Saturday, February 16, 2008

Copycat

The continual borrowing from European and African culture to define everything around without engaging in part contributes to the tabula rasa that was and somehow continues to be white American culture. A heavy reliance on traditionally African arts is expected of the black race in America and to some extent, other races given its innovativeness and pervasive tradition. However, such a large adoption by white America was a surprise. This implementation was initially a result of the White Gaze but without racism this shared ownership, and outright stealing in some cases, would not have occurred in the same volumes. The racial climate of America spurred the onslaught of appropriating African-American centered, and thus in many cases, African based performance arts.
What began as a fixation with black dance and song became a mania for black culture. This was evidenced in the success of Elvis Presley. Again the desire to get as close to blackness as possible without touching it arose. Just as masses believed the white minstrel could portray the black man better than anyone else, Elvis Presley could be a black musician better than any black man could. The white face with black movements was the embodiment of supremacy. It was socially acceptable for white women to lust for this man who attempted to seem black from his hair, to his voice, to his dancing, to his songs. He went further than attempting when he stole songs and music from black artists. Elvis overwhelmingly succeeded because the real black artists were hindered by racism. Even this white man of a lower class was better than a black artist whose intent was not to benefit from the state of his downtrodden people.
The differences in European and African dance styles opened the door for the idea of Social Darwinism. Though racism spurred white cultural producers to make a mockery of African performance art in some cases and allowed them to take part in it in others, many believe Social Darwinism opened the doors for racists to have some biological proof that there is inferiority in those outside the white race. The rigidity of European dance lends to the common saying that white people can not dance and are stiff. The movements incorporated in African dance led some people to believe that black men and women are promiscuous. Although not all descendants of these two groups fall victim to these assertions, enough to spread these stereotypes. Racist forces prevent blacks from being able to speak out and truly engage with the possibility of Social Darwinism. This fear prevents African-Americans in America from owning particular dance styles as cultural property. It should be well known that many dance styles are brought to America from Africa and given their due just as European dance styles are given theirs.
To this day, appropriation of black arts is seen. In the music industry, white rapper Eminem is often reprimanded. While hundreds of black artists have come and gone, many saying far more heinous things than Eminem, the purity of white womanhood must be protected. As a white man, it is unacceptable for him to present himself in this manner while also defaming his white ex-wife and mother. His success benefits from these outrageous statements which garner so much attention because he is white. The racism that plays in the backdrop of the hip hop music industry says it is okay for a black male to degrade his own race and women but allows a white rapper who appropriated the style to succeed and be seen as an advocate of free speech while also attacking him for challenging the sanctity of white womanhood.
Preventing black cultural producers from receiving their credit is heavily influenced by racism. The thought that black artists could produce anything worthy of praise other than coon songs was a concept many had not wrapped their heads around yet. Though African styles of dance can be incorporated into major dance works of white artists, the style itself which has been heavily present since the times of slavery does not have the same allure and grandeur of European dance styles. Racism in America allowed for the appropriation of African and African-American styles for the benefit of white supremacy and looks down on white artists who lower themselves to a level where they seriously engage with the works, themes, and styles of unworthy black forms.

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