What is black culture

A tightrope act between empowerment and corset

In her book What white people don't want to hear about racism but should know SPEX author Alice Hasters writes, among other things, about the resonance space of feelings that hip-hop is for her. And what happens when whites enter this room. An excerpt.

I'm still happy today that I don't have to go through puberty a second time. During this time everything grows and sprouts, new body fluids, clothes sizes, hormonal and emotional chaos. Lip gloss on my dresser, teddy bears on my bed. I either cried because I was growing up or because I wasn't yet.

The year before, 2001, the girls in my class had tried to talk to me. They all wanted to give me good advice together. I should make more of myself and not always wear such baggy clothes. Tighter tops, tighter pants, a little makeup - then I'd look really good. But that felt like an eternity ago. It was now 2002, I was thirteen, and what had been true a year ago no longer mattered. Me and my baggy pants were cool now. All wore them. And I put on make-up. Compromise. It was mainly thanks to MTV and Viva that I was trendy.

Who knows what would have become of me if we hadn't gotten cable TV or brought commercial TV channels into our lives. Maybe I could play the piano now, or at least I would be really good at one sport. But I found my pastime in front of the TV when the Top100 ran from the USA. In addition to Britney Spears and N’Sync, Destiny’s Child, India also sang there. Aria or Kelis. When they appeared on the screen and no one else was in the room, I would get up and practice the dance steps and sing playback to their songs as if I were the star of my own music video. You looked like me. I wanted to be like her.

But everyone else wanted that too. During puberty, groups of friends usually develop an obsessive identity that they do not live out for too long, but very intensely. We decided on hip-hop and R’n’B. We knotted bandanas in our hair, put on tracksuits and our caps down over our faces. We fell in love with the band members of B2K and learned Lauryn Hill's lyrics by heart because we really wanted to rap them. My older sister was way ahead of me. When she was fifteen, she worked in a sneaker shop downtown and had the best branded clothes: Fubu sneakers, crop tops by Pelle Pelle and Helly Hansen hoodies that I sometimes secretly stole from the clothesline. The popular guys in my class wore baggy jeans and oversize sweaters with the logo of Mobb Deep or the Wu-Tang Clan. “I would like to be black too,” they told me. Because black people are good at dancing, singing and playing basketball. If you were black you could do cool things with your hair, like braiding cornrows like Allen Iverson, for example. You have a much better flow when rapping, and you are funny and quick-witted.

On the one hand, I was flattered and relieved after four years of bullying in elementary school. Now I was no longer uncool for no reason, but cool for no reason. The problem was that on most counts I did not match the image of black people who were so envied. I couldn't sing, least of all rap, I couldn't play basketball, I was neither quick-witted nor particularly funny. If blacks were made up of a handful of specific talents and I didn't have them - was I really black at all?

I could dance well though. When I danced I felt brave, happy, confident, almost so much that when the music stopped and my daydream of a video shoot was over, I felt a little ashamed. Dance was a form of expression in which I could tell things about myself that I couldn't find words for - or that I didn't dare to put into words. When I danced to hip-hop, I felt connected to a black tradition, a black culture that I thought I understood intuitively. I was envied for that. "Alice, have a dance," said mine white Friends when we listened to music together. I should teach them the dance moves from the videos. But this talent was not seen as my personal talent, but as something that I take for granted. I would love to dance. I would have it in my blood. I had this talent not because I was myself, Alice, but because I was black.

There is no such thing as good racism

If you think that people have certain talents because of their skin color, origin or religion, this is called "positive racism". That doesn't mean it's good racism. There is no such thing as good racism. Racist compliments also deny people's individuality. Dance talent runs in my family. In addition, we were sent to ballet early, danced a lot at home. And because I recognized myself in the dancers in the music videos, I had a particular interest and ambition to emulate them. The formulation that something runs in your blood does not refer to my specific family history, but to the color of my skin - and this talent has nothing to do with that.

(…) 

For many BIPoC, the upswing in Afro-American hip-hop in Germany was empowerment on the one hand, and corset on the other. Hip-Hop created representation and offered identification. But it was the only room that you were allowed to help design, and so it looked like an assigned place. Thanks to hip-hop, BIPoC were no longer invisible, but we were still not individuals. But my friends and I were only thirteen - and especially in puberty, group membership and a clearly defined identity are exactly what you are looking for: The BIPoC among us were suddenly proud. We wrote "Brown Is Beautiful" in our friendship books and on the pieces of paper we passed back and forth during class. We even gave ourselves a clique name: The Babylon Bastards. We thought that sounded incredibly cool. We reclaimed the word "bastard" - our form of reclaiming. For a long time we tried to negotiate who was allowed to join this exclusive club and who was not. Everyone wanted to be a Babylon bastard. My white Girlfriends began to tell about Spanish or Slavic roots that they suspected.

For me this time was a tightrope act. I had access to the African American culture, my culture. It was commonplace, present. She was no longer a stranger, and that made me less a stranger too. But because it was downright coveted, not only I rushed to it, but everyone wanted to be a part of it. It was as if someone had sewn a dress for me and suddenly others came and tore it off the clothes rail in front of me.

