Monday, December 22, 2014

The concept of "Cultural Appropriation" is both false and harmful

So... The subject of "cultural appropriation" is coming up again, this time in regards to Iggy Azalea (born Amethyst Amelia Kelly), a young, extremely white, woman from Australia, who spent the last 7-ish years in the American south (mostly Atlanta); who raps in a "dirty south" style and accent, common to black rappers from Houston to Atlanta.

If you're unfamiliar with the concept of "cultural appropriation" here's a definition (from wikipedia):
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, specifically the use by cultural outsiders of a minority, oppressed culture's symbols or other cultural elements. It differs from acculturation or assimilation in that cultural "appropriation" or "misappropriation" refers to the adoption of these cultural elements, taken from minority cultures by members of the dominant culture, and then using these elements outside of their original cultural context.
Cultural appropriation, is often taken to be an act of racism, or at best racial insensitivity or intolerance, and in some cases, this can be a valid interpretation... SOME cases.

To be clear, Iggy Azalea doesn't claim to be black, pretend to be black, doesn't "act black" (whatever that's supposed to mean) in her normal speech, accent, or mannerisms etc... She simply raps in a style commonly used by black rappers.

Here's a video of her biggest hit to date "Fancy"(which hit number one earlier this year):

Overall, there is outrage, among the easily outraged, that a white woman is "acting black", and that this is racist, disrespectful, and cultural appropriation. Also, that she is racially insensitive... even stupid... And that in general, she sucks.

While I don't disagree that Iggy Azaelea sucks (actually, she's quite capable as a performer... she sucks on purpose, because it makes her... and her producers who really run the show... a lot of money), I hold the entire concept of "cultural appropriation" as a negative thing... or even as a thing... as not only false, but harmful.

If it was done mockingly, or deceptively, sure... but we're talking about a performance style, not someone actually passing themselves off as a different race.

More importantly, nothing is being STOLEN... You can't steal a cultural identity, or a performance style, or a form of artistic impression.

She isn't copying anyone in particular, she isn't plagiarizing, and she isn't stopping black people from rapping in the same way, or making money doing so.

No race "owns" any type or style of art. Just because someone of one race chooses to create or perform a style of art most commonly created or performed by another race, does not invalidate that art, or make it racist.

To suggest otherwise is to suppress freedom of expression.

It is also to suggest that Nat King Cole, Charlie Pride, and Harry Belafonte were illegitimate... or that the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds... Yeah, I could go on, about both sides... for hours.

I personally sing blues and soul. I love the music, it moves me, and I sing it very passionately, and well, with a great deal of emotion and expression...

If I preform this music as it is intended to be performed... or at all... Is that racist cultural appropriation?

I love Indian, and Mexican food... is it racist cultural appropriation if I cook and serve these foods in a restaurant?

Or is that just ridiculous?

Now... to criticize Iggy Azalea for racial and cultural stupidity... I'm right there with you.

But the whole cultural appropriation concept... or the notion that it somehow diminishes anyone or disrespects anyone... really needs to die.