Cultural appropriation is a familiar phrase to our contemporary society. It’s use perhaps became most prevalent in the rise of rapper Iggy Azalea, and Miley Cyrus’ 2013 VMA performance. In a stream of consciousness, actress Amandla Stenberg made the short Youtube film “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows” that gives a brief overview of how Nubian culture was nuanced out of its native sate into the palms of western oppressors. What is perhaps most interesting about this documentary is the response it garnered from a former student.
“But she can straighten her hair though,” he stated.
It is this false interchangeability between culture appropriation and coerced assimilation that is not only inappropriate, but a gateway for appropriating concepts central to evaluating blackness. When considering the previous example, the appropriate comment inquires why a black body is speaking English, not why her hair is straightened. This oversimplification functions to discount the severity of black subjugation– mis-conceptualizing white apparatus as black choice.
Nonetheless, culture appropriation is not the sole “appropriative” evil of the western world. The two concepts that will anchor this post are: racism and colorism.
Like the phrase “cultural appropriative” While many will argue that “racism” and “colorism” are more present in the modern world than in the past, this engagement is superficial at best. Moreover, these terms are misused and tossed around emptily. Racism, the word that conceptualizes centuries of torment cast onto black bodies to assemble white domination, has become a clutch for whites to label their hurt feelings and battered egos. If someone black is unimpressed, or unwilling to bask in their fictive greatness, or is a little “too prideful” of their own rich legacy they are “racists.” The farce of reverse racism functions to rewrite the narrative of racism in a bizarre logic known as western truth. Racism has always been a one way street, but its contemporary engagement fictively portrays racism as a two way street burdened with heavy traffic in both directions.
Let’s consider the following micro-aggressions that accompany the misappropriation of racism:
1. Why are you talking about American slavery? Blacks enslaved other blacks in Africa.
2. How can you be mad at whites using the n word when blacks use it all the time?
These comments, and others like them, frequent many colloquial conversations. The comments operate on the premise that there is any equity between blacks and whites, a premise that is entirely false. A president of African lineage, blacks in higher education or corporate America does not negate the millions of blacks without or struggling to acquire the bare necessities to survive. To believe there is equity or equality because a small fraction of a minority group achieved conventional success, is a racist oversimplification of blackness nurtured by an oppressive white gaze. What happened in Africa has nothing to do with what happened here on western soil. Intra-culture slavery is not unique. However, no group has experienced what whites have cast onto the black body. No group stripped individuals of their names, languages, and dignity for centuries to construct and maintain their own identity. No other group is still struggling centuries after their initial abduction to heal the physical, emotional and financial wounds of western slavery. To say anything to the contrary, merely functions to discount the black struggle to justify white evil, a feat only accomplished through sheer ignorance and adapting a fictive truth.
Comparably, white use of the n word to blacks using the term intra-culturally, also implies equity that simply does not exist in the western world. Blacks and whites may live in the same building, they may work for the same company, and may even occupy the same land, but the black experience is nothing like the white experience. Any statement to the contrary, is a misappropriation of western racial constructs to maintain western fiction.
A central component to western racial constructs is colorism. Like racism, colorism is a term shallowly used in much of contemporary pop culture. From the placement of slaves throughout the plantation, the most renowned leaders of the Nation of Islam, to past and present Hollywood, colorism remains an integral but often understated attribute of the visible black body. Colorism’s modern implementation functions to combat the oppressed body in its misappropriation. Namely, colorism in its contemporary manifestation has been used to solely compartmentalize black action. Now does this exist. Yes. This exists because colorism was implemented as a means to oppress blacks. This oppressive mindset, aggravated by systemic oppression, fuels this behavior within the black collective to ensure stagnancy in our oppression.
For example, singer Tinashe recently stated that as a “mixed” woman she finds it hard to appease the “black” collective. If you take a moment to read this sentence over, you will see that she contradicts herself. You are either “black” or “mixed,” and Tinashe’s comment reveals that she sees herself as mixed. Therefore it is not colorism that prompts the black collective to dismiss Tinashe, but colorism is the reason why she dismisses a black identity and sees herself as “mixed.”
Colorism is not a black creation, it was created as a means to divide and conquer the black mind and body. In its misappropriation, the masses collectivly forget that colorism does not benefit any member of the black collective against their white oppressors. It may grant some access to the “house,” but this entry only promises greater access to pain and various means of misfortune.
The misappropriation of concepts like racism and colorism are far from surprising to anyone who truly understands racism. As abducted africans, we cannot expect our acquired language to liberate or aid us in narrating our truth. The abduction of our native tongue was an act of racial anarchy that continues to muffle the voice of the oppressed. Language is a core attribute of culture, and in trying to make lemonade out of lemons the black body is continually crippled in trying to create discourse from the dysentry of western thievery. In summary, the contemporary world, births a new act of racial terroism in using the severed tongue of its abducted laborers as yet another tool to foment their adversity.
Yet to the passive gaze, the world has worsened. From concert bombings to club shootouts, many believe we are in the worst of times. But to the oppressed, this is nothing new. The world was hardly outraged when a 1963 church bombing murdered four little girls, or when death lurked inches away from black children who integrated schools in the 50s and 60s. For it was both colorism and racism that provided a platform for these acts of western terroism– truths lost in the contemporary use of these integral terms.
So while the physical acts of terror on those outside the black collective have become more frequent, perhaps the most lethal component of our contemporary world is the heightened subliminal attack onto oppressed black bodies, bodies that are dismembered, gutted then sent back into the world hollow and awaiting an inevitable death, their pain misappropriated and mislabeled by a language too feeble to document their verity.