To say that the current cultural and political climate in the United States is tense is a gross understatement. And while the palpable social and political polarization may seem relatively new, as in riding on the coat tails of the current administration, the heaviness of this tense sentiment has been brewing in America’s proverbial “Melting Pot” since its inception. In fact many people of color (POC) have long expressed this, only to be dismissed, disregarded, and drowned out by a majority cocooned in cognitive dissonance.
For example, cultural appropriation has been a hot topic in many current news stories, especially in current celebrity news and pop culture. But what is cultural appropriation and why is it so dangerous? In short, cultural appropriation is a sociological concept in which one culture adopts elements from another culture. And though this may seem fairly harmless, keep in mind that cultural appropriation is far different than an innocent cultural exchange or genuine curiosity in another culture.
America’s black community, among other POC, have pointed out the damaging effects of cultural appropriation for years, and these issues are finally getting the attention they deserve. The birth of rock and roll is a prime example of the cultural erasure that often accompanies cultural appropriation. This erasure denies the origins or contribution of one culture while elevating another.
In the 1940s and 1950s, black gossip and culture centered around African American musical styles such as gospel, jazz, and rhythm and blues. These styles were frowned down upon by mainstream culture, however they were soon coopted by artist such as Elvis, who popularized them and capitalized off of their success. The achievements and talent of the original black artists that created these styles was completely ignored, while the white musicians that mimicked these styles were celebrated. Black gossip publications of the time were quick to point out the hypocrisy and obvious racial undertones.
Fast forward to today, and many black gossip, news, and entertainment sites are still grappling with the same issue. The latest Hollywood trends, slang, and mainstream pop culture borrows heavily from black culture, but credit is rarely if ever given where credit is due. And it’s not just black Americans that feel this way, as several other POC struggle with the reality of cultural appropriation and erasure.
Though America has come a long way in its race relations, there are many times when the exact opposite seems true. Bigotry, hatred, and racial discrimination are sentiments that will always exist, but the hope for a better, more tolerant future will always prevail. And what that hope comes the grace to learn from the past and a willingness to celebrate the diversity that is the United States.