Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 5:52 AM

Calling BS on ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Social media platforms are replete with people venting outrage. And nothing commands coverage in mainstream media these days quite like an outrage going viral on social media.

Except that such outrage often stems from little more than human herds banging out ignorant snark on their smart phones. Only this explains the viral outrage among black women over white women wearing braids.

Kim Kardashian is under fire for cultural appropriation yet again [for wearing] her hair in bead-adorned braids that resemble Fulani-style braids. Kardashian credited actress Bo Derek, who is white, for the traditionally black hairstyle.

(Huffington Post, January 30, 2018)

As best as I can tell, cultural appropriation is a bastardization of political correctness (even with all of its faux outrages). This spawn has members of one group calling out “influencers” from another group for incorporating anything in their style, speech, food, clothes, customs, etc., which members of the offended group deem an intrinsic part of their culture.

For example, black Americans might deem Fergie trying to sing like Aretha – for her cringeworthy rendition of the National Anthem at last week’s NBA All-Star Game – a form of cultural appropriation. And Indians might deem Gigi Hadid wearing a bindi – to look “exotic” at a music festival – the same.

But, trust me, I doubt the vast majority of blacks accusing Kardashian can even spell Fulani, let alone tell you anything about Fulani culture. Never mind the likelihood that the Fulani people culturally appropriated this hairstyle from the Hausa people. After all, anyone who knows anything about African history knows that warfare and commerce among ethnic groups led to all kinds of “cultural absorption” between them.

Incidentally, it is particularly dismaying that blacks are wallowing in this kind of cultural tomfoolery during “Black History Month.” Historian Carter G. Woodson must be rolling over in his grave. After all, he fought to set aside this period (originally for one week, now for one month) for national reflection on the achievements of black folks.

The point is that, unless the alleged offender’s intent is to offend (and we can always tell), all claims or charges of cultural appropriation is bullshit.

Which brings me back to Kim. Arguably, she has as much license as any white woman ever could to appropriate black culture. But there are many other reasons why this outrage over her wearing braids is just acculturated nonsense. I’ll give just two:

  1. Kardashian has just cause to credit Bo Derek because Derek was the first (in the late 1970s) to make braids fashionable among white women; and
  2. Bo Derek was as entitled to wear “black braids” as Nicki Minaj is to wear “white wigs.”

This second point should also compel you to wonder about the “cultural appropriation” of black women bleaching their skin to look white. Not to mention the curious fact that, evidently, white women couldn’t care less about this, or about black women wearing “white hair.”

Meanwhile, I can think of 99 problems black Americans face, but cultural appropriation ain’t one. This is why I’ve been trying to disabuse blacks of this misguided outrage for years.

Most notably, I chastised no less a person than director Spike Lee. This, after he made quite a show of criticizing Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood for culturally appropriating the black American experience.

It hardly mattered to Lee that they directed two of the best films ever made about that experience in The Color Purple and Bird, respectively. I took him to the woodshed in “Spike Lee vs. Clint Eastwood Over No Blacks in War Movies,” June 10, 2010.

But here is how I called out the hypocrisy inherent in the cultural policing at issue in “No Blacks Please, We’re Fashionistas,” June 15, 2011.

____________________

For starters, black women can stop covering up their natural hair with wigs made of white women’s hair. Indeed, why should white fashionistas hire black models to appeal to black women who just want to look white? I find nothing more unattractive and pathetic than a black woman sporting a long, blond wig.

On the other hand, if these women exhibited more pride in their ethnicity, their purchasing power would compel the arbiters and gatekeepers of fashion to feature women who look like them (even with nappy hair and dark skin) in magazines and on the runways.

____________________

Apropos of which, Kardashian is gracing the March 2018 cover of Vogue India. And you can bet your life savings she’s on there only because the publisher knows that millions of skin-bleaching Indian women aspire to look like her (and other whites like Jennifer Aniston and Blake Lively – both of whom have been Vogue India cover girls). The mercenary expectation is that Indian women will buy up this issue like kids buying up the latest edition of the Harry Potter fairy tales. How’s that for cultural appropriation?

That said, I regret that I’ve had so little impact on this craze. That black women are accusing Kardashian of committing this faux cultural crime is Exhibit A in this respect.

This is why I am so heartened that George Clinton is now trying to disabuse blacks of any pretension of cultural purity. Because I can think of nobody better positioned to do so than this founder of Parliament-Funkadelic and composer of its One Nation Under a Groove soundtrack for life.

Here is how he dismissed all claims of exclusive rights to cultural styles, speech, food, clothes, customs, etc. in the February 23, 2018, edition of Rolling Stone:

I’d bite off the Beatles, or anybody else. It’s all one world, one planet and one groove. You’re supposed to learn from each other, blend [with] each other, and it moves around like that.

We got to get over this shit.

Drop the mic!

It only remains for me to clarify that blending with, or even appropriating from, other cultures does not give license to use intellectual property without compensation. White singer Robin Thicke learned this the costly way when he blurred the lines between his one hit song and one of Marvin Gaye’s.

You probably recall the nasty, yearlong litigation Gaye’s heirs trigged when they sued Pharrell and Robin Thicke for plagiarizing the riff for their 2013 hit ‘Blurred Lines’ from Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got to Give It Up.’ A Los Angeles jury awarded Gaye’s estate $7.4 million in damages just two months ago.

(“First Marvin Gaye’s Tune, Now Pharrell Is Singing Mine,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 15, 2015)

I supported Gaye’s heirs in this case because you don’t get over that kind of shit. You get paid for it.

Related commentaries:
Spike vs Clint
no blacks please
First Marvin

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