Can you copyright culture?
This topic has been covered time and time again. However, I feel both sides of the argument fail to recognize that no one can “appropriate culture” because it doesn’t belong to any one individual. Culture is derived from identity. It’s the way some lives based on the teachings of their family and the influence of their environment. Family + Environment = Culture.
I prefer to call it:
Cultural Desecration: To monetize motifs from cultures that differ from your own often with little understanding of the latter’s history, experience, and traditions
What separates cultural desecration from cultural appreciation? It’s simple, intention and authenticity.
When a person uses artifacts from a culture different from their own with the intention of gaining monetary success, It is Cultural Desecration. Cultural Desecration usually occurs without context or facilitation of the creation by the culture its derived from.
For example, Miley Cyrus gained notoriety by hyper-sexualizing herself in order to shed her Disney innocence. The actress used Hip-Hop as a crutch to do so. Now recently, she has decided that she’s done with Rap. Cyrus’s intentions are clear and Hip-Hop is clearly not authentic to her identity.
Another example and this may be debatable to some is Iggy Azalea. The key problem I have with the Australian-born rapper is her imitation of black women in her voice. Her whole brand is simply an imitation of Rap and Hip-Hop. Though she has an admiration of Hip-Hop she lacks an in-depth read of the genre as the whole and it shows in her music and commentary. Honestly, you can barely call what she does Rap.
“Because surely if I did know anything about hip-hop, I wouldn’t mix pop and rap together? Or I wouldn’t rap in an American accent if I truly understood? I just have a different perspective about rap music. I love learning about hip hop” — Iggy Azalea
NO, you wouldn’t rap in this blackface voice if you knew anything about black people and hip-hop. She still fails to see why her music is problematic. Real rap music is about storytelling and started as an expression of the struggles black people face in America.
Good Intentions. No Authenticity.
If there’s no story or no struggle it’s not rap. At least not to me anyway.
And some might say what makes Eminem so different? Eminem doesn’t try to imitate anyone. Everything he does from the way he walks to his accent is him. He cannot shed this identity like Miley Cyrus. His music reflects a struggle that is personal to him and his experiences. That what makes him and his music different. I also feel that Macklemore though controversial isn’t desecrating black music and has acknowledged his privilege as a white rapper.
So what about Beyonce isn’t she “appropriating” white culture by dying her hair blonde? Well, no. Too often black people especially black women are pressured to conform to white beauty standards especially women in the entertainment industry. Tell me how many black women do you see on that TV actually wear their natural hair texture? Heck, I didn’t know what my natural hair looked like until last year.
So as a white person other cultures are just off limits? No, just be mindful of cultural context and try to LISTEN to the culture you intend to collaborate with. I do mean collaborate. Cultural Appreciation doesn’t happen without a joint effort.
Feel free to challenge or comment. I pretty sure I don’t know everything and would love to learn.