Thursday, January 29, 2015

Racism in America

I'll be honest, before a few weeks ago, I had no idea what either of those terms meant. With a few discussions in our GT class, I started understanding the real meaning of these buzzing subtopics of racism. Cultural appropriation is a huge example of blunt racism in today's society. While America is known for being a "melting pot" of cultures and influences, cultural appropriation is a completely different story. Cultural appropriation is when the ideals and symbols of a culture are used for commercial purposes or fashion by people of other cultures. When a more popular culture "borrows" a less popular culture and makes it popular, it's cultural appropriation, and it's not fair. It reminds me of when there's an outgoing kid in a room and a shy kid, and the shy kid quietly tells a joke to his friend next to him. They have a quiet, hearty laugh. Then the outgoing kid hears and tells the joke for the whole classroom to hear. Not only did this outgoing scumbag steal a kid's joke, he didn't even tell the joke right... he didn't even understand the meaning of the joke. He just saw some kid tell it and get a laugh, so he stole it, hoping to make some people think he was funny.

Likewise, the general public in America who consider themselves fashion enthusiasts tend to be in violation of cultural appropriation. All of the time, we see brands like Urban Outfitters rip off the beliefs of cultures across the globe. Whether it's selling bindis, creating ethiopian dresses, or stealing buddhist symbols, Urban Outfitters is always violating cultural appropriation.

Respectability politics are something that many people experience, but few people understand. Within a group's culture, an "elite" group may try to lift themselves up by putting the poorer people of their culture down. A prime example of this was found at an elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Deborah Brown Community School. The school was sponsored by Langston University, a historically black college. A young girl named Tiana Parker came to school wearing a pink bow in her dreadlocks, and was warned by the school for violating the school's policy against "distracting or unusual hairstyles". Other banned hairstyles included afros and mohawks. When I first skimmed through this article, I only saw a couple key words here and there. I immediately assumed that it was an anecdote about a predominantly white school ran by a predominantly white school board who made headlines for discriminating against black culture. When I reread the article, I realized that the school board was made up of mostly black people, and the school was demographically African-American. What I was reading about was respectability politics. I'd seen many of these situations, but I never knew that there was a formal name for it. Basically, the "uppity" black people of the community were trying to outlaw the tendencies of lower middle class black people to try to set themselves apart as more educated.

I've seen similar things happen in my life very often, whether in school or in the media. In the media, rap music especially, artists may rap about the poorer black communities of America, and tendencies that they may have. They talk about them with an"I'm past that though" attitude. However, rappers like Lupe Fiasco and Kendrick Lamar specifically do this while rapping about terrible things like gun violence, drug trafficking, or gang affiliation. The song M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar, (, is all about the violence going on in Compton, LA, his hometown. The first line of the song is "If Pyrus and Crips all got along, they'd probably gun me down by the end of this song, seems like the whole city go against me..." He's referring to the two gangs of Compton. He's already grouping himself in a different class than the gangsters of his hometown. That being said, his intentions are definitely only good. He's not trying to make himself look like a god by putting down his hometown. As a role model to Compton's inhabitants, he wants to possibly influence them into making better decisions. Nonetheless, he still portrays himself as a higher member of society than them due to their tendencies, which is respectability politics. Another example is Lupe Fiasco, a highly political rapper who spits controversy like a communist camel. He made a song called "dumb it down", actually one of my favorite songs by him ( In this song, he places himself on a pedestal (which he deserves, IMO) and looks down upon rap listening teenagers. He knows that he is an artist of a genre where many fans nowadays are heading down the wrong path. He also knows very well that he's prone to using big words, complicated concepts, and tricky metaphors in his raps. The chorus of the song is sung in a call-answer manner, where someone is telling him he needs to "dumb it down" for the sake of the general rap-listening public to be able to understand it. While I love Lupe to death, this is a prime example of respectability politics. Another one of my favorite things that Lupe's ever done was when he called out Chief Keef by saying he was a bad role model for Chicago teens. "Chief Keef scares me... Not him specifically, but just the culture that he represents..." Lupe began as he elaborated about the violence, crime, and gang violence in the South Side of Chicago.