Cultural Appropriation: Black on Black Crimes
The African American “dread” is one obvious example of cultural diffusion. The most famous “dread” Bob Marley has become a symbol of rebellion and political, spiritual empowerment, as well as an icon of Afrocentrism. As a result, so has reggae music and Rastafarianism. Locs became symbols of those ideas, and many African Americans who wore them have been subject to the “blackness” test in the past (is that hair for show or for rebellion?). Now that locs have become a favored hairstyle among crunk rappers and Floridian football players, the original (religious) significance of the hairstyle has been diluted. That sounds like the definition of cultural appropriation.
What’s that? It’s just borrowing when black people do it? Because the racism/discrimination power dynamic isn’t in place? So, that means African Americans (especially MCs and pro football players, even college football players) are not in a superior position vis a vis economic and political power to the Rastas? Or does the argument go that when the “race” is the same, the cultural power status dynamic is irrelevant?
This is where I think the cultural appropriation accusations start to fly off the rails. It appears as if that the “cultural” part is less important than the implied racial component. Yes, I have plenty in common in the main with a Trenchtown rasta. However, do I have more in common with a Rastafarian than I do with a white American rap fan? Perhaps.
A reader Brigette brings up an interesting dilemma, how does cultural appropriation apply to the relationship between Appalachians and mainstream Country music culture in Nashville? Clearly, Nashville has over the years made a caricature of people from the region, and those “Hee Haw” actors and singers have made a mint from that “Lil’ Abner” vision of the South without paying the region back for helping them to make all that paper. All the components of our working definition of cultural appropriation are present, except, most would argue the racial component (one can make the argument that not all Appalachians are white, and of course they aren’t, however one can also argue that POC are left out of most mainstream representations of Appalachia, save John Sayles’ brilliant film Matewan). Is it white folks taking from white folks, so what? Or, an empowered culture taking from a disenfranchised one, thus exploiting that culture?
Well, if a white guy can’t wear dreads, or at least must take the Nazarite Vow to do so legitimately, then neither can I, if we are to all accept the working definition of cultural appropriation. Now, if we want to turn that into racial appropriation . . . but then we’d all be in trouble.
So the racial essentialists have another question to answer; should all Asian Americans get pissed about the “anime boom?” Hmmm.