Do you have to be black to partake in black culture? This has been the most asked question when faced with the accusation of cultural appropriation. While many might dismiss this issue as simply honoring another culture, it becomes a problem when such styles and art forms are seemingly revived and capitalized off of by whites, consequently contributing to stereotypes. Cultural appropriation is like plagiarism, and is abundant in popular culture today.
While dashikis originated in West Africa, they become a stylish commoditiy for the fashion industry.
According to Amandla Stenberg and other activists, white people are capitalizing off of what blacks created and even surpassing black achievements. For example, in J. Cole‘s 2014 Forest Hill Album, he discusses white privilege and white appropriation in his song “Fire Squad:”
History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes
Same way that these rappers always bite each others flows
Same thing that my nigga Elvis did with Rock n Roll
Justin Timberlake, Eminem and then Macklemore
While silly niggas argue over who gon’ snatch the crown
Look around, my nigga, white people have snatched the sound
This year I’ll prolly go to the awards dappered down
Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile
I’m just playin’, but all good jokes contain true shit
Same rope you climb up on, they’ll hang you with
In addition, whites are doing so while encouraging ignorant stereotypes. According to Stenberg’s 2015 Instagram post, she shines light on the double standard regarding black women and beauty. Originally a response to Kylie Jenner’s cornrows, Stenberg’s words apply to all cases of black cultural appropriation.
Black culture plays a major role in white identity and popular culture. “Much of what America has presented as uniquely American – music, dance, fashion, spirituality… – was uniquely African- American in origins” (Soul Thieves, 2). In a recent 2015 Allure Magazine article, white women were provided a tutorial to achieve the trendy afro look.
Similarly, with the Kylie Jenner Challenge, we see efforts to enhance lip size. Not to mention, Miley Cyrus twerks. How is it that when Nicki Minaj twerks, it secular and vulgar, but when Miley twerks it is a new movement?
In a world where black culture is valued more than black people, we see a development in black movements. Black Lives Matter, Black Women Are Gorgeous Hashtag, and Black Girls Rock are all attempts of redefining what it means to be black. Black people are taking back their identity while white people are losing theirs. Movements like these are not meant to compare black lives to others or recognize black lives as more important than others, but were created to affirm black lives and black beauty.
America wouldn’t be half the country it is now without African American influence. And although black appropriation is rich in pop culture, it happens across all domains.