Growing up in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood has been an experience I would never want to trade for any other. Yet from a young age, the media has indoctrinated me and many of my friends with the idea that being raised in our great culture makes us less than white society because of how we talk, dress and what we enjoy to do in our free time— because we are less white. Recent events in the media have made me think deeply on the current status minorities, specifically my black friends, hold within America.
The bewildering rise of white rappers and the cornrow controversy are both incidents that have brought an important question to America’s attention: is cultural appropriation wrong?
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of another culture without permission and/or understanding.
Many people have argued against the idea of cultural appropriation and claimed that they are justified for wearing, dressing and/or listening to what they want because it is their right to do so.
This claim seems reasonable at first, but loses credibility as soon as the wearer fails to acknowledge the cultural context of his or her actions. Pop stars Iggy Azalea and Kesha are allowed to make cornrows a fashion statement, yet a girl living in the inner city is forced to assimilate by changing her natural hair because of the judgment she receives. This discrepancy expresses both the inequality of cultural appropriation and the justification for criticism.
Deep inside the roots of the cause of this inequality lies the white supremacy within the United States. The fact that white people can get away with wearing a certain black hairstyle without being looked down on demonstrates the white privilege created by a self-perpetuating system of oppression.
16 year old junior and East Palo Alto resident, Taelor Foster, shared her opinion on being an African-American, exploited from her culture:
“It is sad how these famous people are not being chastised for their actions because they are pretty much supporting the oppression against us blacks in America. These celebrities have the outlets to educate people about different cultures and teach them how to respect something before they hurt some people’s feelings.”
Minorities across the nation feel a pressure to assimilate to white culture in order to feel comfortable. “There have been times where I feel embarrassed to wear my natural hair because of all of the looks I get. I believe that appropriating culture without actually respecting it only continues the practice of stereotypes against minorities,” stated Foster.
A big misconception about those against cultural appropriation is the idea that minorities do not want to share their culture with whites. There is a clear difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation; in order to use someone else’s culture without harming them, one should be educated and know what about the meaning of their actions.
One of the first main steps in order to truly appreciate culture is to engage with the black community, or any other minority community, and listen, because that is one way we can communicate about how a group feels and know what is wrong and right. Foster shared, “I definitely want to share my culture to the rest of America, but in order for these people to truly appreciate it, they should know the origins of my culture.”
Lastly, getting defensive over appropriating someone’s culture and saying that minorities are oversensitive only demonstrates the ongoing attempts to shut down minorities and to extend the power of white privilege. Foster added, “The fact that some whites are supporting the actions of many of these artists is sad to me because it shows how white America is still trying to keep minorities inferior to them.”
It is hard for some whites to understand why minorities are bothered because they have not gone through the same oppression beginning at a young age. Foster added, “Some whites will never understand what it’s like to really be black in America. Most of the people saying that we are being oversensitive are just showing how ignorant people can be.”