The recent discourse surrounding cultural appropriation has many people wondering what cultural appropriation is. According to the author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, cultural appropriation is “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive.” American society has grown fond of unintentionally employing cultural appropriation.
Recently, there have been several occasions of this taking place in the media. For instance, Vogue announced that we’re officially in the Era of the Big Booty as a result of Iggy Azalea (white) and Jennifer Lopez (Latina) who are both known to have nice sized rear ends collaborating on a song titled “Booty.” For many, this came as a surprise because for centuries, black women have been embracing their curvaceous bodies; however, seeing as black women have been hypersexualized by society as a result of the sexual dynamics between white plantation owners and black female slaves, these black women know that in order to be accepted by society, get jobs,etc., they must dress a certain way so that their curves would not be as visible. For black women, these “big booties” led to the overpolicing of their sexual agency and sexuality. Thus, it is really interesting to see that the same society that has marginalized one group of women (African American women) for having a “big booty” are now praising other groups for giving them credit for something that was already in existence.
Furthermore, it is interesting to compare the way in which Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea are being celebrated for having big butts, to the way that artists like Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim, who are black, were critiqued for embracing their curvaceousness. When rapper Nicki Minaj uploaded the cover photo for her hit single “Anaconda,” her comments immediately blew up with backlash from Instagrammers and different outlets on the Internet. In response, Nicki Minaj added pictures of non-black female bodies who were posing in similar positions and exposing their butts as well. She captioned these pictures with words like “angelic” and “acceptable.” Her point here was clear: it is acceptable for women who do not read as black to embrace their sexual agency. However, I think an interesting point that should be made in this case is that Nicki Minaj’s cover was a picture targeted towards her fans to promote her single; the non-black females exposing their butts were on the cover of Sports Illustrated and were geared towards attracting men. Does this mean that black women can only embrace their sexual agency if it is geared towards pleasing men? This made me think about slavery and how black women were viewed by plantation owners.
According to an article published by Forbes, Iggy Azalea “runs hip hop.” Needless to say,this article upset many people. In this article, Forbes praised her for her “notable rise to prominence” which assumes that Iggy Azalea has worked hard to overcome many obstacles; it even implies that she had to work twice as hard because she is in an industry “dominated” by black men. However, this article does not take into consideration the power of white privilege; while I am most definitely not saying that Iggy Azalea did not have to work hard to gain acceptance in the hip hop community, I think that her whiteness was an advantage because in this setting, it was something “different.” Also, to say that a white, Australian woman is “running” a genre of music created by African American men in a sense undermines all of the efforts that these black men put into this creation of art and completely disregards the struggle that black female rappers face in this industry. According to Olivia, author of the Huffington Post article “Dear Forbes: This Is Why Iggy Azalea Doesn’t Run Hip-Hop,” Iggy Azalea isn’t a success story at all: “she is a novelty, a tiresome example of white female privilege and the delight white culture finds in white people appropriating any and everything.”
Seeing as how Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj rap about the same things, I find it interesting that Iggy Azalea rose to fame in quite a short period of time and has been very successful financially. Why is that? Well, I think that Nicki Minaj summed this up in her tweet that stated “some people have to put in work, others get to cut corners. we see it but don’t say it. welcome to the real world.” This is white privilege summarized in three sentences.
So, what exactly is this saying to the African American population in the United States? Cultural appropriation is problematic because it promotes a double standard in which African Americans are viewed as “ignorant” when they participate in practices that are intertwined with their own African American culture while whites take these practices, try to make them their own, and are praised for doing so. Consequently, whites (like Iggy Azalea) are considered creative and inventive, while the black group that they “borrow” are continuously plagued by negative stereotypes. Furthermore, this is sending a message to African Americans that says “you aren’t good enough to represent your own culture so someone must do it for you” which is very representative of society’s view of African Americans as inferior and ignorant.
**Also, I do not think that only white people commit cultural appropriation, and I do not think that African Americans are the only victims of cultural appropriation; this is just an example that it close to home.**