Racism Doesn’t Work Both Ways and Neither Does Cultural Appropriation
Sometimes people ask me really moronic questions. One that I get all the time is, “But, but, on your blog, aren’t you racist against white people though? Because you say some really bad things about us.” Short answer: no. I can’t be racist because I’m not…well…white. And, I also can’t – as a recent troll implied – “appropriate white ‘culture’.” Why? Well, because when a racial group decides their normative choices are “respectable” thus setting their lifestyle as the best way for everyone else to live, they don’t get to play “backsies” when others emulate them. Cultural appropriation is wholly different from taking on presumably respectable behaviors to garner material or social benefits. It isn’t a game of backsies and it is most definitely used to demean, undermine, and disadvantage minority groups in society.
There is no such thing as reverse racism. Comedian and friend of the blog, Aamer Rahman, handled that in his viral comedy routine some time ago. In summary, because minority groups don’t have inter-generational privilege we can wield against whites (thereby limiting their possible wealth, educational, employment, and/or environmental outcomes), we really have no way of being racist against them. Racism requires power. Without it negative racial feelings might be discriminatory but they certainly aren’t racist. Any racial animus held by minority groups toward whites cannot be set apart on its own as an initial offense because we have already experienced centuries of targeted racial oppression from whites. So, the point of reverse racism is moot.
Now, cultural appropriation is the act of taking the very physical, mental, or social features of a minority group which are used to belittle, mischaracterize, and otherwise isolate them and embody those features for personal social entertainment or monetary gain. When Katy Perry – a white girl from Santa Barbara – dons bejeweled grill pieces, long fake nails, and gelled down ‘baby hairs’ to promote her new video for the song ‘How We Do,’ she isn’t appreciating ‘black culture’. She can’t be because she only features stark stereotypes of black women in her imagery. In the new video, while satirizing black women, she answers a phone call from her friend “Jessica Thot” or “Jessica That Ho Over There.” The term”THOT” is extremely demeaning to black women and has been used by street harassers seeking to devalue black women’s bodies. Surely Perry knows that.
Similarly, when Miley Cyrus danced around with hypersexualized black women, put on a ‘Blaccent,’ and promoted illegal drug use as a means of having fun, she wasn’t showing how cool it is to be black. She was showing how limited her view of black humanity is. Both artists – though Iggy Azalea, Justin Bieber, Macklemore, and a host of others could be slotted in to make this point – play on the worst stereotypes of black people to make a mockery of actual human beings. By wearing us as promotional costumes or draping us across their shoulders like feathered boas, they fetishize black bodies and make us into novelties for white consumption.
Minority groups can mock white people. They can mimic dominant culture. They can even completely assimilate into “respectable behavior” if they so choose. There are levels of social benefits and costs to doing so. But, minority groups will never be able to appropriate ‘white culture’ in a way that is harmful or damaging to whites in the aggregate. White complexity is never denied nor questioned while minority group identities are countered with dangerous and even deadly caricatures.
For example, making fun of President George W. Bush won’t undermine the accomplishments of every white male president this country has ever had. Why? Because we have 42 others to compare to. But, in the case of slain black teens, the overwhelming social narrative mischaracterizes them as “thugs,” and “gangbangers.” An entire Southern California high school cheer squad was recently pictured posing as gang members with pregnant bellies, sagging pants, and turf signs for “team building activities.” This notion about the black identity has been at least partly responsible for the onslaught of shooting deaths in black communities by police authorities. To deny that fact is to gloss over how powerful this imagery truly is.
On the whole, there seems to be a deep misunderstanding regarding how dangerous appropriation is. What whites in black face (which you don’t have to wear to appropriate black culture) call harmless fun, black folks call a further stripping of our humanity. Cultural apropriation empowers racial animus against minority groups. It emboldens law enforcement looking for the ‘suspect.’ And, it mentally indexes the black identity as violent, ominous, and inherently dangerous.
Cultural appropriation doesn’t work both ways which should make it that much easier to do away with altogether (ahem, white people).
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