Does cultural appropriation in pop music even matter?

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 indignance 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.

taylor swift negative booty

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 socio-economic 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 this is not the first time – I heard this long before I heard one of her over rated songs) 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.

And of course 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. Do 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 but 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.

tweet 1tweet 2

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?


17 thoughts on “Does cultural appropriation in pop music even matter?

  1. I get you, and I agree, on pretty much all of it. I get why it would be annoying and frustrating. But – how come you think it’s ok, and presumably not hypocritical, to make snide racial remarks about Swift et al? “Where there should be an ass,” “whiteness is dull” etc. Personally I just think this brings your whole argument down. Yes, white people have privilege. But should Swift have more ass because you think that’s the right way, as a non-white person? Imagine if a white person wrote this article, talking about how big a black girl’s ass is and saying “blackness is dull”. I just don’t get how you think those kind of comments are ok in any way, or that they don’t perpetuate racism? Massive generalisations about a race as a whole, and picking on a girl because she’s white and therefore doesn’t have the big bum that you prefer?


    1. Maybe my explanation on why “whiteness” is dull wasn’t clear enough, but to clarify – it is not dull because it is in essence dull, but because it is so normalised that it isn’t special.

      As for whether or not Taylor Swift has ass or not, it is really of no importance unless she’s going to try to twerk with it.


  2. Agree with Sophia – a valid argument massively undermined by the snideness of the ass and dull comments. And your response goes no way to rectify it, in my opinion. You say that her ass is of no importance – why did you make a snarky comment about it then? I’m a white girl who – twice – has had black kids shout in the street that I’ve got a ‘flat ass’. I couldn’t really give a damn, tbh, but comments like yours help to perpetuate that idea that one race’s body type is superior to another’s.

    And don’t even get me started on the ‘whiteness is dull because it’s normalised’ argument…


    1. If you think the argument is “massively undermined” by those comments you probably shouldn’t lie and claim that you think the argument is valid at all. Because you don’t. I’m sorry your feelings got hurt because you have a flat ass, but no ones going to shoot you dead for it.


  3. I do actually think your argument is valid. But you’re right, perhaps ‘massively undermined’ was the wrong choice of words. What I meant is that your valid argument about cultural appropriation felt, to me, to be let down by comments that appear to be derogatory to another race.


    1. Well, fair enough. It does read snarky because I am snarky, but I don’t expect you to know that. You can pull me up for body shaming too, I would say that was fair, but you know, it was a personal dig at Taylor Swift not a statement of black bodies being better than white bodies, it literally does not say that anywhere.


  4. I agree that cultural appropriation is endemic and that white people need to stop assuming that being a certain colour is the de facto state of affairs (look at the uproar Rue caused in the hunger games), but at the same time I wonder if sometimes the lines become too blurred and that if every time a white (usually female) person in the public eye it called out for cultural appropriation, then how are we going to break down the barriers between cultures? No one gets mad at Beyonce for appropriation wearing a blonde weave or Rhianna for dressing as a dead Latino gangster, or henna hand tattoos, or dressing as a Geisha, or a Hindu god.


    1. I mean, there’s a whole other debate to be had about why it is primarily females taking the brunt of the criticism, but the thing about Beyonce’s weave comes under whiteness being normalised, and that other can of worms: western beauty ideals and how that can be as “simple” as long blonde hair on a black woman or as complicated as skin lightning products and surgery to appear more white and more acceptable.

      Not sure what the Latino gangster thing is in reference to Rihanna, but as far as I recall she did get criticised for the geisha thing (mainly because it is Japanese culture in relation to a song called Princess of CHINA). Rihanna is a bad example, I think because she plays fast and loose with EVERYTHING, can be incredibly racist and doesn’t give a sliver of a fuck, which you can point fingers at easily from every race and culture and unanimously say “that’s not on”. It’s the grey areas where people are probably well-intentioned from the outset that are troublesome because it’s still not okay, but you run into aggression when you say so.


  5. Finally someone gets it that’s not of color. I applaud you for that because in my experience as a black no one that doesn’t have experience living the life I live would sees cultural appropriations this way. What is hilarious though is the way white women react when it is asserted that their bodies might not be the norm everyone should subscribe to. Someone laughed at you at made a joke about your flat ass, big fucking deal. Black women are told everyday that their physical attributes are not only ugly and undesirable,but make us beneath other women.


    1. Full disclosure, I am mixed race, but that is such an excellent point about what kind of body you should aspire to. I definitely prefer filled out jeans to the alternative, and always assumed that white women’s offence was because they were jealous of not being curvy. The idea that it may actually be because they want their body type to be the aspiration instead has blown my mind.


  6. This is FANTASTIC! This is everything I have been trying to explain to people but have not been able to put quite as articulately – really liked reading this!


  7. I’m white and I believe that Europeans/ White Americans have much more to their own culture than “hot dogs and baseball” that lie outside of enforced cultural norms. Whites do have the potential to develop their own sense of culture without forcing it down others’ throats as was done in the past. So we should build on our own sense of history and culture (the good stuff at least), which would be much more creative and genuine than ripping off and watering down other cultures to our own tastes. But many white kids who have only been exposed to the normative side of White/European culture want to “be black” (or other cultural groups) instead of trying to create something of their own. It seems that pop stars respond to that because that’s what their fan base wants and will make them more money, but artistically it’s crap.


  8. Thank you for crystallizing a matter that has been swirling without a clear handle for a long time. Brilliant work. Thank you again.


  9. Pingback: Gregory Smith

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.