A firestorm had burst in US medias and in social networks few weeks ago, following Rachel Dolezal’s confessions, as head of the NAACP (National Association for Advancement of colored people). Far from having African roots as required for her status, she revealed that she had only German origins. Consequently, she had been accused of appropriating the history and the past of the Black People by a lot of internauts.
Was It a simple usurping case or Is it a societal issue deeply settled in American minds? Is Black Culture a Black Monopoly ?
‘Black Culture’, especially Black Music, seems to be a ‘private property’ in the American common ideology. The whole black music heritage _ from Blues and Funk to Reggae and the current Hip Hop (Rap, R’N’B’, Trap) have always been used as a protest weapon so as to denonce their own condition and position in the White Society. We cannot properly classify these artists in genres and subgenres but Medias introduced them in this way, and the artists themselves do not disagree with it. Blues was for instance used for Black slaves as a cathartic purification and Rap (Old School) to talk about everyday life in ghettos (aspect still present in the European Rap)
J Cole, paying tribute to his black ancestors in GOMD
More than a simple Art, this music takes a huge part in their cultural heritage and identity. Therefore, it is quite usual to find certain acerbic declarations from rap singers as Azealia Banks or Angel Haze towards those who ‘claim ownership of’ their culture and their history (as Iggy Azalea)
Why does Black Culture be such attractive ?
We can say first that it has always been a trend. Black culture was despised by the American White puritan society and represented also a sort of prohibition (because Black danced, sang, screamed and had not the same taboos as the White’s like death or sexuality). Thus, when Miley Cyrus shook her backside and asserted being inspired by ‘The _ so-called_ Spirit of Twerk’, the public opinion remained shocked and the Black community blamed her for aping and debasing their own culture. People said it is only the passing fancies of a teenage girl, liking provocation and reaching her teenage angst too late.
However , when some Rihanna or Nicki Minaj did the same, it seemed quite normal. The ‘Black Imagery’ seems to be undeniably sacred and untouchable, whose codes are rituals reserved to a ‘caste of priviledged’.
Nevertheless, we cannot set on an equal footing Miley Cyrus and Eminem ! We can distinguish also a second trend, a sort of ‘Elvis Presley Syndrom’ which means that the influences of a person do not limit to a cultural heritage but also to a cultural background. Thus, some Eminem, or some Macklemore have a certain legitimacy to sing Rap because they have experienced either the same ordeals than other Black Rap-singers (as the drug for Macklemore, for example) or they have grown up listening to Rap (Iggy Azalea, Dougie Kent or Machine Gun Kelly). Music does no limit to a color.
Slo, intimist videoclip of Iggy Azalea
In parallel, several artists yearn for the ‘White culture’, it is not an isolated act, but a global trend. R’n’b’, for instance, excerpt some independent artists as Miguel or Janelle Monae, turns to a sort of electro pop sound (as some Rihanna’s former LPs). This reciprocity makes the boarders between the different musical genres blurrer. The term of Salad Bowl can be used to talk about assimilations owing to mixings between the main genres (Between Hip Hop and World Music or widely between Hip Hop and Electro)
Being based on these former hypothesis, we can question the legitimacy of all these accusations against the White artists. We do not talk about Azealia Banks, the female Black rap singer and the main accuser, who tends to the electro and who is produced by Diplo (The White DJ, leader of the collective Major Lazer, known for his colored influences and also criticized).
We must not forget that Black Music, even appreciated and imitated, remains still discriminated against just like in the traditionnal Glastonbury festival (England) in which, Kanye West’s appearance left a bitterness and a general scepticism, or even in the Grammys which often skipped the African American artists.
Despite everything, there is an exception, a musical genre which seems not to be affected by this turmoil _ Soul Music. Being one of the basis of this complex tree view, Soul Music is the only stage of mutual agreement. Some artists like Amy Winehouse or Selah Sue keep being appreciated by everybody for their black influences.
The Humble Selah Sue’s title_ Black Part Love.
It is too early to say that mentalities have changed, however, several White artists start being respected in the Rap Scene as Action Bronson or G-Easy. Besides, a few new genres have emerged from these mixings as Trap or Dubstep (and Reggae before), which are resulting from the former antagonistic genres.