I used to have no word for this dynamic. I thought I was just too sensitive, even arrogant, to consider that American hip-hop might mean something different to me than mine white Girlfriends just because I'm African American. It took another thirteen years before I first encountered a term that named this dynamic: Cultural appropriation - cultural appropriation.

In 2015, a discussion about a hairstyle broke out in the USA. The Kardashians had started a new trend: boxerbraids. There were two braids plaited along the head. Magazines, YouTube tutorials and hashtags from beauty bloggers adopted this term in no time at all. But this hairstyle was not an invention of the Kardashians. African Americans have always worn them. On the heads of black people, this hairstyle was considered unprofessional. Now that they're on the heads of white Women showed up, the braids were suddenly stylish and chic. It was obvious that double standards were being used.

The aspect of oppression through white is a driving, formative component of many black cultures

The Kardashians got recognition, even made a profit on something that had grown out of black culture. The counter-argument was: culture does not belong to anyone. Anyone with hair on their head can braid themselves. Besides, celebrating this hairstyle is an appreciation of what black people have created.

It is true that culture, in principle, does not belong to anyone. It is a product of those who live it. It is constantly changing, mixing and expanding, influencing and being influenced. That it is still dominant in western too white Cultures an explicitly black subculture is because white People black and White Hundreds of years separated. In the US, it did so first through enslavement, then through discriminatory laws in the Jim Crow era that continued to subject BIPoC, and black people in particular, to poverty and violence. These different living conditions brought different forms of cultural expression with them. In other words: the aspect of oppression by white is a driving, formative component of many black cultures.

This is particularly evident in hip-hop. That's why the music, the whole culture, meant so much to me. The anger, the trauma, the pride and the need to be heard, I also carried within me. My American family, my mother and my grandmother, were also shaped by these circumstances. They passed this imprint on to us whether they wanted to or not. For me, hip-hop was a resonance space for these feelings, even if I didn't understand it when I was thirteen.

The context is changed automatically when white People practice forms of black culture because they have not experienced any oppression, no racism - on the contrary, in fact. So it makes a difference when white people rap the N word. In the USA they say: "You can’t have the culture without the struggle" - you cannot live the culture without suffering.

Cultural appropriation didn't start with hip-hop, and certainly not with the Kardashians. The "King Of Rock 'n' Roll" is Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra is hailed to this day as the best jazz singer of all time, although these styles of music would not have come about without African-Americans. Black culture has been going through a w for decadeshite washing - Black actors get through white Replacing people who then make it into the mainstream, make money, and influence society. Even if today artists like Beyoncé or Rihanna suggest that all of this is a thing of the past, it is astonishing that so-called black music how hip-hop and R’n’B may be the most popular music genre of our time, but financially, above all, it is still white People benefit from it. Most of the bosses of the major record labels and streaming services in the US and Europe are in fact White and usually earn a lot more money than the artists they represent. Apart from that, it is still above all white Artists who are recognized for their music. Rappers like Eminem and Macklemore are showered with awards, while their black colleagues go empty-handed or are not even nominated. The imbalance seems to be striking. As the white Singer Adele received a Grammy for “best album” in 2017, she didn't think that was fair herself. In her acceptance speech, she said the award actually goes to Beyoncé, who did her album that year Lemonade was nominated.

But let's get back to the hair: Do non-black people help break the stigma of traditional black hairstyles by giving them a new name and image? For example, does it help black people with dreadlocks, though white wear them too? Not really, but a little. The frustrating thing about cultural appropriation is that culture only comes through white is legitimized. You decide what is normal, trendy, acceptable or mainstream. It is you who get the most out of it in the end.

In Germany, too, the dynamic of cultural appropriation continues to develop. The imported hip-hop has long since become mainstream and in some cases has little to do with the origins of this music. Nevertheless, every rapper embodies an interpretation of Afro-American culture in his or her music - consciously or unconsciously. And also here applies: You can't have the culture without the struggle. At least not without acknowledging the existence of this suffering.

Cultural appropriation is far from just affecting African American culture. There are numerous forms and outgrowths. If, for example, the traditional Hindu Holi festival, the festival of colors, is converted into a huge techno rave in this country, it is cultural appropriation. If people wear feather crowns at these or other festivals and completely ignore the meaning behind this jewelry and where it comes from, it is cultural appropriation. When large clothing brands and furniture manufacturers offer jackets and pillowcases with West African prints without involving artists and designers from this region, then that is also cultural appropriation. Whites People have never been explicitly denied participation in other cultures - that is why many do not see these limits and make use of cultural heritage around the world. It is a continuation of colonial structures.

(…)

That cultures mix is ​​also manifested in people like me. white Culture is mine too, even if in many respects it was made to exclude me as black. Nevertheless, I grew up in it, just like my ancestors. Finding a relationship in this regard is not easy.

The music from 2002 still connects me with my friends from back then - with the Babylon Bastards, the coolest and most embarrassing clique I have ever been able to count myself to. But it took a while to recognize the value of the empowerment behind this time. As with most thirteen-year-olds, the excessive identification with Afro-American culture vanished. When I got back from my exchange year in Philadelphia, R’n’B wasn't that cool anymore and was replaced by indie music.

Alice Hasters
What white people don't want to hear about racism but should know
(Hanser Blue)
Released on 23.09.