Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in the world is the Black woman."
Cultural appropriation vs Cultural appreciation continues to be challenging for people to understand. I want to remind you that those little black squares that everyone was posting were a reminder to 1) LISTEN to Black people and 2) elevate and amplify Black voices.
Black people are members of the subordinate group. White people are members of the dominant group. Whether or not you feel that you are racist, this is the system that was created 400+ years ago, and this is the (caste) system we live in today. As a white person or NBPOC (Non-Black People of Color), your actions can potentially perpetuate, be complicit, resist or dismantle white supremacy or systems of oppression. Remember, anti-racism practice is moment to moment, a continuous practice. In any given moment, you will need to pause, reflect and ask yourself, ‘Am I being racist?'
This trend of cultural appropriation is a continuation of white supremacy and colonialism, maintaining the pattern of white people consuming the stuff of culture that is convenient, while ignoring the well-being and liberation of Black people. In the words of Dr Yaba Blay, "There is a continual and repetitive practice of folks who aren't black being able to benefit from our rhythm without having to suffer from our blues."
I think what is impactful when we look closely at cultural appropriation is that it may reveal where we hold implicit bias. It is really difficult to identify and examine our implicit bias unless someone calls it out when they see it in us or hear it in the way we speak. It helps us peel back the layers and discover where we have internalized anti-blackness and white supremacy. A great place to start is by asking important questions: Why are white people or NBPOC wearing Black hairstyles or using AAVE? Is it authentic? Why is there an innate need to defend white people when they wear Black hairstyles or use “Blaccent’? Why isn’t there an innate response to defend and protect Black people and Black culture? If Black people share that this feels harmful, why is the response defensiveness? Why is there often a need from non-white people for white validation? If someone wants to show appreciation for Black culture, particularly if this person has a large platform, wouldn’t it be a better practice to uplift, elevate and amplify Black people, Black activists, Black artists? Can you appreciate Black culture and Black hairstyles without wearing it, stealing it, performing it and profiting off of it?
Representation is not the same as systemic change. Celebrating diversity is not enough, there needs to be more of a shift in terms of power.
When there is a history of white people colonizing Black and Brown countries, stealing resources for the benefit of Europe and the Western world, forcing non-White people to assimilate into ‘white’ culture, then we have to look closely at present day practices. In order to dismantle systems of oppression, we have to look closely at how we may be continually appropriating Black, Brown and Indigenous cultures, practices and rituals.
Because most white people are not confronting and examining the painful and uncomfortable realities of racism, and their complicity in it, the cycle of oppression and consumption continues.
Ask yourself, do I have their consent? Is what I am doing harmful to Black people? How are my actions impacting Black people? Is what I am doing or saying authentic to me? If there is a possibility that someone somewhere could be even slightly offended by your consumption of their cultural practice, then don’t do it.
In the book, Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri, there is a section on how hair was braided as part of an intelligence network for escaped slaves. In Colombia specifically, maps and messages were braided into people’s hair to help them along escape routes. The Spanish couldn’t decode them, so it was hiding in plain sight.
Solange sang, “Don’t touch my hair.” Black hair is political. To live in a Black body is political. You cannot separate the two. In 2019, New York and California became the first states to pass laws declaring hair discrimination to be illegal. Pause and think about that. Black people are discriminated against for wearing their natural hair!
You may not fully understand this but hold this information and become more mindful about how you relate to Black people. Similar to how a man can never fully understand what it is like to be a woman because that is not their lived experience. In order to have a healthy and sustainable relationship with a woman, men need to become more mindful, more educated, more aware and better listeners.
Non-Black people will never fully understand what it is like to be a Black person because that is not their lived experience. Non-Black people need to become more mindful of the Black experience so that we can move forward in a more harmonious way; so that we can create a fair, just and equitable society.