I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot of young musicians these days; my mind’s still stuck in the 70’s and 80’s, the first when I would have still been considered a young person and the second a young adult. It takes a pretty big name (sometimes lol) for me to know who someone is, let alone impress me.


Not Taylor Swift

I’m going to assume that the majority of people who read this will know who Taylor Swift is. She’s one of the top musical artists in the world today. She’s #2 in record sales (if they still call them that) for artists under the age of 30; that’s pretty heady stuff. I can’t say I love everything she puts out, but there’s a lot of it I like.

What I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago is that many younger black people believe she’s guilty of what they’re calling cultural appropriation, which is defined as “the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.” They’re mad because of this belief that Swift wouldn’t be as well off as she is without stealing black music.

Frankly it never occurred to me because I only saw her as a pop singer these days. Before that she was a country singer and a pretty good one, based on earning 11 Country Music Association Awards and 8 Academy of Country Music Awards. She’s also been awarded the Nashville Songwriter of the Year 6 times and won the Hal David Starlight Award from the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2010. I’m thinking that’s pretty good, and all that before she moved into the pop foray.

So, I’m missing the cultural appropriation thing and it being tied into her success. Actually, I’m missing the part of what she’s supposedly appropriating also; but maybe that’s an older person thing.

When I was younger, I remember being outraged when I learned that Pat Boone made more money from doing Little Richard’s music than Little Richard did; that was before my time. I learned that most American music had actually been stolen from black people, often without any credit to them; that was incomprehensible.

Then came the 70’s, and my favorite music outside of classical music, disco, came around. Just like the blues, jazz and rock had been stolen from black people, disco was stolen as well… but this time I didn’t mind as much because it was all about the music for me. I was actually more mad at current rock music fans, especially after the incident in 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago on what was called disco demolition night. I saw that as an assault against black music by people who’d stolen black music in the first place. By the way, 1979 was also the year the movie 10 came out with Bo Derek rocking the dreads… where she was accused of cultural appropriation because she was accepted more than most black women who wore them were.

Then we get into the 80’s, when rap was fairly new to most of the population. Once again, it was considered black music and totally derided until 3 white kids from Brooklyn called the Beastie Boys showed up on MTV in 1986 doing a couple of rap songs before MTV was allowing any black artists performing the same music before them. Many of my peeps and I were angry at this… until…


Until black rappers from NYC came out saying these guys were real and belonged in the game. They weren’t accused of appropriation because they’d grown up in the neighborhood and came to the music honestly, it was reported. The same went for Eminem years later and other artists who followed. For me the appropriation thing was almost totally eliminated from my mind when a pimp calling himself Mr. Whitefolks showed up on a documentary about pimps in the Detroit area and an event called the Playa’s Ball, where pimps won awards and was hosted by Ice-T himself. None of the other pimps had a problem with him, even though he was the only white pimp in the place (which countered most movies at the time).

As I’ve gotten older, I miss most of what’s considered cultural appropriation, and not only by black people. Instead, when it comes to matters of race and intolerance I zero in more on inappropriate conduct and parody, yet I’m not always upset or insulted by it.

It’s hard to get upset because someone changed the color of their skin and parodied a black entertainer when many white people end up darker than a lot of black people after they tan. It’s less hard for me to get riled up when someone colors their face, puts on ragged clothing and uses watermelon, fried chicken or nooses as a prop. The first might be meant to be flattering parody, while the second is obvious racism… even if the person doesn’t know it is.

It’s hard to get upset anymore over one person’s music sounding more like it belongs to another group because those lines were crossed decades ago. It’s less wearying to be up in arms when one of those artists starts thinking that they know more about other people’s present existence than those people living it do, just because they’ve had some success.

The way I see it, there are way too many obvious signs of racism and intolerance all around us to need to drum up negative feelings when they’re not really unjustified. There are “real people” who can and should be called out instead of manufacturing anger towards someone who’s been positively influenced by entertainers of color and are interpreting things in their own way. There’s a plethora of white supremacists, untrained dangerous law enforcement and biased juries, and politicians to get mad at without dredging someone like Taylor Swift and other entertainers into the mix.

Then again, maybe being outraged over cultural appropriation is a young people thing; what do the rest of you believe?
 

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