. Some of those shows have so much more meaning to you and the magic you made. You tend to get a little teary eyed watching them when you visit. Even when your CP is over, the magic lives on in your soul.

16. Disney is not just a vacation spot to you, it’s your home.

You feel at ease here. You may have even found who you are and who you aspire to be here. It’s a special place to you that holds so much magic. Going back feels familiar. You never feel like an outsider here. Walt Disney World really is your home and it welcomes you right back every time you return.

17. People who know you before your College Program say you've changed.

You're more outspoken, you are confident in yourself and you carry on with pride. Not to mention your work ethic and customer service skills are outstanding. You believe in things and the people around you. You believe in magic and that's all thanks to the Disney College Program.

18. It was the best 4 months - 1 year of your life and you would do anything to relive just one more day of being a CP.

"While no one knows for sure what we'll see or do. I do know it will be quite an adventure, an adventure that we'll take and make together. See you in the future"- Spaceship Earth.

If you were given the opportunity to put on those extreme high-waisted polyester grandpa pants and that florescent shirt that was probably eight sizes too big for you— you’d do it in a heartbeat. Despite the long hours and blazing sun, sometimes your life felt like a dream. Your time spent working for the mouse will forever be your most magical days, as the Disney College Program was the best opportunity of your entire life.

Cover Image Credit: Dana Saccoccio

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

5 Ways You Can Stop Producing so Much Trash

We produce a lot more trash than you think, until you start paying attention to your actions.

312
views

One of my major goals this year is to do more to save the planet as well as animals. I have already been vegetarian for three years. and I'm plan to stay vegetarian, but I want to have a more plant based diet. As well, I want to start reducing the amount of trash I produce. Not only because I realize just how drastically our trash is affecting wildlife, but also because I think having to take out your trash twice a week is way too much trash!

1. Bring recyclables to a recycling center or reuse them around the home!

Giphy

This is something I want to start doing! I always get take out food and throw away the containers, when I could be using those containers to carry my lunch everyday! Also, I want to start collecting my plastic water bottles and taking them to the recycling center on campus instead of just throwing them away

2. Invest in a reuseable water bottle

Giphy

This would actually fix my water bottle problem. I need to invest in a nice, reuseable water bottle that I can refill, rather than throwing away 3-4 water bottles a day. Amazon has a lot of varieties of these bottles ranging from inexpensive to expensive, cool designs, and even one that holds snacks.

3. Reuseable Straws

Giphy

This is a great addition to your new reuseable water bottle! Like trash, you don't realize how much you use (and throw away) straw, until you actually start to keep count. I thought i didn't use straws at all because I never bought them in my life, but then you go out to eat (straw), you go to Starbucks (straw). Having a glass straw is actually really useful to reduce your trash, in cases when you wish you had a straw but don't, and sanitary purposes. Those straw sitting out at Starbucks, are they really that clean?

4. Donate old/unwanted clothes

Giphy

This is something I already do. I go through my drawers and closet once a year, and just put all the clothes I haven't worn all year, or just don't want into a garbage bag. I'm usually able to fill at least one (gallon) garbage bag with clothes to take to Goodwill!

5. Use actual plates instead of paper plates

Giphy

This is another huge mistake of mine! I hate doing dishes, so I try to buy paper plates to make less dishes, but in the end I'm producing more and more trash! I'm convinced the reason I have to take out my trash so often is because I eat so much! It's time to be a big girl now and start washing my dishes...or start using my dish washer

Related Content

Facebook Comments