Appropriation v. appreciation

Painting by artist Charlie Roberts
Gandolph, Charlie Roberts. (Photo via Saint Heron)

I just came across a cool post on hip-hop and the visual arts at Saint Heron. Really interesting stuff, but this quote from one of the interviewed artists, Charlie Roberts, is pretty off-putting:

I’m a White guy who loves rap and makes rap, so maybe I am a little too close to the question to answer it, but I have noticed that most of the handwringing in the press about these issues (i.e. Miley Cyrus) comes from the White media. It feels that hip hop and rap have opened up a lot in the Internet age, with regards to race, gender and sexual orientation.

Appropriation isn’t a matter of simply borrowing from another culture—it’s taking practices from another culture without showing respect. That lack of respect is especially evident when such appropriation is simply a vehicle to money and (greater) fame (e.g. Miley, since she’s already been used as an example).

Also, the issue here might not be that Roberts is white, but rather that he’s a rap artist. Rappers didn’t criticize Miley Cyrus, and haven’t criticized similar acts of appropriation, because they themselves often profit from gross stereotypes of black culture. Before they can speak out against this, they themselves have to look in the mirror.

Make no mistake, though: the issue of cultural appropriation isn’t an invention of the white media. Plenty of people of color are speaking out against it.