Black Americans Want to Feel in Touch with Their Roots

When the subject of cultural appropriation comes up, all fingers are pointed at white people. The creation of “boxer braids” (cornrows) is often brought up as well as blackface costumes on Halloween. Though these are forms of cultural appropriation, it does not stop with white people. A very sensitive subject is a lot less popular; black people culturally appropriating African culture. The idea that black Americans appropriate African culture is not thought of  as the same when white people appropriate black American culture. It is widely believed that black people can’t culturally appropriate. Black Americans participate in cultural appropriation of African people to “get in touch with their roots” because they are not all African and they are not fully accepted as Americans. While it is understandable and in some cases justifiable for African Americans to seek inclusion from African culture, We have to remember the amazing culture black Americans have created for themselves.

Cultural Appropriation “is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture (Oxford, 2017). The hard part about this is that many people want to participate in cultural appreciation. There is a thin line between appreciating and exploiting when people want to shine a light on different cultures. It can be offensive when someone wears a kimono or chief’s head dress because most people who wear them are in no way affiliated with Japanese or Native American Culture. This is the reason is why it can be confusing when African Americans are accused of appropriating African culture; Many African Americans are in some way affiliated with African culture. Julius Clayborn makes

The point is that Black Americans ARE AFRICAN. Our Africaness informs everything that we do and all of who we are, even if the influence is not readily recognizable. With that in mind, our revisitation of something stolen from us cannot be labeled as appropriation. Our respective histories have definitely manifested into different realities, but America is not the genesis of Black American people. Our Western creations are not the totality of who we are. (Clayborn, 2015).

There are black Americans who descend from Africa which excludes them from being entirely American. It wouldn’t make sense that someone could appropriate a culture they came from.

It makes sense why African Americans would want to identify with their African heritage. Today black people are seen as many things devoid of individual. With the Black Lives Matter movement black Americans are seen as angry or victimizing themselves. Lately the protests in the NFL has deemed many black people who agree with the protests as disrespectful to their country. Often when any group of black people, or one individual black person, does something news worthy, black people as a whole get accused of being like the individual who made it on TV that year. When a black woman said “ain’t nobody got time for that”, black people were funny. When a young girl expresses her fear of police brutality through screaming tears black people are emotional. They have also been deemed criminals. Nazgol Ghandnoosh discusses the racial disparity in federal prisons in her article Why are federal prisoners disproportionately people of color? How does that affect discussions around reforms? The article explains that

Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. In the federal system, African Americans and Hispanics comprise over 70 percent of the prisoner population. (Ghandnoosh, 2016)

Minority groups are constantly grouped together rather than individualized. When majority of inmates are brown, how does one suppose the brown people not incarcerated are going to be viewed? When America labels black people like this without any consideration of how black people want to be seen, you ca not expect them to have a strong sense of American pride. They are labeled African American, so when America fails them the way it always has, of course they want to identify with their African roots.

Although many African Americans have African heritage not every single black person is a descendant of the first American slaves. In his article Chijioke Ebbis reminds us that ”the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade made it so that many of the people who would later become the Black Americans were ripped from the West African (not Egyptian, Swahili, nor Zulu) cultures they came from and from there they had to create their own culture from what they had left (Black Americans have a rich and distinct culture of their own) (Ebbis, 2015).” Black culture rises from the ashes of the mistreatment black people go through. The blues, a very versatile form of Jazz music, was created by African American people in 1912. Blues music was an outlet for black people to play out their circumstances in times of slavery and eventually Jim Crow laws (Cavicchi, Reidy, Tipaldi, Wheeler). The fundamentals of blues music shows up in a lot of today’s music. This is just one example of black Americans taking something back and creating something in a world where they were forced to live with nothing. While it is completely understandable why black Americans would want to participate in African traditions, we also need to recognize the richness of African American Culture. Black Americans are not only responsible for R&B and Hip Hop but also the mailbox, super soakers and 3-D special effects. African Americans are much more than just people in the news and criminals. That must be represented more often than Dashiki styled shirts.

Black people are capable of cultural appropriation but for the most part I do not blame them. In the early years of America, black people were treated inhumanely. Early Scholars would make up reasons for the treatment slaves with no scientific backing and no one questioned it. Black People were deemed lazy, ungrateful, and too obsessed with freedom, and those unreasonable assumptions are still used when describing black people today. America is its own little world and Americans are raised to appreciate their little world and take care of it so that it will take care of them. For this to apply to anyone who is not straight, white, or male they have to work twice as hard as anyone and everyone for their world to reward them. How does one thrive in a world that does not appreciate them?

Black Americans must thrive in their black pride because it is all they really have. America is a good country but not a great one. It has failed people who do not conform to ideals of patriarchal society for as long as it’s been a nation. The fact that black Americans look for identity in anything to disassociate themselves with ”their country” proves something is wrong with the United States and not them. It seems to be taken for granted that not all Americans have pride in ”Americanism” being part of their identity. African culture is beautiful but so is African American Culture.


Arewa, Olufunmilayo. “Cultural Appropriation: When ‘Borrowing’ Becomes Exploitation.” The Huffington Post., 21 June 2016. Web.

Claybron, Julius. “It’s Not Appropriation, It’s Healing. – Julius Claybron – Medium.” Medium. Medium, 04 Sept. 2015. Web.

Ebbis, Chijioke. “Yes Black Americans Can Appropriate African Cultures and Many Do.” Medium. Medium, 07 Sept. 2015. Web.

Figuero, Ezekiel. “Black Face: The Worst Form of Appropriation – Ezekiel Figuero – Medium.” Medium. Medium, 27 Sept. 2017. Web.

Merritt, Jaquisha. “New Trend: Boxer Braids – Becoming an Entertainment Journalist – Medium.” Medium. Becoming an Entertainment Journalist, 14 Apr. 2016. Web.

Oxford, Wayne. “Appropriate This! – Wayne Oxford – Medium.” Medium. Medium, 06 Mar. 2017. Web.

Steele, Marjorie. “Why I’m Done Nail-biting about Cultural Appropriation.” @creativeonion. @creativeonion, 04 Aug. 2017. Web.

More References

Cavicchi, Daniel, Margaret Reidy, Art Tipaldi, and T. J. Wheeler. “What Is The Blues.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 2003. Web.

Gebreyes, Rahel. “Here Are A Few Things You Probably Didn’t Know Were Invented By Black People.” The Huffington Post., 16 Aug. 2017. Web.

Ghandnoosh, Nazgol. “Why Are Federal Prisoners Disproportionately People of Color?” Medium. Medium, 09 Mar. 2016. Web.