Cultural Appropriation: a term never heard of before until recent years to describe disapproval over cultural exchanges. The controversial and nuanced term “cultural appropriation” continues to broaden its scope, leaving room for differentmany interpretations and heated debate. While sSome view it as a crime, while others believe it spurs collaboration and innovation. However, there are certain scenarios in whichwhere there is a clear line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. For example, many people would agree that a non-Native American person sporting a traditional Native American headdress for Halloween is offensive and insensitive, but as time progresses, the distinction between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation increasingly blurs. Unfortunately, in a more hyper-sensitive and more socially aware society, cultural appropriation has become an umbrella term to describe innocuous situations, diluting the term’s meaning (Malik). This leads leverges critics of the term, who to believe that it curtails innovation and creativity;, harming cultures and races (Bradford). While it is true that many of the world’s greatest inventions would not exist today without cultural exchange, it is imperative to understand the differences discrepancy between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Appreciation involves a tangible effort on one’s part to truly respect and understand differentand study cultural aspects, while a core issue of cultural appropriation focuses on is the economic exploitation of other cultures, the majority of which are cultures within minority groups. or when minority groups are rewarded disproportionately compared to their white counterparts (Gray). Minority groups are statistically shown to receive substantially less profit when compared to majority group counterparts.. American corporations and celebrities hold a long-standing history of exploiting other cultures for profit, , diminishing their vt, yet the funds gained from doing so is highly contested in a debate over cultural appropriation or appreciation.
The music industry exemplifies this social injustice. Traditional black music and sound integrated into American society in the 17th century, eventually evolving into music genres such as jazz and rock. As black sounds took roots in the U.S. and gained popularity, white producers and artists sought to capitalize on thisfrom them by repackaging traditional black sounds by promoting white artists who used a so called black sound, therefore, and crowning themselves as the faces of the music. This shiftpower in dynamics elevated white artists while diminishing black artists as racism and the continued to oppression of African Americans continued;, hindering them from achieving well-deserved success and recognition (Ainsley). Paul Whiteman, dubbed “the King of Jazz” and praised for his “original” sound, exemplifies the rebranding and exploitation of black culture (Ainsley). In the the 1910’s, Whiteman utilized African-American derived sounds, altering their “primitive styles” to appeal more to mainstream white America (Ainsley). As his African-American counterparts remained unacknowledged, Whiteman earned one million dollars in one year (Tomilson). Similarly, Elvis Presley grew to fame by stealing sound from black artists, further perpetuating the long-standing tradition of mainstream absorption of black musical forms. The issue isn’t that Elvis sang black originated sounds, it’s that he did s In fact, Sam Phillips, a Sun Records executive who helped Elvis rise to stardom, acknowledged this power dynamic, proclaiming “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars” (Ainsley). Executives sought to redefine black sounds and cultural aspects while disassociating themselves with black culture.
Social media provides a new avenue for cultural exploitation, as it is an extremely lucrative platform. In 2018 alone, about 3.2 billion people used social media and advertisers on certain platforms, such as instagram paid influencers with large followings more than $10,000 per post (). Consequently, this attracts many celebrities and corporations, seeking to market their brand and increase their earnings. However, social media presents a false reality, often glamorizing the quality of life and brushing over issues. The faces of American pop culture, The Kardashian-Jenners, are notorious for taking advantage of social media’s vast reach at the expense of other cultures. For example, Kim Kardashian has repeatedly posted images on her Instagram wearing cornrows, crediting them to Bo Derek, a white American actress, despite their origin in West Africa centuries ago and long, complex history in black culture. However, this notion has far more serious implications than economic gain. For centuries, American society has perceived cornrows as “ghetto” and even instituted policies, such as as the military “braid ban” in 2014, which further oppress African-American society (). While black people face hatred and criticism for wearing cornrows, social media users praise Kardashian and contribute to her earnings. By not acknowledging the style’s historical context and profiting from them, Kardashian, just like Whiteman and Presley, perpetuates the long-standing tradition of dominant races reshaping other cultures to appeal to mainstream society.
However, this is not to say that social media soley plorifierates cultural appropriation. Its broad access and interconnectivity allows users to advocate against cultural appropriation and injustices. In December 2015, there were 10,097 tweets and over 2,000 Instagram relating to cultural appropriation (those numbers are expected to be significantly larger in the past two years), demonstrating the term’s wide-spread awareness and advocacy (Fang). A large portion of social media’s users tend to be young and impressionable, so it is imperative to for influencers to be cautious of the ideas and values they present to their audiences. Therefore, celebrities should enrich themselves and their fans with knowledge about other cultures instead of blatantly ignoring and diminishing other culture’s importance through acts of appropriation.
Cultural appropriation has integrated into mainstream society, Stringent ideas of cultural exchange could lead to a sterile, bland society, but completely disregarding cultural exploitation will lead to an insensitivity and ignorance. One thing remains certain: society must denounce racial inequities tied to cultural exploitation in order to move towards a more equitable and educated society. The problem is not white men playing jazz music or white celebrities wearing cornrows- it’s celebrities and corporations profiting from minority cultures, and as a result, diminishing the importance of those cultures. from Increased awareness and advocacy through tools, such as social media, would catalyze this shift. However, it is imperative that celebrities and influential figures are cautious about the messages they intend to deliver and values they instill in their sometimes young, impressionable fans. It is up to current American generations to break the robust habit of cultural exploitation, and embrace other cultures as they are, without rebranding aspects to better suit mainstream white America.
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