Much as it pains me to admit aloud, maybe there’s something to all those stupid-ass memes that your “woke” Facebook friends like to share that compare real-life “ignored” atrocities to the asinine s—t that makes BuzzFeed headlines. That Blake Lively’s delusional Instagram post dominated an entire Wednesday lends credence to their gripes.
Even I couldn’t stay out of the fray: My Facebook post on the issue reached over 100 comments—a 2016 record to date. The conversation was largely centered on not whether Lively meant to reference Auckland, New Zealand, in relation to her ass—which is flatter than damn near all the singing on every Empire soundtrack—but whether a pretty, skinny white girl is racist for quoting quarter-century-old Sir Mix-a-Lot lyrics.
In other words, just another day for educated black nerds on Facebook.
I texted Panama for his opinion, to which he responded that he simply didn’t give a s—t (the right answer), adding that “cultural-appropriation accusations are having the best year ever.” His getting me to think about all the conflagrations over appropriation accusations as of late gave birth to this piece.
In 2016, everyone wants to be Freddie from A Different World. As far as I’m concerned, Freddie was the progenitor of this cultural-appropriation clapback s—t. Not only are we opening our eyes to new stuff that fits under the umbrella of “problematic,” but those of us who remember what pop culture looked like 20 to 30 years ago are thinking stuff like, “Damn, maybe I can’t listen to Michael Jackson’s ‘Remember the Time’ video with Deebo and Iman’s sexy ass no more!”
Actual cultural appropriation—like actual racism—requires the white supremacist power dynamic. But that doesn’t mean that people of color can’t denotatively appropriate other cultures in ways that, depending on your perspective, can be innocuous or kinda f—ked up.
We “borrow” all the time and don’t think about it—Japanese kanji tattoos (guilty), that ugly guayabera hanging in my closet, Indian everything (hair, yoga, jewelry, etc.). But we’ve certainly taken to dragging an increasing number of celebrities for appropriating—namely, really popular white ones to whom people give more credit than I do with regard to understanding, let alone acknowledging, their actions.
Folks definitely throw around the “r-word” more insouciantly than I’m comfortable with. Though my definition of racism continues to evolve along with the rest of the world’s, I’m still reluctant to use “racist” to describe both Strom Thurmond and Taylor Swift just because she crawled under black asses in a video. To me, that word still holds a lot of heft and shouldn’t be used lightly.
But there is such a thing as thoughtfulness. And often, celebrities need to be schooled on the thoughtlessness of their words and actions. Since I’m the world’s foremost authority on what’s worth trippin’ over and what isn’t, below is my (correct) opinion on several recent cultural-appropriation accusations.
Incident: Justin Bieber Rocking Dreadlocks
Verdict: In general, white folks look questionable with dreads. At best, blond white people, like Bieber, look like they have a whole head full of what happens in your drain after you give a Labrador retriever a bath.
That said, though it’s a staple of black American hairstyles, matted hair didn’t exactly originate with us. So the clusterf—kery on top of Biebs’ head is not inherently problematic. What is infuriating is the sustained negative perception of black dreads. I’ve no doubt that white America still views dreads as unprofessional; that’s the stigma I wish to move past. Bieber only played himself walking out of the house like that.
Incident: Coldplay and Beyoncé Aping Indian Culture
Verdict: First off, remember the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” video? That s—t was the jam back when I was 5 years old, but it would have the Freddie types seething in 2016.
As to Coldplay and Beyoncé, though the video was directed by an Indian guy in cities throughout India, folks were pissed off at the sight of rich, English marshmallow rockers Coldplay being … Coldplay among impoverished country folk. I don’t think there should be a mandate dictating that rich white people should only shoot their music videos off Park Avenue, but there might be something to the complaints about Beyoncé Beyoncé-ing in traditional Indian makeup and garb.
Her getup comes across as pretty tone-deaf. But since many of the neo-Freddies are also card-carrying Beygency members, she got off pretty cleanly.
Incident: Zoe Saldana Straight Bastardizing Nina Simone
Verdict: The degree of wackness related to Saldana portraying Nina Simone can’t be understated. Not only are there actresses who bear a much closer physical resemblance to Simone, but Saldana also has the acting range of a first-generation Hummer on one gallon of gas. Tack on the questionable comments she’s made about her own blackness that stand in diametric opposition to what Simone fought for, and it’s all bad.
Just the same, there was a room full of people somewhere who probably get paid more than most of us in which someone said, “Hey, blackface, then? Prosthetic nose, yeah?” And everyone else was like, “Good idea, fam!” I’m calling for f—king scalps here.
Incident: Iggy Azalea’s Whole Muthaf—kin’ Steez
Verdict: Look, white rappers have been affecting the sound of black rappers since time immemorial (there was an entire reality-television show to prove it). It’s just another aspect of an entire genre whose raison d’être is to front.
Iggy’s basically caught a lot of s—t because she’s an unapologetic, reckless-tweeting, not-unattractive white girl who’s sold a gajillion records. If she had spent 2014 shutting the f—k up on Twitter and at least giving off the vibe that she was constantly genuflecting to the House of Run-DMC or some s—t, she wouldn’t be so hated. But it’s easy to get at her when her most egregious sin is the garbage she puts on wax and calls music.
Incident: Kylie Jenner’s Cornrows
Verdict: Similar to Biebs’ dreads. But the only real reason Jenner caught s—t about this was that she literally has the same number of Instagram followers as there are immigrants living in the United States. Every little alteration of her style is perceived as “bold” and “daring” by lemmings who fail to realize that a chick born after The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air went off the air isn’t the first to start a goddamned thing.
The homie Rue came at her with what, in all fairness, was a straw man argument that suggested a member of the f—king Kardashian hive should have the foresight to care about the #BlackLivesMatter movement simply because she happened to do what basic white girls do in Cancún after too many Hurricanes. If I can’t get mad at Rachel Dolezal, I can’t get pissed at Jenner. Who cares?
Incident: Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus Using Black Dancers
Verdict: I’m somewhat conflicted by this. On the one hand, the black dancers whose asses were utilized for twerking purposes in a video should have, in theory, gotten massive amounts of exposure, considering that Swift’s “Shake It Off” has been viewed nearly 1.5 beeeellion times. The dancers got paid to do what they presumably love, and they didn’t need to slum it in a Lil Uzi Vert video to make rent.
On the other hand, there is that quick, chalkboard-on-nails reaction I get when I see rail-thin pop megastars with the longest of backs juxtaposed against ample-bootied sistas. It also raises the question: Who the f—k does the weak-ass twerking dance “belong” to? Since hip-hop is a definitively black and brown art form, are all white people who partake appropriating it? If Swift threw on some Chucks and break-danced in a video to “Planet Rock,” is that appropriation? So many questions!
Incident: Gwyneth Paltrow Tweeting “Ni**as”
Verdict: Yeah, this happened four years ago. But I’m mentioning it just because I can’t stand Paltrow’s Nabisco Original Premium ass. Off with her head!
Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavyweights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. You can find more of his work at VerySmartBrothas.com.