Amandla Stenberg’s viral tumblr video has lately been a hot topic online. Stenberg went on to explain cultural appropriation and did a brilliant job for sure. The young Hunger Games actress identified Black hair and it’s link to Black identity which she then linked to Hip Hop and rap culture. Stenberg expressed, how more and more White musicians have been adopting Black culture in an attempt to remain “edgy and gaining attention” . The actress gave example of Miley Cyrus’s latest twerking trend and using Black women on stage and in videos as props. Furthermore, the famous White female rapper Iggy Azalea despite being from Australia uses a Southern American accent whilst rapping once again implying connections to Black Culture and Hip Hop. Cryus and Azalea are not the only White icons who have been adopting Black Culture, the list really does go on and Stenberg did an applaudable job breaking cultural appropriation down.
The viral video got me thinking myself and to some extent I understood why so many Black youths feel frustrated by the media’s attitude towards Black culture and identity. Azealia Banks who publicly criticised Iggy Azalea’s approach to music explained at a recent interview why she feels so emotionally drained by people like Azalea who adopt Black culture just to stay relevant. She said: “I feel just like in this country whenever it comes to our things – like black issues or black politics or black music or whatever – there’s this undercurrent of kinda like a ‘fuck you”. Banks described White icons who use Black culture to make sales as the process “Cultural Smudging” where a White icon takes the work of a Black icon makes a few changes and claims the work to be its own. Banks further went on to explain that the message to White kids from the media is “is, ‘You’re great. You’re amazing. You can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to black kids, ‘You don’t have shit. You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created yourself.’
There’s something deeply troubling and heartbreaking about Bank’s statement, perhaps it is because it is uncomfortably the raw truth. Young people from ethnic minorities have every right to feel frustrated but unfortunately if this frustration is stimulated in a form of a protest, they then must experience police brutality which is then dubbed by the media as “violent protesters attack police”. Banks also noted how the same White musicians who adopt Black culture in music videos to make sales fail to speak out against Black victimisation and specifically police brutality against Black individuals. There is no doubt Banks and many others feel let down and simply pissed off at the media’s attitude. Stenberg made a deeply thought provoking statement where she concluded , “What would America be like if it loved black people as much as it loves black culture?”
This “pick and choose” attitude that White celebs take on when adopting Black culture is disturbing, insensitive and selfish. It really does reinforce how not much has changed. Empowered White individuals are stealing bits and pieces of Black identity and creating new labels such as “Urban Style”. For example, cornrows is referred as an urban style which was heavily used is fashion magazines in the early 2000’s of course only styled by White models . By urban they also mean blonde hair blued eyed musicians having African styled hair in music videos to “look cool” and adopting the same Hip Hop mannerisms. Examining and understanding Black culture and cultural appropriation within the media leaves me feeling let down and implies we haven’t really progressed at all. Just found more smarter ways to blend and disguise racism.