DO NOT PUBLISH The fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation

Laurent Rathmell Diversity Reporter

When Justin Bieber attended an iHeart Radio event donning a new hairstyle, the internet erupted with criticism. Bieber reduced the hair controversy to him “just being weird;” however, the dreadlock style Bieber wore opened the discussion of cultural appropriation and when it is okay — if it ever is.

By definition, cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of any different culture.

“The line between appreciating a culture and appropriating a culture depends on how you do it,” said Okantah. “

Okantah said appropriation has been problematic for decades, but it has been balanced out by other people showing appreciation for the culture that inspired them. The problem begins when a culture is stolen from a group, without any credit.

“If you look at the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, they are all clear about the influences in the music that they play,” said Okantah. “They’ve all been very honest. They’ve all done things to raise the profiles of the musicians that they revere. They’ve always been clear on that.”

In America, where you have white musicians being called the kings of swing or rock, that is not always the case.

“Benny Goodman was known as the king of swing in America,” said Okantah. “He was white. When he went to Harlem for a contest against Mercer Ellington, it was clear that Ellington was the real king of swing.”

“Blues and Jazz are America’s music. But you don’t have blues and jazz without black people in America. It’s rare that that is acknowledged they way it should be,” said Okantah.

Appropriation can be avoided with honesty, said Okantah. It is depended on who is telling the story, and how they are telling it.

“I know that people resent the idea that so much has been copied from black performers,” said Okantah. “And these performers have not gotten the proper recognition or benefits.”

Okantah recalls a move inspired by the Red ball express, a land supply convoy in World War II, when troops were segregated by race. His father was part of that convoy.

“When a movie was made about them it was made with white actors,” said Okantah. “That still happens. A lot of this still goes on today.”

For junior physical education major Geovante Craig, it’s not hard to find someone appropriating his black culture daily.

“I do see it all the time,” said Craig. “I don’t think people realize what they are doing.”

Craig said he understands the shifting opinions of appropriation to appreciation.

“Some people don’t mean any disrespect by it,” said Craig. “I think that if you’ve grown up around that culture, no matter what color you are, you will have an appreciation for it.”

The subjective views on appropriation stem from the fine line between disrespecting a culture and generally not realizing that is it wrong. Along with music, fashion is something that is also appropriated.

“When you wake up in the morning and go to your closet to pick out your clothes, I feel like for some people, what they are doing does click,” said Craig.

Craig said that generally he is not bothered by the appropriation that he sees; however, he realizes why some people are because it is easy to avoid.

“There’s always a way to do it tastefully,” said Craig. “You can take the time to understand the culture and recognize it and give it credit.”

“Styles are being divorced from the life experiences that created the style,” said Okantah. “On one hand, you have a society that is constantly denigrating the people, but celebrating the style. Which is a representation of those people.”

“How can you steal our image, but not like who we are as people?” said Craig. “That sums up the whole issue.”

Michelle Carr, junior Fashion design major views a solution to the appropriation carried about by celebrities like Justin Bieber.

“At the very least, give credit where credit is due,” said Carr. “If you’re wearing cornrows, call them cornrows. Not boxer braids.”

Kim Kardashian recently faced outlast for a hair tutorial on “boxer braids.” Commenters fired back at Kardashian, who claimed the hairstyle was new, stating that the hairstyle was actually just cornrows.

The line between appreciating a culture and appropriating it may be thinner than it seems.

“I’ve even read little discussions about whether it would be cultural appropriation for black people to represent Africa,” said Carr. “Some say yes, because you are not “African,” and we are considered American. Some say no, because all black people came from Africa at some point and we would like to represent and be proud of where we originated from.”

Carr believes that along with giving credit to the creator of these cultural norms, people may be able to use their majority to open discussion on what is and isn’t acceptable.

“I think people should use their privilege to  an advantage and help these minorities,” said Carr. “You can definitely do different things to support and uplift a culture other than just wearing their fashions as a trend.”

As for general solutions, Okantah has a positive outlook for this generation

“Cultural appropriation goes way back, it’s not a new thing,” said Okantah. “But I think now, this generation of people is more educated and they care more about it. A new generation is finding out that it exists. It’s not new. When you come into awareness and begin to notice things, it can be disconcerting.”