If you want to better understand what it means to be a Millennial, specifically a Millennial of Color, you have to understand cultural appropriation. There are countless academic resources that shed light on this phenomenon of cultural theft and erasure, but you’re too busy to read theoretically dense text! Or Google! So here’s a list of what it means to appropriate cultures, including at least one receipt for each example. Let’s begin with one of my favorites:
Whatever an individual chooses to do with their hair is their business. Absolutely! But names matter, and so do the histories and peoples attached to them. Because of the intimate, political history of black hair, dreadlocs or locs are very important to the black diaspora. If a nonblack individual wishes to mimic this hairstyle, the best advice is “Don’t”. But if they must, they should at least attempt to respect the culture they “admire”. Call them tangle-knots. Call them matt-remnants. Call them whatever. But do not call them locs.
2. Native American mascots. If I saw someone wearing a jersey with a floating black man’s head with “Mandingos” or “Coons” written above, I would be grossly offended too. Yes, it is literally the same thing.
3. Big butts as a trend, (which also creates the false ideal of a large ass without large thighs, tummy, or anything else besides breasts. Not that it’s impossible, but that it is not the norm) erases the subjugation of black bodies in various ways because of this now “praised” physical feature.
4. “Big Black C*ck as an experience“, which objectifies the same black men that were once (and still to a certain extent) imprisoned, abducted, beaten, mutilated, hanged, and burned publicly for that same objectification (and denial thereof).
5. Avocados (okay, but like really why are avocados a “thing” now? They been here.)
6. AAVE. In other words, the language that makes virtually everyone’s media experience (TV, film, Internet) – around the globe -what it is.
7. Praising and mimicking the beauty aesthetics of famous black women in the media yet mocking the same beauty aesthetics on black women in real life
8. Mimicking the behavior and aesthetics of black hypermasculinity while fearing and/or criminalizing the behavior and aesthetics of actual black men.
9. Using poc religious/faith practices as personal enlightenment and then commodifying the faith.
10. Using black popular cultural and performance to rebel against the white mainstream, white parents, and white insecurities.
11. Surrounding yourself with a particular people of color and the related culture for the sole purpose of exoticizing yourself (sorry Gwen).
12. Using “g*psy” to describe a “free, earthy, non-bathing Coachella” lifestyle despite the offensiveness of the word to Roma (Romani) people and their history of deportation and genocide during the Nazi regime. (Although, it’s not officially considered an ethnic slur. Gee, I wonder why.)
13. Erasing the work of countless academics of color by shooting a “culturally aware” video that renames cultural appropriation, a racial phenomenon that poc have been talking about for decades, “Columbusing”.
14. Visiting and/or moving into a predominantly black and/or brown neighborhood for its “charm”, but having no sense of respect for the black and/or brown people that live there, built the area, and serve the people in that area.
15. Claiming “cultural understanding” and relationships with people of color to excuse your racist actions, theories, beliefs, jokes, etc.
16. Using personal “awareness” of people of color’s sociopolitical struggles to speak over and silence actual poc and intrude on those spaces designed for and by people of color, and still labeling oneself an “ally”.
17. Saying n*gga in music
18. Saying n*gga to black “friends”
19. Saying n*gga in public
20. Saying n*gga in private
“Well! What if I’m just expressing brotherly love and solidarity, like when actual n*ggas use it?!” Your white friend wants to know? They still can’t say it. Because their rationale steals from a legitimate culture. That’s not their culture. That’s not how they express brotherly love and solidarity. They can continue to “express love and solidarity” in other ways. To put it simply, if they loved black people even half as much as they love black cultural expression, they wouldn’t even want to say the n-word.
Feeling vulnerable right about now? That’s a natural response!
Feeling targeted? This isn’t about you, boo. Everyone is complicit in some way. But this list isn’t condemning anyone. It’s simply articulating a few ways in which culture is appropriated and poc and history are erased. It’s important to be aware in order to better ourselves and better care for others.
P.S. Feel free to add your own receipts on cultural appropriation, personal or referenced, in the comments.