Dear Cultural Appropriation: What’s Good?
by Simone Hunter-Hobson on Friday, October 2nd, 2015
Nicki Minaj’s statement, “What’s good, Miley?” during the August 30th Video Music Awards has garnered serious infamy and scrutiny in the short amount of time since it was uttered. “What’s good” is simply a choice phrase for an individual who wants to confront another. Nonetheless, many celebrities and people have lost their minds over the idea that Nicki Minaj decided to speak up for herself. Some claim that Nicki Minaj’s “outlash” was neither justified nor appropriate. After posting my opinion on my Facebook page, I read a girl’s comment, in which she expressed that Nicki Minaj’s response was just playing into the “angry, bitter black girl” stereotype. If we really think about it, though, is it fair for us to blame Nicki for speaking her mind? Instead, should we blame society for even placing these shallow stereotypes on a person as a result of race and gender? You see, there is a larger issue at stake. In fact, the argument between Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus highlights the overlooked issue of cultural appropriation and the lack of intersectionality between white feminism and women of color.
The Video Music Awards are an excellent example of cultural appropriation, in which individuals in power manipulate bits and pieces of another culture into a lucrative business without giving credit to the originators of that culture. For example, Miley Cyrus tried to pull off blonde dreads, which (in my opinion) ended up looking like a dead animal on top of her head. Kolbi Bradley (Class I) agrees, saying, “Dreads are trendy and hip when Miley Cyrus wears them, but they ‘smell like weed’ when Zendaya wears them.” This issue is nothing new. Society ignores and even denounces hairstyles and traditional clothing from African, Japanese, and Native American cultures within the original culture but highly praises them when someone of another culture applies the look as a fashion statement. Culture should be cherished and not manipulated into a profit or a mockery of others. Nonetheless, the Video Music Awards and many other media events tend to lose sight of the need for cultural appreciation rather than disregard or disrespect.
The argument between Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus exemplifies the ignorance of certain white feminists who fail to acknowledge that women’s rights is not a straightforward walk through the park. As a result of racism and classism, women from all different cultural backgrounds experience various extents of oppression. When Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video was not nominated while Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video made the nomination, Nicki tweeted “[I’m] just tired. Black women influence pop culture so much, but are rarely rewarded for it.” She also tweeted, “White media and their tactics. So sad. That’s what they want.” Instead of trying to understand Nicki Minaj’s perspective as a woman of color, Taylor Swift immediately launched a brash and defensive response, tweeting, “I’ve done nothing but love and support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” By dismissing Nicki Minaj’s experiences as a woman of color, Taylor Swift failed to realize the discrimination that black female artists face. Though Swift is an active denouncer of sexism, she completely ignored the huge elephant in the room: racism.
Nancy Lee Grahn acted as another recent example of such insensitivity when she discredited Viola Davis’ speech over the lack of equal opportunity for black women. Grahn tweeted, “My upset is acting awards don’t fix racial injustice… She has never been discriminated against.” Grahn’s tweet is just another prime example of another woman trying to hush up or ignore the experience of a woman of color.
Some may wonder: Why is this such a big deal? Well, let’s think about it. In a world where racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and colorism build off on one another, the only solution to ending all oppression is intersectionality. Intersectionality is simply the process of acknowledging how all forms of oppression intersect with one another. For example, Facebook posted a celebratory post of “Happy Women’s Equality Day!” on August 26th with the cute little slogan “We Voted!” featuring female characters of all different races. However, black women were not granted the right to vote until the 1960’s, after protesting racist Jim Crow Laws. In addition, Hispanic and Asian women still faced voting barriers, until the government allowed bilingual voting registration as an option in 1975. Clearly, women’s rights comprise a wide array of issues, as other components, such as racism, create more complicated obstacles for the movement. As Kolbi Bradley (Class I) stated, “You can’t deny the importance of intersectionality when Native American, Latina, Asian, and Black women still make less than men and white women – when transgender women are being murdered and attacked.”
A change cannot happen overnight. America has been struggling for centuries to finally get it right, to finally grant all people an equal playing field. Nonetheless, only when we as a united people can realize that all aspects of discrimination work hand in hand, feeding off each other in a vicious cycle, and only when we realize that this cycle needs to be destroyed through collaboratively listening and accepting others’ truths and experiences, can the opportunities for equality be truly boundless.
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