We cannot have a discussion about culture, or cultural appropriation, without first having a discussion about structural positions. And by that, I simply mean our way of being as races. Ontology will always determine and shape culture.

Racialized slavery stripped black folks of their name, their language, their labor, their body, their family, their history, their land, their sense of self, their culture, their religion, etc (Fanon, 1952). It was (and is!) a physical as well as a metaphysical violence.

That being stated, black folks have no “self”. We have been robbed – our very being is that which is appropriated by other races. Blackness is that which is positioned as a negation, a loss, a void, an absence – all of which makes the rest of the world possible. Blackness is the hole that makes the world whole (Wilderson, 2008).

My problem with the idea that black folks can appropriate other cultures is the assumption that black folks can own. But folks need to realize that blackness cannot own or appropriate anything – blackness is that which is owned and appropriated. We cannot own and be owned at the same time.

So, even when there seems to be a legitimate argument that an individual black person is “appropriating the culture” of a non-black group – I would simply retort that the culture in question was, and is, parasitic on blackness anyway. The reason is because the structural position – or being – of that group depends on their distance from blackness. Any discussion about private ownership and “belonging” is automatically anti-black, because blackness has to be dispossessed to make the concept of possession possible.

Black people do not have the property rights to what is known as “black culture”. Since black people do not have selves that are recognized as human, there is no “black culture” that we can take ownership of or gate-keep. Black performances and accomplishments can only be claimed by the structures of an anti-black world (Murillo, 2012). The fact that blackness lacks a “self” is why “black culture” is appropriated so often.


References:

Fanon, Frantz. 1952. Black Skin, White Masks.

Wilderson, Frank B. III. 2008. Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms

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