Cultural Appropriation discussed

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Cultural appropriation has been the topic of contention among many people, especially some African Americans who feel it is disrespectful and exploitative when African American traits and attire are displayed by high profile Whites. The mere fact that displaying noted cultural features or dress of another race or ethnic group can be insulting and offensive. It speaks to the hostile climate attributed to the racial divide apparent in this country.

It goes without saying that displaying another person’s clothing or hairstyle should be a` form of flattery and admiration. But considering the volatile and horrific history of Blacks in this country, you may understand why some African Americans may feel cultural appropriation by some Whites is a slap in their face. This may be attributed to the embracing and acceptance of a recognized culturally Black feature or trait. When showcased by a White person it receives more attention than when exhibited by Blacks—especially traits once considered taboo or taught as belittling by Whites seeking to oppress Blacks.

One must understand that historically in this country, Blacks were considered less than human with no soul or redeeming or respectable attributes. In fact, everything about Blacks was dehumanized, belittled and taught to be as atrocious and hideous.

This included basic Black features such as dark skin, big lips, nappy hair, clothing and even their intellect. Of course, we know now that trivializing the worth, beauty and intellect of African Americans was used by oppressive Whites to keep Blacks from uniting and progressing.

Make no mistake, some Whites have always known the greatness of Blacks, fearing their competitive nature. But what everyone should know is that you can’t deny their destiny. Cream will always rise to the top, so it is understandable that regardless of what race or ethnicity you may be, your beauty and positive attributes cannot be trivialized, hidden, or compromised.

We have a generation of young people who seek to embrace diversity and can personally see the beauty of others (especially of other races) without bias or pressure by a sometimes racially bias uncompromising older generation. More than often, young people see cultural appropriation as a way of saying or expressing that something is cool.

While imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery, this is not always the case when you have Whites being highlighted, admired and catapulted to national attention using styles that were (for the most part) ignored or not given much attention when manifested by Blacks. There have been some Whites who have stolen, imitated, or utilized art forms or styles synonymous to the Black culture to gain notable recognition among their fan base—coming across as a special or unique novelty.

All too often, the White person manifesting someone else’s cultural traits as it may relate to physical features (hair, lips, clothing, dance style, music, food, etc.) gets recognition as setting or initiating a trend. Of course one can see how some Blacks may feel slighted when it takes a White person to bring validity or national attention or acceptance to a facet of their cultural observance that was sometimes looked upon as belittling or as taboo by the older generation.

There is another view that could be entertained. Some Blacks see that it is appropriate for some educated and conscientious Whites to proudly display things representative of the Black culture because they personally find it beautiful, interesting and inclusive. You are not going to find any legitimate art lovers who don’t appreciate Black art or have a defining piece of Black art in their home. True art lovers or collectors seem to be taken away with African attire, dance, and art—sometimes more than some African Americans.

Isn’t this where we want to be in this place and time in which we can truly embrace and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness everyone brings to the tapestry of all those making up this country? Let’s not be so naïve as to believe that all Whites accept the physical features, art forms or cultural practices of Blacks. But let’s applaud and continue to encourage those who do.

Whether you agree with cultural appropriation or not, one must acknowledge that it highlights what we know is the unquestionable uniqueness of a culture.
For the most part, that is usually a plus.