Love and Cultural Appropriation

 

As humans we culturally appropriate. It is our unconscious way of honoring other cultures’ greatness. We have been doing this since we began traveling the world and encountering each other. That is how we began mixing cultures, fusing the arts, transporting goods, services, bringing foreign animal and plant species to indigenous lands, blending styles and languages.

What we object to is the colonization, and the subsequent gentrification, marginalization and overall oppression. Of course, this part of the conversation is not new. When we are on equal footing, borrowing from each other feels healthy. But when some of us are locked out while others enjoy our fruits, it becomes extremely problematic.

So when the conversation comes up regarding whites appropriating black culture, there is always a huge element missing.

There has been cultural appropriation going on in this country since the Anglo Saxons landed here and encountered the Native Americans and brought the Africans and Irish here, which has resulted in incredible art forms, style, language, fashion, and others. The cultural majesty we have today has been built upon layers and layers of those before us who laid down our roots.

As black people we have shared our language, culture, style, language, and fashion with this country. It is who we are, to celebrate ourselves in the midst of our happiness and pain, for we, as many others cultures, are a loving people, and every group of people celebrates their love through its culture.

There has been heated debates whether whites should appropriate our culture. There has been a lot of resentment expressed over whites dancing our moves, wearing our hair styles, playing our music, wearing our fashion. The consensus has been that whites take our culture and greatly profit from us, while we still struggle in this free market capitalist economy.

Which may be true at the collective level, but certainly not on an individual level, with Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and other musicians and artists who have made a deservedly substantially living at it. But it is an anthropological fact that the conquerors, or the predominant group of any society will profit from all that is presented, shared, or revealed.

We still remember the pain of black artists during segregation who could perform at great concert halls, supper clubs, restaurants, and other venues, but was not allowed to be patrons – Duke Ellington, Marion Anderson, and the list goes on.

Even today, there is an underlying current of tension that occurs when blacks move into predominantly white neighborhoods, work in predominantly white offices, and populate at predominantly white recreation areas.

There have been studies that have shown that the perceptive percentage of diversity between blacks and whites are significantly different. Blacks feel 30 percent constitutes diversity, while whites feels it is 10 percent.

This is why blacks speak of tokenism; having one or two blacks in a particular societal area, just so that whites can comfortably demonstrate diversity.

This is why cultural appropriation takes such a viscerally painful and divisive tone. Many blacks ask, how can you want what I have to offer, yet you do not want me?

So perhaps the most raw and vulnerable core element of this entire conversation can be formed as a question. Whites love our culture, but do they love us?

If you love me, you will want me around. You will want to me to share in your experiences, in what you have to offer, unconditionally and unequivocally. That is at the very basic individual one on one level.

Thankfully younger generations are pushing back from the old guard’s garbage, and interacting with each other at exponentially more integral levels, and breaking down a lot of the negative isms that have plagued this nation–they are working through their own cultural battles via social media. So there is a hope that much of this will dissipate, and eventually this society can really feel like a melting pot.

It is time for us to have that conversation. We are 350 million people inhabiting this particular piece of real estate. Can we truly and authentically love each other, and can our coexistence be a mathematical equation of love + cultural appropriation?

 

Ron Kipling Williams