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Mon, 06.05.1865

Black History, and Cultural Appropriation, a story

*Black History and Cultural Appropriation is addressed on this date in 1865. Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of a portion of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity.

Cultural appropriation can be racially divisive when members of a dominant culture appropriate from smaller cultures. This dominant culture v smaller culture is not always the case. The history of whites adopting elements of black culture has been prevalent since slavery was abolished in the Western world. The concept has been recognized in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other white-majority countries. In the 1880's white-American writer Joel Chandler Harris began publishing stories he observed of enslaved Black people in what became the 'Uncle Remus Tales.'

Another early North American form of this was in blackface artists in Vaudeville and in the D. W. Griffith film Birth of a Nation. It was prevalent in the white negro in the jazz and swing music scenes of the 1920s and 1930s, as examined in the 1957 Norman Mailer essay "The White Negro". It was in the zoot suiter of the 1930s, the hipster of the 1940s, beatnik of the 1950s–1960s, blue-eyed soul of the 1970s, and the hip hop of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, an article in the UK newspaper The Independent described the phenomenon of white, middle-class kids who were "wannabe Blacks ."

2005 saw the publication of Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America by Bakari Kitwana, a culture critic who's been tracking American hip hop for years.  According to others, cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or equal cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism. When cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context, sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture, the practice is negative.

Cultural appropriation is considered harmful by various groups and individuals, including Indigenous people working for cultural preservation, those who advocate for collective intellectual property rights of the originating minority cultures, and those who have lived or are living under colonial rule. Cultural appropriation can include the exploitation of another culture's religious and cultural traditions, dance steps, fashion, symbols, language, and music. Those who see this appropriation as exploitative say cultural elements are lost or distorted when removed from their originating cultural contexts. Such displays are disrespectful or even a form of blasphemy. Cultural elements that may have deep meaning to the original culture become "exotic" fashions or toys by the dominant culture. Kjerstin Johnson has written that when the imitator "who does not experience that oppression can 'play,' temporarily, an 'exotic' other, without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures."

The academic, musician and journalist Greg Tate claim that appropriation and the "fetish" of cultures alienate those whose culture is being appropriated. Critics note that the concept is often misunderstood or misapplied by the public, such as trying food from a different culture or learning about different cultures. Others state that the act of cultural appropriation, as it is usually defined, does not meaningfully constitute social harm or the term lacks conceptual coherence. Additionally, the term can limit intellectual freedom and artists' self-expression, reinforce group divisions, or promote a feeling of grievance rather than liberation.

Wigger is slang for a white person who adopts the mannerisms and language associated with African American culture. Hip hop and Britain's grime scene often imply the imitation is bad, although usually with sincerity rather than mocking intent. Wigger is a portmanteau of white and nigger or nigga, and the related term wangsta is a mashup of wannabe or white and gangsta. The word "nigga" can sometimes be a friendly greeting among black hip-hop fans, but it is offensive when used by white and non-black people of color. "Wigger" may be derogatory, reflecting stereotypes of African American, Black British, and white culture (when used as a synonym for white trash). Other white people sometimes use the term to belittle the person perceived as "acting black."

Still, it is widely used by African Americans like 50 Cent, offended by the wigga's perceived demeaning of black people and culture. Recently, NBA team owner Robert Sarver used the n-word and was criticized. He asked why Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green was allowed to use the N-word, but he wasn't (Sarver is white, and Green is Black). Robert A. Clift's documentary Blacking Up: Hip-Hop's Remix of Race and Identity questions white enthusiasts of black hip-hop culture. Cultural appropriation is not a one-way street. African Americans have been accused of cultural appropriation by people from Africa. This has been disputed as African Americans have claimed a link to Africa, but Africans have disputed it.

The term "blackfishing" was popularized in 2018 by writer Wanna Thompson, describing female white social media influencers who adopt a look perceived as African, including braided hair, dark skin from tanning or make-up, full lips, and large thighs. Critics argue they take attention and opportunities from black influencers by appropriating their aesthetic and have likened the trend to blackface. Alisha Gaines, author of Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, said: "Blackfishing allowed non-Black people to appropriate what is commonly considered "cool" about Blackness while still avoiding the negative consequences, such as "racism and state violence." states it is related to an 'inverse form' of passing. In 1978, the movie 'The Wiz' was produced with an all-black cast. This was an adaptation of the white 1900 children's novel the wonderful wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum. Also, Annie Live! is a musical television special aired on December 2, 2021. It was a 1977 musical Annie performance based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray. Thou called an adaptation; this could be interpreted as Black Cultural appropriation of white culture.

In 2022, pop superstar Gwen Stefani was accused of appropriating Black culture following the music video release for her latest song. "Light My Fire," a collaboration with dancehall star Sean Paul and Jamaican singer Shenseea, sees "The Voice" coach sport dreadlocks and a green and yellow outfit that matches the Jamaican flag while singing to a rocksteady beat.

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