Letters to the Editor

Cultural Appropriation: What is it? Why do Black people care about it so much?

The problem with society is that when people who have experienced trauma firsthand talk about their negative experiences, others don’t listen. When minorities open up about their traumatizing childhood events or the emotional baggage they carry as a result of a lack of communal understanding, society as a whole does not have the genuine compassion to listen.

When it comes specifically to Black people, we face a whole lot of that. See, I want to make something extremely clear off the jump: I’m only speaking about the experiences of Black people in America because I have personally experienced them firsthand. It would be illogical, inconsiderate and downright disrespectful for me to get behind a keyboard and insinuate or even pretend to suggest that I have any ounce of understanding when it comes to other discriminatory practices such as those of religion or sexuality. However, what I have experienced, for 15 years of my life and counting, is the blatant disregard of the traumatic experiences I’ve faced as a result of White America’s lack of understanding in regard to societal racism. The most prominent example I’ve seen in my life is cultural appropriation. In other words, the celebration of my cultural elements that make me uniquely Black, but only when they are showcased on people who don’t look like me. But to truly understand this, we need to look at the historical elements of American society that have stained Black culture for generations to come.

All of our history classes have taught us about the economic and moral effects of racism, but what they don’t tell us is the mental anguish that still exists in Black people today because of it. This constant reminder of history praying for our downfall makes us remember that although we may desperately want to belong, the fact of the matter is that we don’t. As a Black American, I must look at the surroundings around me and accept the fact that this society doesn’t want me to succeed. I love my country and the people that live in it, but it’s hard for me to realize the conditions of my environment. According to an article published by Alma Carten for The New Republic in 2015, the United States’ failure to have authentic conversations about slavery and its legacy have just repressed justifiable feelings of anger and outrage. These feelings translate into everyday devastations that are challenging to bear. And combined with ignorant thinking and a lack of desire to listen to the personal experiences of others, these societal elements have manifested into cultural appropriation that affects roughly 50 million Black Americans like myself every waking moment of our lives.

Cultural appropriation comes in so many forms. From blackface to Internet dances to White America’s peculiar obsession with African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Black Americans live in a reality where the very same elements about themselves that were demonized in their childhoods are now being celebrated and praised without the acknowledgment of the devastating ground it was built upon. To me, it’s simply odd to see the same girl that called my braids ghetto and ratchet in the 4th grade, now suddenly beg her parents to damage her hair to look like mine. It’s simply odd to witness the same kids that made racist jokes in middle school wear makeup that is 10 shades darker than their natural complexion. Finally, it’s simply odd for society to tell me not to be upset or perplexed when I witness these disturbing instances that mock my childhood trauma. And it’s not all that much that we’re asking for. Black people aren’t “gate-keeping” their cultural elements that have kept them beautifully Black for millenniums. No. We’re simply asking that if you choose to celebrate the features that Black people have pioneered since the beginning of time, please acknowledge when you do so, that the only reason you have the platform to do what you’re doing, is because Black people before you have made that situation possible.

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