Does cultural appropriation in pop music even matter?
Whiteness is dull, and the only people to blame for that are white people
I know you think cultural appropriation is a new thing, but like “selfies” it has always been around there just wasn’t a ubiquitous term for it. And I know you think it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t, but not for the reasons you think it doesn’t.
You think it doesn’t matter because how dare anyone tell you that you can’t do this, that or the other just because of your race. Oh my god, do you not taste the irony in that statement? It’s overpowering! To complain that you’re not allowed to twerk while white, when there are black people literally being shot dead for jaywalking (while black), listening to music (while black) and knocking on doors (while black) amongst other transgressions that come under the umbrella of “existing (while black)” the sheer audacity of your affronted indignity is almost to be applauded in nervous confusion.
The cultural appropriation debate this week centres on Taylor Swift – the whitest of all white people – who pulled on a hoodrat Halloween costume and ineffectively twitched the part of her body where there should be an ass in front of an assorted bunch of black and white dancers with a little more boom in the back. The presence of the white dancers are important because it allows people who are comfortable with racism but uncomfortable with being called out on it to use the “it’s not racist because there are white dancers too!” defence.
Um… but that’s the whole point of cultural appropriation, you twatmuffins. White people occupying traditionally black (or other race/culture) spaces but not allowing black people (or people of another race/culture) to occupy their spaces in return (or at least not without conditions). And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself where were the black ballerinas in the ballet scene? Oh, that’s right they weren’t there. Probably because the best ballerinas that auditioned on the day coincidentally just happened to all be white – isn’t that how it works?
The thing is, in an increasingly diverse and multi-cultural society, the lines here are going to get blurrier and blurrier. But the problem now, in this day and age, in the socioeconomic and political backdrop we’re living our lives in front of, is that white people are responsible for oppressing “blackness” and then claiming it for their own purposes. And that’s why every time Taylor Swift goes “ghetto” and every time Lana et al dress up in Native American headgear, you get called out on your shit.
Despite not being even close to the worst offender, Katy Perry is the most maligned and most notorious cultural appropriator, and her recent comments about sticking to “hotdogs and baseball” were super revealing mainly because they highlighted how sickeningly boring “white” identifiers are and got to the crux of what I believe is inherently the problem – whiteness is dull, and the only people to blame for that are white people.
You see, when you tell people of a different race or culture that they must walk, talk and act like you in order to work in the same jobs and shop in the same stores and use the same toilets, when you make “white” and “white” identifiers the default, you normalise white identity to the point that you just cannot be innovative or creative or interesting without stealing or borrowing from the very races and cultures you have oppressed.
What people fail to remember when there is an outcry about people just appreciating headdresses (and by fail to remember, I mean, selectively forget) is that the people who originated these traditions are not allowed to freely express themselves in the way white people are. The Native Americans were slaughtered in their thousands, denied their rights to their own land, stripped of their right to practice their own religions and their children were shipped off to boarding school to learn among the “civilised”. Do you think Native Americans were allowed to just stroll the streets of the new America, in their moccasins and feather garb? No, they were forced to wear suits and make nice with the white people and show up to church on Sundays. So you understand how galling it must be, then, to see the children of their oppressors dancing around half naked at festivals wearing the very items they themselves were prohibited from.
Or what about Taylor, in her appreciative hi-tops, snapback and grill, looking like she stepped off a stoop in Harlem. #IfTheyGunnedHerDown what image do you think they would use of Taylor? Indeed, if she went out dressed like that to live her everyday life, do you think they would gun her down at all, no matter her transgressions? It is an insult to claim that this is “just fun” when it is not fun for the people who cannot get ahead no matter how “white” they try to be to fit in. Read Ronan Farrow’s poorly-worded by well-intentioned comments about “black motheritis” to get a sense of how what, for white popstars, is “fun and appreciation” can, for black people, be the difference between being killed for existing or living another day.
Look, I know you don’t like it. I know you think it’s unfair. Why should Native Americans get the monopoly of feathered headdresses? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to twerk, or wear a kimono, or call myself a sassy, black woman or do whatever else the fuck I want. We’re all people and I don’t see colour and racism doesn’t exist anymore and blah blah blah. And to an extent I agree. I think that it’s bullshit to have to uphold values or beliefs (religious, spiritual or otherwise) that are not my own. I think it’s tedious that our lives are affected to this degree by our parents and grandparent’s mistakes. I hate that we can’t just all bake a cake of rainbows and smiles and all eat it and be happy. But, as much as I like to occupy an ideological space that doesn’t take into account the historical, structural weight behind the issue, the real world doesn’t work like that. There is too much hurt and anger on one side and too much ignorance on the other for us all to let bygones be bygones. Until there is equality, there will be no equality, ya dig?
So, all told, the answer to the question is no. Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Lily, Lana even Miley and Justin who are “living black” now, they’re not the problem, they’re a symptom of. And to this end, cultural appropriation in pop music doesn’t matter, because with or without it, the bullshit would still exist. BUT, and this is the big question you need to sit down and ask yourself, when you get all worked up defending your fave: when they have so much on their plate and a buffet table of privilege at their disposal, why exactly is it so important for them to eat from everyone else’s plate too?