The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

Cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation – what’s the difference?

Rapper Lil Debbie says that she’s “just a white girl in this world” and that she is just as entitled to rap as anyone else is. But others see her music, attitude, and lifestyle as offensive and an example of cultural appropriation — a white girl sampling and stealing from black culture. Which side is right?

Cultural appropriation is the use of specific elements of one culture by another cultural group, which doesn’t fully honor where the cultural influence came from.

Selena Gomez faced criticism recently when she wore a bindi in her music video “Come and Get It.” According to Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, “The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition and has religious significance… It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.”

Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, takes place when someone refers to or makes use of elements from another culture, but honors the source. Jazz is an excellent example of cultural appreciation, since it honors the significance and historical context of the black musicians who produced the genre.

But even when the definitions are clear, when is something cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? And who decides?

Debbie is a white rapper hailing from the Bay Area who has grown popular in collaborations with (WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT) Kreayshawn and Riff Raff, white rappers who come from Oakland and Houston, respectively. Rap music has traditionally been a male-dominated genre, but a number of various underground female rappers have increased in popularity. Female Urban students listed rappers (WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT) Brooke Candy, Iggy Azalea, Noname Gypsy, M.I.A., k.flay and Lil Debbie as artists they enjoyed.

Interviews with a half dozen Urban students showed support for Lil Debbie’s approach, which leans towards cultural appropriation – she once was a part of a group who called themselves the “White Girl Mob.”

“It’s not my favorite thing in a rap song and I sometimes find it offensive but not nearly as offensive as other songs”, Kendall McCready, (‘16) said, in response to how she felt about white rappers who sample other cultures in their music and music videos. “I don’t feel any specific way about it,” said Kaya Bandele, (’15).

Among recent media examples of cultural appropriation, Miley Cyrus has been notorious for twerking at the VMAs. Cyrus had black dancers wearing masks used as a literal background for her dance number, which involved her twerking up against singer Robin Thicke.

Iggy Azalea’s music video “Bounce” was filmed in a Bollywood style on location in Mumbai, India, and shows Azalea in a traditional Indian sari leading a dance troupe and riding on top of an elephant, which was criticized for cultural appropriation but was also hailed for honoring Indian culture. Which view is correct?

“Women need to watch what they’re doing,” said Eleanor James, (’16).” “Because (women of color are) … such a small group of women, they should (be represented) as best they can,” James said.

Lil Debbie’s controversial 2013 video, entitled (WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT) “Rachets,”  shows her singing in the middle of a number of dancing black women, dressed in Budweiser leotards. The video has prompted backlash.

Lil Debbie said in an interview that she was “insulted and … offended.

“Because I’m just a white girl in this world,” Lil Debbie said. “I’m just a rapper … I’m just here. I was thrown in this shit.”

James agrees, saying, “I think that rap is typically seen as something people of color are a part of, but it’s also seen as a men’s game, too. So (rappers like Lil Debbie) just take these risks on their own, and they are really awesome, no matter what.”

Appropriation versus appreciation is definitely a trending topic among female students at Urban. Some sport large hoop earrings and heavy eyeliner, and jokingly label themselves “cholas” (a term once used to describe poor Mexican-American women). Though it can be difficult to draw the line between appreciation and appropriation, affinity clubs such as Students of Color, and evens such as Multicultural Awareness Week, will be taking up the topic this year.

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About the Contributor
Olive Lopez, Editor-in-Chief: Visuals
Even though she goes to high school, she is not just another high school student. Not only does she walk, she runs, leaps, summersaults, and pirouettes. Her home is not only the house she lives in, but the city itself. Olivia (Olive) Francesca Sharpe Lopez, 16, is a junior at The Urban School of San Francisco, the photo editor for The Urban Legend, and a layout editor for the Urban Journal. She participates in both ballet and contemporary for the ODC Dance Commons of San Francisco with current Urban School attendees and alumni. “My mom made me take (dance) classes when I was younger,” said Lopez. “I didn’t like it at first, but then it grew on me.” Personal relationships were key: “I really liked the girls in my class and the teachers.” A lifelong San Francisco resident, Lopez gets energy from her surroundings. “I like the city because it's really bustling with life and energy and I love being completely immersed in it,” Lopez said. “Even being on MUNI can be fun just because of the fantastic views you have through the bus window.” She also likes the Bernal Hill neighborhood. “A lot of people think that it's windy and cold and boring but I love the view,” Lopez said. “I like bringing my sketchbook up there for art classes and getting inspiration because it gives you a 360-degree view of the city.” Lopez, who serves as a class representative for the junior class at Urban, is both a peer tutor and a tutor for Aim High, a nonprofit organization that provides academic help to disadvantaged San Francisco public school students. As a child, Lopez wanted to work in either an Apple store or a bookstore, and she still wants to work in an Apple store because she is very interested in both Apple’s technology and aesthetic. In her spare time, Lopez likes to travel, spend time with her friends, and enjoy some of Urban’s festivities, such as the One Acts or the Winter Festival.

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Cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation – what’s the difference?