Cultural appropriation has become normalized for the advancement of careers, Halloween costumes, entertainment, and for the acceptance and approval of other individuals. Cultural appropriation of the black community and the “ghettos” has taken a new stance, as members of the black community are being chastised and penalized for celebrating their culture. Within the ghettos, African Americans are labeled as uneducated, a member of inner-city poverty, and live month to month through the means of Welfare. This is happening while individuals of European decent are profiting on the fashion, the Ebonics, and the hairstyles. Appropriating black culture is the indirect mockery of the struggles and the separation that lead into the creation of their culture. These individuals are appropriating a culture made by the hardworking, cracked hands of an African American.
In the early 1900s, during the Great Migration, African Americans journeyed north for better opportunities. Yet, they were met with horrid working conditions and even more horrific living conditions known as the ghettos. The people who were once bounded by their hands and feet, soon become bound to the oppression that lived within the cities. The ghettos existed as a form of legal segregation; officials were physically, aesthetically and financially separating African Americans from the “dominant race.” The laws and regulations of the banks made it difficult for African Americans to own homes, labeling them as a financial risk, pushing them into areas that were affordable and lacked resources. It became almost impossible for African Americans to advance and leave the “ghettos” due to the federal standards, while whites were taking advantage of the current social reconstruction; building equity and generational wealth (Bouie, 2014). This social reconstruction of the federally sponsored housing polices created the idea of “chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs” according to the article “How we built the Ghettos” by Jamelle Bouie. Blacks were now bounded to “their” neighborhoods by legalized discrimination, with the opportunity of generational wealth torn away.
With the ghettos being racially and economically created, this lead to many stereotypes placed on the African American people. There are individuals within the ghetto who have dominant goals and values similar to the wider society, but the lack of resources and opportunities prevent them from attaining these goals (Boney, 1975). The recourses and opportunities needed to obtain a higher skilled occupation were not available in the ghetto. The stigma of lazy, untrustworthy, and readiness to quit was attached to African Americans, and sadly this stigma still exists.
Although the ghettos were not the ideal living arrangements for African Americans, they turned a situation of social injustice and legal discrimination into culture. Within the ghettos lived culture, culture created by the African Americans. Writer Taryn Finley (2015) states, it is more than “just clothes, just hair and just slang” it is the livelihood of the Black community. Within the ghetto lived creativity, innovation and unseen talent. The fashion that was born in the ghetto and the hairstyles derived from slavery are the most appropriated. The appropriation includes but are not limited to: dreadlocks, cornrows, afro hair, dashikis, music, depiction of Africa, and the vernacular, also known as slang. The Instagram picture posted by a celebrity of European decent with cornrows, accumulating thousands of likes equating to profit, has now demeaned the derived meaning of cornrows. During slavery, the cornrows were used to plan escapes from the planation. Slaves would braid patterns corresponding to the layout of the plantations and escape routes on each other’s head. These creative methods limited the fear of their Master finding out.
As celebrities turn African American culture into “trends” and profits, the Black community still receives the consequences of indulging within their culture. An individual of a different culture is able to appropriate the dreadlock hair style, while a qualified African American with dreads, who has applied for job in corporate America, becomes denied due to that same hairstyle. The hairstyle that brings an appropriating individual, praise and obsession because of the “rarity” of a European with dreads, has caused an African American their job.
It is inequitable for African Americans to be stereotyped, overlooked and ridiculed for embracing their culture. It is disrespectful for celebrities to use their clout and upward mobility on the population to appropriate a culture that has been repressed by the public when embraced by the creators. Acts of culture appropriation take away from beauty that the struggle and suffrage created. African Americans that live within the ghettos are trapped, as their futures are predetermined by society. Unable to relish in their culture, African Americans are labeled unprofessional and problematic. Cultural appropriation of the African American community allows individuals of a different culture to exhibit and explore the culture without facing the consequences of lifelong injustice, oppression and adversity that have been bounded to the African American race.
Bonney, N. (1975). Work and Ghetto Culture. The British Journal of Sociology, 26(4), 435-447. doi:10.2307/589821
Bouie J. (2014, March 13) How we built the Ghettos, https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-we-built-the-ghettos?ref=scroll
Finley. T (2015, December 16) 10 times Black culture was Appropriated in 2015, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/10-times-black-culture-was-appropriated-in-2015_us_566ee11de4b011b83a6bd660
Kemi Pollock is a senior at Old Dominion University. She majors in Speech Pathology, and she plans to continue her education with speech into her Masters. She currently holds many leadership positions on campus, as well as being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Incorporated. She enjoys shopping, reading, and eating! She also enjoys self-love, which includes anything that will make her healthy and happy, including spending her time having good laughs with genuine people!