Earlier this week, in a performance that can be described as awkward and performative, Katy Perry debuted her new song “Bon Appetit” featuring rap group, Migos, on Saturday Night Live. The trap-pop track describes Perry’s body parts as fruit and food code words that leave little to the imagination, while bringing Perry into her latest era of appropriation of black culture.
Although this theft of the culture is becoming more normal as a trend for white women, it is surprisingly coming with the assistance of black men in the industry, who seem willing to turn a blind eye to the appropriation for the right amount of money.
The past few years have brought us several white pop stars who have infiltrated black culture, with the help of a few leading black men who seem all too eager to sell us out for capitalist gains. Miley Cyrus is one of the first who comes to memory, ushering in the infusion of black culture into her very “pop music.” It was a performance at the VMA’s that triggered the initial discussions of white women co-opting parts of black culture who ironically, because of white privilege, are not faced with the same condemnation or discrimination that many artists of color experience. All while making a fortune.
During a performance with Robin Thicke, Miley on multiple occasions attempted to mimic the popularized twerk, a dance widely associated with black women with large butts. The evolution from her Disney persona, Hannah Montana, to the new and improved twerking Miley came with hip-hop-inspired music, less clothing, and all the surface-level adjustments to simulate the skewed images of black women. But what’s more alarming is that the most vocal in Miley’s defense was Oscar-winning rapper Juicy J of Three Six Mafia.
In addition to the blasphemy of giving Miley the superlative of “best twerker,” he also downplayed Miley’s cultural appropriation because she was affluent, worth $200 million with “a few jets” and simply “having fun.” Black men’s defense of white women is dangerous, as it devalues our culture and leaves it unprotected when these same white women go back to their own and diminish it as a “phase.”
Time and time again we have seen black men in the music industry defend problematic white women, who they have welcomed into our space with open arms.
In 2014, Iggy Azalea came under fire after an emotional rant by Azalea Banks accused the Australian rapper of appropriating black culture. Veteran Rapper Q-Tip weighed in on the situation and provided constructive criticism, giving a history lesson on slavery, white privilege and the problem with taking in a culture without having context and respect for the plight of the race most often oppressed by it. T.I., who managed Iggy’s career, became very vocal in def
ending her, arguing that Iggy’s adoption of black culture was “inspiration” rather than appropriation.
His defense, of course, is based in the fact that he and Iggy were winning awards over actual rap artists who don’t need to fake a black accent to be accepted. Not to mention, it was more self-serving than anything. T.I., like many other black men, feels our culture is something to be shared at a cost, as if it were a commodity on the New York Stock Exchange. This blatant disregard, however, speaks to a much larger issue of how white people love black culture, but not necessarily black people.
In 2015, former editor-in-chief of Ebony Magazine Kierna Mayo addressed this issue in an article entitled “Does America Love Black People” in the “America Loves Black People Culture” issue. Mayo spoke of black power and capitalism, and how most black people understand that black culture is loved by the mainstream much more than the people who created it. Or in her words, the “overwhelming reminders that America truly loves what it perceives as Black — from baby oil to butts, collard greens to crunk — but actual Black people? Perhaps not so much.”
Black capitalism is at the root of what pushes these white pop stars into our sacred spaces. The culture, unfortunately, has become the biggest bargaining chip in the creation of wealth, and black men who allow white woman into that capital do so with reckless disregard for the damage caused when said white women leave the culture only to disparage it.
Bringing back Miley Cyrus, who now blames the culture for pushing her back into her Hannah Montana innocence. Earlier this month, she attributed hip-hop music to just being about fast cars and sucking “co*k.” This, she claimed, was the reason she had to “leave” the culture. Truth be told, the two years she pretended to be a part of the culture have dried up, and now she must go back to where her capital lies. However, those same men who supported her efforts in the culture are now silent as she retracts and erases that part of her life as nothing more than a phase. Silence makes you complicit, and allowing these artists — who you offered a platform to — to destroy it makes you compliant in the degrading of your own culture.
We must stop letting these artists play dress up with our culture as if it is a Disney Princess costume, then throw it away when the newest trend begins. We must hold ourselves accountable for allowing them into the best parts of our culture but not holding them to task for being silent when African-American men, women and children are murdered at the hands of state-sanctioned violence, or when policies are being enacted that will continue to oppress us.
Black men in the industry must do better and not be so willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces for a few more dollars on an already padded bank account.
Katy Perry will probably ride this newest wave until the wheels fall off, full of N-words, golden grills, and the imitated “hood poses.” The question is: when will black men in the industry step up and stop allowing the appropriation? Our culture can no longer be a commodity. We have come too far to lose it all for the appeasement of white woman in the modern day of blackface.
George M. Johnson is a journalist and activist based in the Washington, D.C. area. He has written for EBONY.com, TheGrio, JET, Pride.com, Thebody.com, and The Huffington Post on topics of health, race, gender, sex, and education. Follow him on Twitter: @iamgmjohnson.