By Jenifer Valmon
There has been an increasing interest in the topic of cultural appropriation lately, especially when it comes to Hip Hop/Black culture and style.
Cultural appropriation has been used to describe artists like Miley Cyrus, taking a culture such as Hip Hop and exploiting it for it’s monetary value, without regard to it’s history or significance.
“White America” has been accused of “stealing” black culture, starting before Elvis Presley’s hip-thrusting Rock and Roll and beyond Madonna’s gold fronts phase.
Accusers often claim to be offended by the imitations of Hip Hop/Black culture and regard it as ridicule and or exploitation. One of the most notorious accusers is the always-controversial Hip Hop artist and Harlem native, Azealia Banks, who is more famous for her numerous twitter battles (her most memorable, the feud with Iggy Azalea fueled by the same topic) than for her music.
Banks was interviewed by the Ebro on the Morning Show on New York’s Hot 97, Hip Hop radio station on Dec. 18, 2014.
“It’s like a cultural smudging, it’s what I see, They’re [the media] trying to erase us,” said Banks regarding the white washing of Hip Hop by the mainstream media.
Banks was also discontent about Iggy Azalea being nominated for a Grammy for best Hip Hop album of the year, reasoning that there are plenty of Black female artists who deserved the honors more.
She has also been criticized for her interpretation of Hip Hop style as the bottom heavy, stereotypical, voluptuous woman; aka Nicki Minaj.
“She is trying to bring things we do in our culture everyday […] like the barrettes and even the attire that were conceived as ghetto and make it popular,” said Howard D. Borden, president of John Jay College Radio about Azalea.
Grammy nominations for Azalea did not sit well with other Hip Hop lovers. They accuse Azalea of making a mockery of what is truly Hip Hop with her Popish songs and her unauthentic southern accent.
Not everyone agrees that White, or non-Black artists, adopting Hip Hop culture is the problem. It could be the lack of support coming from the same community claiming to be victimized.
“Show me the last Hip Hop album you bought,” said DJ Super Agent Dre, radio personality for Extreme 104 FM.
Dre believes that those complaining about cultural appropriation are often not supporting the artist they believe should be recognized. He argues that Black Hip Hop artists are the most listened to but their record sales do not reflect this fact.
This issue is not exclusive to Hip Hop culture. Dove started the “Love Your Curls Campaign” this month with the launch of their new hair care products aimed at women with curly hair.
The campaign is supposed to help girls with curly hair raise their self-esteem and love their curls but Kinsey Clarke’s piece, “The Problem with Dove’s ‘Love Your Curls” Campaign”, posted on TheHarriet.com on Feb. 16, says Dove is failing.
“It is appropriating so much of the black women’s natural hair movement, without placing black women at the center of the campaign,” stated Clarke. “This wouldn’t be an issue if the commercials didn’t focus primarily on white and mixed-race black girls, who already possess socially accepted curl textures,”
Clarke also accuses Dove of “stealing” the hair care practices that Black women have created to maintain their natural hair, to turn a profit from the natural hair movement.
“In appropriating the hair care practices black women have created for ourselves, we are being told by corporations that our methods are brilliant, but that we are not – and as an extension, our hair is not either […] again we are excluded from the market that steals its ideas from us”, stated Clarke.
It seems like capitalism plays a large part in the appropriation of other cultures by the masses. This can be seen in the translation of fashion trends every season. Perhaps one of the most memorable examples is the Timberland (a highly Hip Hop affiliated shoe company) inspired Manolo Blahnik work boot (valued at $1050 in 2011), worn by JLo in her Jenny From the Block video.
Other methods are the reinterpretations of Navajo and African prints on mass-produced clothing with no reverence to their origin.
John McWhorter, writer of “You Can’t ‘Steal’ a Culture: In Defense of Cultural Appropriation”, believes, “the concept of cultural appropriation has morphed into a parody of the original idea. We are now to get angry simply when whites happily imitate something that minorities do.”
In his article posted on TheDailyBeast.com, on July 15, 2014, McWhorter argues to the fact that the world is a melting pot of appropriations that created the culture we live in now.
“The very faculty of language is, to a large extent, a matter of imitation. The idea that when we imitate something we are seeking to replace it rather than join it is weak. Think about it: Does that even make sense?” stated McWhorter.
Ultimately, cultural appropriation is never going to stop, according to McWhorter. If it will ever stop being appropriation and just be American culture is yet to be seen but Dre is correct about Hip Hop, in that “it’s a multicultural thing.”