Empowerement, Racism

Are We Unintentionally Appropriating Black Culture? A Difficult but Important Question to Reflect on

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Sahar's Blog 2015 06 23 The Magic of Building on Strength An Almost Too-Good To Be True StoryIt’s funny how we can fool ourselves into believing we are doing everything we can only to have our eyes opened—sometimes painfully—by something seemingly minor.

I have always prided myself on not being racist. While just like everyone else, I make flash judgments based on experience, I am also very aware of this pattern of thought and constantly bring myself into account. Surely this made me a good citizen? Well it does, but being a good citizen is not good enough. Racism is such a scourge that it requires a lot more than “good citizens” to eliminate. Being a “good citizen” in the face of racism is like taking vitamin C when infected with Ebola.

But then the thought comes: what can I do?

I realised, while working on an upcoming short story collection on the concept of heroism, that I was caught in the same pattern of thought that keeps so many disempowered and disenfranchised populations from important discourses: because we are not “superheroes” or even “heroes” by today’s standards—in my case, because my blog is not read by millions and my books are not on top of the New York Times Best Sellers List—we might as well just go about our day to day affairs and let the “superheroes” and the “heroes” takes of these big problems.

But this is a big mistake that we to rectify as soon as possible.

Amandla Stenberg recently called out Kylie Jenner for appropriating elements of African-American culture without using her “position of power” to help African-Americans, since she was directing attention towards her wigs instead of towards police brutality or other instances of racism. Those three words blew my mind. It so happens that Kylie Jenner has a lot more influence than I do, but I do have **some** influence—hi, reader!—and I have only used it shyly at best to contribute to the conversation. Therefore, I am just as guilty of cultural appropriation myself.

And no, I am not being too hard on myself. After all, I unabashedly believe in the concept of a lot of little things can add up big—heck, I wrote a whole book about it! If I believe that most people in the world are nice and that we should hear more from them, why am I not doing the same? If I believe that if all bloggers with even the smallest of audiences jumped into the conversation can make a big difference, why am I not leading the way? If I believe that a thousand small, positive voices can drown out the loudest, often negative voices, why am I am not raising mine?

Oftentimes, when I discuss this matter with friends, they point out that although they would love to lend their voice, they wouldn’t know what to say. I would suggest to start by sharing the posts of those whose eloquence is better than ours. While we might not agree with all they have to say, and while we might, in the future, return to these posts and completely disagree with them, it will still achieve the purpose of stimulating thought and hopefully discussion.

There is thankfully a lot on this topic for anyone wanting to stand up for unity in diversity to learn from. Stenberg herself has previously used Twitter to share some other thought provoking, insightful tweets. She also inspired others to write about the topic, such as this Vibe post. Stenberg also recently posted a great video, Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows, which explains the concept of cultural appropriation, asking viewers a very simple yet poignant question: “what would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”

What about you? What position of power do you have that you could use to contribute to the elimination of racism?

Image courtesy of Chad Mauger.

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