I have written about cultural appropriation several times, on and off this blog. I would love to say I am tired of talking about it but things keep happening that show me this is a conversation that needs to keep happening. The other day, one of my Facebook friends complained that “everything” is being labeled cultural appropriation these days. I don’t necessarily agree with him but I see what he was trying to say.There are some people that seem to genuinely appreciate a culture differently from theirs and others that try on a culture like they would try on a pair of shoes. Frankly there are levels to this shit. I came up with a handy little system to define these levels. A theory, if you will. It isn’t full proof and I’m sure I will tweak it a bit but I just wanted to add something to this discourse and give myself a little theory-making practice since I’m going back to school in January.
I came up with four levels to cultural appropriation: casual, immersion, imitation and caricature.
I believe a casual appropriator has a genuine appreciation for the culture they’re emulating. Sure, there is some questionable imagery in their art but I tend to think it is unconscious. People like Macklemore, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and pre-2001 P!nk come to mind. They tend to be frequent collaborators with people of color but sometimes those collaborators can be more like sidekicks or hype men. The casual appropriator is usually willing to learn and responds to criticism better than the other levels.
The immersion appropriator tends to be about that life as they can get. Sure, they take some liberties, like saying nigga, but otherwise, they’re really into the culture. Perhaps they were raised around it or got into it when they were young. Their circle of friends tends to be people of color. They also frequently collaborate with people of color and those people tend be presented as colleagues rather than background fodder.
An imitator appropriator tends to pick the fun parts of their borrowed culture but they tend to stay away from the outlandish. That said, sometimes they do straight up racist shit and some times it’s just a tired stereotype. Think of a child playing dress up in mommy’s closet or a teenager taking on a new edgy identity. Iggy Azalea, with her fake southern trap accent and mannerisms, comes to mind.
The caricature is the imitator on bath salts.They pick every stereotype they can and act a fool with it. They typically don’t respond to criticism well. White privilege tends to be a foreign concept to them. They have no use for actual people of color except as props and cosigners. They’re just all around bad. Exhibit A: Miley Gotdamn Cyrus.
There you have it. I don’t think all appropriation is necessarily bad. A Miley Cyrus isn’t a Robin Thicke. However, people have every right to like or dislike the actions of cultural appropriators. We’ve had our cultures taken and bastardized for centuries and for a while, we were not able to speak out about it. Now, we have that platform and we have to take these people to task.
What do you think of cultural appropriation and the levels? Do you agree or disagree?