The words cultural appropriation pop up every so often, but usually when a celebrity does something culturally insensitive and the internet flips out.
Even in the situations that are not particularly problematic (see also a recent white celebrity borrowing some Sir Mix-a-Lot lyrics to describe her booty), some people still react strongly and fiercely. You may disagree. Blake Lively has… she’s defending her Oakland booty comment this week in an interview with Sway.
“I never meant to offend anyone,” she said, adding, “I was celebrating my body… It’s nice to have a nice curve and not look like you’re starving to death.”
Fair enough, but did you ever stop and try to understand why some people react the way that they do to cultural appropriation?
It is a sensitive and hurtful task to exist in a country where black people aren’t valued: where we are murdered by police and our killers walk free; where the guns used to kill us sell for a lot of money in auctions; where our cultural particulars that we’ve made to celebrate our history or to tame our curls are co-opted by white people and then liked far more.
Just as Christopher Columbus did not discover America (people were already living here, thank you very much), female boxers were not the first to wear “boxer braids,” nor is the style “[f]ueled by celebrities and the popularity of UFC fighters. Cornrows date back to the African continent as far back as 3000 B.C.
What’s more, Iggy Azalea did not discover rap music. Her faked “blaccent” to sound like black southern rap styles and suppress her actual Austrailian accent is akin to minstrelsy, in the same way that white folks dressed in blackface in eras past. And even with her modern-day blackface, she is hailed the queen of rap.
And the Kardashians are not the first women in the public eye to have big posteriors — but unlike tennis great Serena Williams, the former women are praised for their derrières, while Williams’ physique is criticized. And unfortunately, Williams is not the first black woman to be chastised for her body.
Perhaps the most famous woman is Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus. Ms. Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman, was paraded around 19th century Europe as a freak show attraction because of her thick hips and large buttocks. Though she was accomplished, intelligent and spoke many languages, Baartman’s value to the white men exploiting her lie in how she and her body were “savage” and “abnormal” and could be contrasted with the “normal” and “respectable” European (read: white) woman.
From the Kardashians to Iggy Azalea, it seems that people prefer black cultural particulars when they are performed and worn and done by white people. With this in mind, Blake Lively’s celebration of her “L.A. face” and “Oakland booty” should be understood as particularly problematic. Tangentially related to the wide acceptance of blackness done by white people is the loud and steadfast defense of white people in the face of cultural appropriation.
Lively was defended by the Mack Daddy himself, Sir Mix-a-Lot for quoting his song. While she is conventionally attractive and a part of the status quo, it seems Sir Mix-a-Lot needs to recheck his own lyrics: because “Baby Got Back” is literally exclusively about black women. However, in a society where black women face the double discrimination of racism and sexism, it is not surprising that once again, we are not in the conversation.
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