Adele: Appropriation or Appreciation?
I can tell you right now that there is not a simple answer to this question. Race and cultural appropriation are complex matters that have contributed to Black anger and fueled the long-standing racial tension in the United States. But where does it come from?
Hair for African-Americans is a form of cultural and personal expression, but it is also a civil rights issue that spans decades. Black hair, for a lot of African-Americans, is a protest against White ideals that have long castigated Black women for their natural hair. But even further, African-Americans are forced to assimilate into a Whiteness that does not belong to them.
For decades, and still today, White culture has relegated Black culture and all its attributes. Our music is ghetto, our slangs are ghetto, our long nails and lashes are ghetto until gentrified to suit White people.
Black hair is still deemed unkempt and unsophisticated to the extent that the US has to criminalize natural hair discrimination.
Black hair expression has and is heavily censored in the US — unless seen on non-Black women. White women have a habit of stealing Black culture, particularly Black hair, without issuing any credit. Kim Kardashian and her sisters perfectly convey how Blackness, Black hair, and Black culture is ghetto until adopted and gentrified by non-Black women.
The Kardashians have made millions off the Black culture without giving any due credit. If you skim through their social media, you will come to realize that the entire Kardashian-Jenner brand is an appropriation of Black culture: from the braids to the make-up that borders Blackface. It can even be argued that they popularized Black culture without any true affinity for the Black community. Unfortunately, the Kardasians are not the only ones to benefit from Black culture, but they are the most known.
Why is this important?
It’s important because White women can profit from the Black culture without crediting us as their inspiration. Even more, Black women are still classified as unsophisticated for owning hairdos that more and more White women enjoy without the same criticism. If a Black woman and a White woman were to interview for the same job wearing Bantu knots, only one of the interviewees would be deemed unacceptable. And that’s the problem.
The African-American anger towards cultural appropriation stems from the reality and history of Black culture being misattributed to White people. There is a deep love for Black culture, but a strong hatred for Black people. The dissonance is enough to anger and confuse anyone. It is particularly angering for a group of people who feel homeless in their own country.
Black people came to the United States 400 years ago, but somehow, have yet to settle. They are a people without a home; A man without a country. Despite their displacement, they developed a rich culture in which they found different ways to express themselves: particularly through their hair. And even then, their oppressors insist on plagiarizing the Black culture. White America aggressively and blatantly appropriates Black culture while having little regard for Black people. It is no surprise that African-Americans demand to be credited for their culture and creativity.
I am a Black immigrant, and don’t share the history of African-Americans; therefore, I don’t share the African-American anger. But the gentrification of Black culture by White women like the Kardashians, the Jenners, Rita Ora, and Emma Hallbery is still distasteful for me and many non-American Black women.
However, the Adele debacle is not comparable.
If you’ve been following the Adele Bantu knots controversy, you will notice that there is a rift between the African-American community and the international Black community. Adele’s post is far more nuanced than the average blackfishing post and brought different Black opinions to the forefront. Some think that Adele is appropriating the Black culure, while others thinks it’s a homage to the carnival and Black culture. Here’s what I think:
Adele, through her post, is celebrating the carnival culture of London, which is predominantly Black and West Indian.
Some even argue that Adele gave credit through her mention of the carnival and the Jamaican emoji.
You’ll probably notice that I haven’t mentioned Adele’s Bantu knots and its involvement in the West Indian and African interpretations. The reason for that is simple: hair expression is not the same for all Black people.
Africans, West Indians, and Afro-Latinas haven’t had to fight for hair expression as African-Americans have. This is not to say that contempt for Black hair is purely American, but the fight for Black hair expression is embedded in the African-American experience. Likewise, blackfishing is not ingrained in African or West Indian culture. It, however, has pervaded the African-American experience for hundreds of years.
Jamaicans, Nigerians, Trinidadians, Ghanaians, and Bajans identify more strongly with their nationality than their racial identity. Consequently, outside consumption of Black culture for Africans and West Indians is not underscored by a history of cultural appropriation. Therefore, the Adele debacle is open to a different interpretation by a group of Black people with a separate racial history.
Africans and West Indians perceive Adele’s post as an homage to our country and culture -– not an appropriation of our culture. The need to defend our Blackness is little to none. That defense mechanism is far more necessary for African-Americans than anyone else. The theft of Black culture threatens African-American identities more than it threatens the other Black identities.
The only simple truth here is that African-Americans are still in the middle of a race war. Many Africans and West Indians have already fought off their colonizers; African-Americans are still fighting. And a large part of that fight is for the ownership and respect of their culture that faces the threat of being commandeered by White people.
The African-American pain is real and warranted, and should not be mitigated by the opinions of Black people who do not identify with the African-American struggle.