I have written about cultural appropriation before. I'm writing about it again because it seems like a lot of you guys just don't get it.
It seems like 2013 was the year of cultural appropriation in pop culture: Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Macklemore, Katy Perry — I could probably go on for days.
For those of you new to the scene, cultural appropriation has many definitions. I think it's pretty apt to say that cultural appropriation is, at its core, cultural exchange gone very, very wrong.
Cultural exchange is usually a good thing, but now that we live in a world that has been ravaged by European imperialism, there are power structures to take into account.
Let's try an example: in the United States, Native Americans were forced to adopt Western cultural values. Native children were ripped from their families and forced to speak English and to wear European-style clothing. Through many methods, European settlers — or, rather, invaders — enacted a cultural genocide.
Europeans told them that their culture was nothing, that it was unworthy of appreciation. Those who attempted to hold onto their culture were punished and discriminated against.
And now, little kids on Thanksgiving wear fake construction paper headdresses. Fashion outlets make millions of dollars selling faux-Native American clothing and accessories. An Indian is a "cool" thing to dress up as for Halloween.
See the problem here? Do you see how this is a slap in the face to Native Americans today? How would it make you feel to know that your people and your culture were decimated, and now the ones who did it like to adopt bastardized, stereotyped versions of your heritage because they think it's cute or cool?
Now let's look at cultural appropriation in pop culture. We all — or at least we should — know that classically "American" genres of music like rock 'n' roll and jazz were dominated by black people. Thus, they were considered inferior until white people like Elvis Presley came around and magically made them more palatable for white audiences.
And now we have the likes of Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, Eminem and Macklemore who dominate the charts in R&B and rap in ways that black artists of these genres have never been allowed.
Macklemore won four Grammys. No black rappers other than Kanye West and Jay Z have ever won any Grammys. Not even those who we call legendary – Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan.
I could write myself silly listing instance after instance of appropriation and emphatically illustrating just how much it sucks at face value, but let's examine some of the larger implications. We live in a society where the originators of a cultural movement are stigmatized and shunned. Eventually they are denied access and credit from their own creations.
Cultural appropriation is an exercise in privilege. It's not the same as genuinely appreciating a culture. It's thinking certain parts and aspects of it are "cool" to don without acknowledging the cultural history and struggle that may have gone with it.
Appropriation says, "I don't like you. I'm going to mistreat and marginalize you and everyone like you, and make it nigh impossible for you to succeed. But this thing you've made here? That you've worked so hard on? It's cute. It's quaint. I like it. Now, I'm going to take it from you, deny that you ever had a part in making it and twist it into something that I like even more. I don't care if it's important to you, and everyone else will think I'm so awesome, trendy, and open-minded, won't they?"
Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at email@example.com.