All Articles Tagged "stealing black culture"
Earlier this month, Vogue Italia’s released its March issue, which featured a number of the world’s top models including Jessica Stam, Joan Smalls and Coco Rocha, in a spread ironically titled “Haute Mess.” The spread, which is said to have been inspired by the “messy” side of drag queen culture, features these top models, who are mostly white, playing up images of neck and facial tattoos, gold teeth, and wigs made of money and candy-colored towering hair styles.
Of course, Vogue Italia has caught some flack over the fashion spread, mainly for perpetuating stereotypes of black women and ridiculing the culture. Despite Vogue Italia’s assertion that drag queens were the inspiration, many folks have drawn a very clear – and in my opinion, obvious – correlation between Haute [or High] Mess to the “Ghetto Fabulous” panache we see on sites like Hot Ghetto Mess. Some pictures featured in Haute Mess, including the Easter basket and the Skittles-appliqué hairstyles, have clearly been ripped directly from photos, which have been circulating for many years online.
Yet Franca Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italia, denies even knowing about the existence of these photos of the inner city black women we see sprawled all over the internet and the corresponding sites, which mocks their fashion motifs. Likewise, she dispels any suggestion of a racist element to the spread, saying that: ”A racist image, I really do not understand. I went through the pages so many times. Like when we did the Black Issue, everybody said that we did that on purpose because Obama was the person chosen to go to the White House, and if you just think one second, not more than one second, you can see that to make a magazine like what we did for the Black Issue, it takes six months [to do]. … People wanted to see an economical and a financial [decision], just to get more money, because we talk about Black Issue, it’s probably because the president is black. What do you answer? They don’t know what it means to work at a magazine. That’s it.”
Sozzani’s meandering aside, I’m much less interested in the “is it racist or not” discussion (of course, this is the same Vogue Italia, who christened hoop earrings as slave earrings, so I’ll let you all draw your own conclusion) as I am about the clear case of theft related to the pictorial. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this was a homage of some sorts to a fringe culture the editorial board found fascinating – how do you justify taking a cultural representation outside it’s respected realm without proper attribution to the source? It’s obvious that the fashion elite in Milan have an obsession with the American Black community. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing Skittles colored cap wigs, gold teeth and dollar bill insignia fingernails during fashion week pretty soon – just don’t expect Black folks to get the proper credit.
The whole issue reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine recently about a car I’ve seen rolling around in my neighborhood. Some young dude, maybe in his early 20s, had tricked-out his all black Crown Victoria, with 26 inch rims, red and green stripes and a huge Gucci logo on the sides. The vehicle stands out like a thumb around these parts because the Donk car style is what we usually associate with the South, particularly Memphis, and certainly not Philadelphia. Anyway, I was telling my friend about seeing the car and how some people shake their heads at the pure “ratchetness” of it. That’s when my friend showed me a link to another vehicle and said: “you mean like this?” It was a link to the new Fiat 500 by Gucci, which too included green and red stripes and Gucci insignias.
Bahamadia is arguably the most underrated female hip-hop artist of all time. I’m not just saying this because she happens to be from my neck of the woods, but because she is truly a gifted and authentic lyricist who could drop a solid 16 bars without trading on narrowly defined definitions of what femininity is suppose to be. But no song captures the spirit of Bahamadia more than “Commonwealth (aka Cheap Chicks),” which pays homage to “ordinary females around the way, so-called cornballs, commonwealth broads, broke broads who still want to get their little shine on with short dockets who ain’t frontin’…” In that grossly underrated song, Bahamadia manages to flip the script and remind us that style isn’t just for those who can afford it, but rather those who have the attitude and are creative enough to make something work out of nothing.
Yet in the blogosphere, there are sites that, instead of marveling at the creativity of these commonwealth chicks, often slap them with labels of being ghetto or acting raunchy. It seems to be acceptable to make fun of black girls and women with the skittles “taste the rainbow” weaves and the homemade designer label, knock-off prom dresses. Through our constant ridicule and condemnation of these “stricken by poverty chicks,” we send the message that their creations and creative contributions have no value – other than to shame the black race – and should be shunned from the larger black community.
That is, until a white girl does it. Then it becomes cute and hip. Case in point: Kreayshawn (pronounced Cri-shon), an overhyped white female rapper, who has become a viral sensation. She appears to represent a new wave of hipsterism, which has been infiltrating the hip-hop scene as of late. In her latest video, “Gucci, Gucci,” she, along with her White Girl Mob, swaggers through Cali streets with an asymmetrical haircut, big door knockers and a troupe of young black men bouncing around in the background – for color of course. There is plenty of talk about stealing basic bitches, smoking blunts, and keeping her hand on the pump.
However, what are notably absent from her video are black girls. It’s as if they don’t exist in this swag-out world. Writer Moya Bailey points out on the blog, “The Crunk Feminist Collective,” that “The objectification of black women as a lyrical trope is what makes Kreayshawn interesting. Look at this white girl who talks like a black man! Isn’t she awesome?” Taking Bailey’s point further, what Kreayshawn is doing is taking what is probably the most debatable image of the black woman – one that we have yet to fully accept – and co-opting it for what she calls “white girl swag.” By any standards, this called is cultural appropriation, the act of adopting some specific element of another culture, including religious, language, and forms of dress and social behavior.
In many instances of cultural appropriation, these acts of co-option adopt the colorblind ideology, which not only justifies the presence of the non-member of the culture, but it also aids them in removing whatever racial, social and culturally-coded meaning that happen to be embedded in that cultural element they are using. In other words, it’s all fun without the social commentary or context. We’ve seen it with Bo Derek and her golden blonde cornrows, Gewn Stefani and her Harajuku girls and Madonna with just about everything she does. Now, we may just be witnessing it again with Kreayshawn.
According to her bio, Kreayshawn, born Natassia Zolot, is a native of East Oakland and was raised by her single mother, a former member of a Garage punk rock band, The Trashwoman. Though she paints this hard knock story of being one of the few white girls in an urban environment, she delivers nothing on wax that actually challenges the perception of being white in such an environment, nor does she bring anything new to the table. In fact, she regurgitates the same tired images that we’ve seen millions of times on television. Usually, one might be grateful that a pop artist seeks inspiration from elements that are usually associated with the African American community. I may have felt that way about Kreayshawn had it not been for the inauthenticity of her image, and if her performance didn’t reek of a modern day minstrel show.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.