Cultural appropriation is a little-discussed aspect of racism, if only because it’s not incredibly overt.

Cultural appropriation is not burning crosses or job or housing discrimination, but it’s just as damaging to people of color. In a nutshell, cultural appropriation is the theft of certain aspects of cultures established by people of color for the sake of personal aesthetic. Your favorite pop star is probably guilty of this.

Let’s take Katy Perry for example. When she was still singing about kissing girls, she was guilty of some incredibly casual and often sexual appropriation of the bindi and sari, which are some of the most recognizable pieces of Indian culture. Katy Perry is not Indian. She was not raised in India or by Indian parents. She is a Pentecostal white woman from California, thereby giving her no claim to any aspect of Indian culture.

Even Selena Gomez, a pop star widely considered to be the most conscientious and reliable among this era’s crop of female pop stars, was also guilty of heavily appropriating Indian culture while performing her song “Come and Get it“ during the MTV Movie Awards in April. However, it appears as though these actions are not coming from a place of genuine malice. It truly seems as though Selena, in conjunction with Katy Perry and also Lady Gaga (see “Burqa”), are not aware of the racial implications of cultural appropriation. They borrow facets of the cultures of others for the purpose of aesthetic. This is opposed to educating themselves about these cultures and the damage that is inflicted when parts of them are stolen, not unlike the case of honorary black person Miley Cyrus.

You're probably tired of hearing about Miley

You’re probably tired of hearing about Miley

You’re probably tired of hearing about Miley Cyrus, which is a sentiment shared by many black people who don’t like to see white women perform a bastardized version of dance that has existed in their culture for centuries. This is not an issue of a young woman’s evolving sexuality. Miley is a grown woman who can sexualize herself as much as she wants beyond the judgment of others. What she can’t do, however, is use a cabal of black women as props in her modern-day minstrel show. She attempts to justify this relationship by calling these women her “homies”, but one doesn’t fetishize one’s “homies” to further a creative narrative beyond “generic pop-country singer”. There are ways to prove to the world that you’re no longer “Hannah Montana” that do not involve exploiting the bodies of black women, who wouldn’t be your “homies” if you weren’t paying them for their skills.

This is Miley’s mistake and, by extension, the mistake of Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, and Madonna. These women seem to believe that an important cultural aspect of an entire group of people can be worn like a garment. These women, who have every avenue available to them to truly educate themselves, choose to wallow in ignorance for the sake of fashion or, even worse, misguided rebellion.

So, some of the most profitable female pop acts of all time are largely responsible for micro-aggressive racism. Where do we go from here? You shouldn’t necessarily start boycotting the pop music industry en masse. You should, however, think twice before buying a sumo wrestler costume for Halloween, wearing a Native American headdress at a music festival, or getting a tattoo of Chinese characters for “spiritual reasons.”

About The Author

Ellyn Bailey is a Northeastern University journalism student.

One Response

  1. Guillermo F. Perez-Argüello

    I don’t know about the musicians mentioned in this article and cultural appropriation but this is what legal expert Joanna Demers said about appropriation of black culture in her 2007 book ““Musical appreciation, musical meaning and the Law”, And I quote. The voice of Elvis Presley is perhaps the most contested acoustical phenomenon in modern culture. I can understand why some listeners may prefer the original versions (of R&B artists) to Presley’s covers, but it is more difficult to claim that these were immoral or unethical. In terms of vocal style and instrumental arrangement, Presley actually borrows relatively little, his appropriations (being) more straightforward, taking from the materials already protected by copyright: lyrics and melody. So, unless he can be criticized for NOT imitating an original R&B artist’s rendition, we have to reevaluate Elvis’ transgressions. Unquote.


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