The kids are at it again, Amandla Stenberg (the actress who played Rue in ‘The Hunger Games’) accused Kylie Jenner of black appropriation because Kylie Jenner uploaded a picture of herself with cornrows and liberal use of bronzer. These kids are not even out of their teens and they get into a debate about cultural appropriation. Oh dear.
These public and nasty rows about cultural appropriation (usually black culture) carried out mostly on social media is a rather new phenomenon. I came of age when hip hop went from underground street music to mainstream music and the word ‘appropriation’ was hardly uttered. There were many white artists of all genres who are huge fans of hip hop and has done many collaborations with hip hop artists, the most memorable being Run DMC collaborating with Aerosmith for a remake of the Aerosmith song ‘Walk this Way’, which paved the way other genres to collaborate with hip hop. The white artists who collaborated with hip hop artists showed nothing but deference to the artistry of hip hop and no one ‘appropriated’ anything. There have been thousands of hip hop and non-hip hop collaborations since and now any such collaboration is almost a sure fire hit.
However, the tide begun to change when white people became rappers themselves and became huge successes, the one that comes to my mind is Eminem or aka Marshall Mathers III, he was a white rapper from Detroit but I suppose he hung with a black ‘crew’ and was a protege of Dr. Dre and subsequently used his fame, fortune and influence to bring to prominence other black hip hop artists (most notably 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks and others) so he was viewed on kindly by the black and hip hop community as someone who didn’t only ‘appropriate’ their art form and not give back to black people. The fact that he is a raging misogynist who fantasizes about raping and killing his wife and then putting her body in the back of his trunk and dumping her somewhere seems to be all right with everyone and explained away as ‘artistic expression’. Russell Simmons calls him (and all rappers) ‘poet(s)’ and poets’ voices should never be stifled no matter how offensive the content, everything that comes out of a rapper’s mouth is ‘art’ in its most raw form. So if stringing together sentences laced with the f-bomb and throw in ‘bitch’, ‘hoe’, ‘money’, ‘ice’ here and there, that makes you a poet. Oh dear, I think John Keats just turned over in his grave. The poetry section of English departments should just close up shop and go home, there’s no need to teach poetry anymore.
Macklemore and Lewis got a pass for the cultural appropriation accusation simply because they spend half their time apologizing for their success and how unfair it is for black hip hop artists who are better than they at their craft to not see their level of success. What a bunch of baloney and very disingenuous, the record company saw a hit, promoted them and they ran with it, that’s how they got successful, that’s how everyone gets successful. One would think that imitation is the highest form of flattery…unless money and accolades are exchanged in the wrong direction.
(Sarcasm) To Eminem’s credit, he is after all not like that odious Iggy Azalea, a lily white Australian girl rapping in a southern accent and appropriating black culture to her personal benefit and didn’t give one red cent to back black causes or bring attention to black issues, she just took and took from the black culture and never gave back. But at least Iggy Azalea speaks in her native Australian accent, doesn’t pretend to be black (cue Eminem), she raps in southern accent probably because it’s weird to rap with an Australian accent? I don’t know, I am not well versed enough with hip hop nor am I a fan to know these subtle nuances. Should Iggy Azalea post a photo of herself on Instagram or Twitter tomorrow wearing cornrows with heavy application of bronzer, I can imagine the kind of shit that would hit the fan. She’s already been accused of everything in the book.
Let’s turn this argument on its ear and say what if a white person or black person decided to wear the traditional Chinese Qing Dynasty dress (the qipao) or the Japanese Kimono and added their own twist to it, would they be appropriating traditional Chinese and Japanese culture and not giving it proper reference? Or what if a non-Asian person decided to do slanty eye makeup to look like Chinese or Japanese women dressed up in their traditional garb, is that racist appropriation or just admiring another culture’s aesthetics? Where does cultural appreciation and admiration begin and when does it become ‘appropriation’ whereby due credit isn’t given? And when did little girls decide what is culturally appropriated and what isn’t?
So it’s acceptable to like rap music, emulate the styles of hip hop artists, purchase rap music and all the other consumer goods associated with hip hop but you can’t become a rapper if you aren’t the right sort? What about jazz, blues and rock and roll music, they were all pioneered by black people too and appropriated to the maximum benefit by white people, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, I can go on and on, they all said their musical influences came from black people and their music, where are those ‘cultural appropriation’ accusations?
Put your poison fingers down, you’ve hardly had enough education or life experience to even know what ‘cultural appropriation’ really means. Amandla Stenberg should leave Kylie Jenner alone. She’s not appropriating anything, she’s experimenting a new look like she does everyday and yesterday, it was cornrows with heavy application of bronzer, tomorrow it may be a Demi Moore like buzz cut like when she was in ‘GI Jane’, who the heck knows, she’s 17 years old, she may look back at this when she’s 27 and be totally aghast she inflated her lips three times its original size, wore 8 lbs of makeup everyday and spent an ungodly amount of time in front of a mirror taking selfies. Whatever she is doing, it isn’t cultural appropriation of any kind, just teenage silliness and self-importance, which she’s entitled to do.