Culture Shock

In Amandla Stenberg’s video Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows, she explained the journey of cultural appropriation throughout the 21st Century. Urban Dictionary states that cultural appropriation is “when a person takes something with cultural significance from another for their own, but doesn’t respect or understand the cultural significance the something has. Instead they only claim to ‘like’ the culture because of what they can gain from it.” There have been multiple white celebrities and fashion icons using cornrows to promote their own brand. Valentino featured them in his Pre-fall 2015 look book and we have all seen Kylie Jenner show them off on her Instagram page. The media has identified this as a “new urban hairstyle.” Nevertheless, Stenberg discusses the significance of cornrows in Black culture and how it helps keep textured hair unknotted and neat in a stylish way.

Now, if we take a deeper look into cultural appropriation we can see why ‘Black Twitter’ is always angry. Alexis Mayfield, a sophomore at Hampton University says that culture appropriation is “when there is a disregard of the history.” She explains there is a love for black culture but no love for black people. Countless times we see African American culture used to enhance a brand. However we never see these people helping the black community.

Black twitter recently called out white rapper Iggy Azalea as she excelled in the Hip Hop industry and became one of the most unlikely new Hip Hop artist of her time. During her period of popularity, the Black Lives Matter movement started to arise with the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. Many people started to take a stance against police brutality and institutionalized racism. However, it seemed that the white artist who took part in Hip Hop culture and “adopted” blackness was not speaking out on any of these issues. They simply used our culture to seek awards, high ratings, and financial advancements.

Robert Watson, a professor at Hampton University bluntly says that “they wouldn’t wanna be Black for a day.”  He believes that cultural appropriation is another word for hypocrisy because they want our hips, lips, music, dance, and even dialect but don’t want the struggles that come with it. Watson states “The way we are treated in today’s society lets me know we were treated even worse during slavery.” Blacks survived some of the most horrific events in America and now are able to tell the story. This part of history is what is absent, when other cultures use Black culture for their own gains.

We can combat cultural appropriation with two simple steps: appreciation and activism. Professor Watson suggest that students start taking courses to better understand other’s history. He also says that we can simply listen to one another because you are able to better understand each other’s history. Talia Sharpp, a sophomore at Hampton University discusses her experience with henna. Recently, she got a henna design in Washington D.C. When she received it she didn’t look at it as a cool design but she had an appreciation for it because she valued it. Sharpp understood how important this ritual is to certain brides. Overall her understanding and appreciation for henna made her experience much better. When we have an appreciation for other cultures we can better advocate for them. When others understand the struggles that Blacks go through, they can better discuss the Black Lives Matter Movement. They will also be willing to protest against police brutality and institutionalized racism.  

Alexis Mayfield says that Black Twitter will always keep others accountable for their actions. When you see captions that say “doing hoodrat things with my friends” tell them that it’s not okay. Start calling out celebrities like Macklemore, Kylie Jenner, and Iggy Azalea who use Black culture for their advancement without advocating for Black people. If you are unsure how to tackle cultural appropriation just ask yourself, as an American do I love Black people as much as I love Black culture? Hopefully that self-reflection will make you want to take action and create change.