I love gospel music. I love hip hop. I love soul music. I’ve been writing and performing hiphop/soul/RnB for the better part of 15 years.
However, I feel that it is important to acknowledge that I am not indigenous to the cultures that birthed these beautiful and poignant art forms.
I’m learning to walk this tension and express sensitivity to my brothers and sisters. While I don’t have this all figured out, I believe that the line between appreciation and appropriation involves the following truth:
If I am not willing to be in solidarity w/ the originators in the service of equality, equity, justice and liberation, then I am nothing but a colonist, a settler staking a claim on something that does not belong to me. If I “love rap” but can’t unequivocally say “Black Lives Matter,” then I am a thief not a participant.
As the expression goes, it’s like being a vegan that eats steak, it’s nonsensical.
Pop music is filled with the musical equivalents of the proverbial “white moderate” in Dr. King’s famed letter, people happy to enjoy the fruits of black culture while being silent on matters of injustice. (I’m looking at you Miley & Justin). As Preston Mitchum writes so eloquently:
“White artists like Cyrus treat hip-hop and black artistry like an item of clothing, something to shed once it’s been worn too much. She and other performers like Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry make enough money off the backs of black people, then attempt to evolve into more peaceful, serene and tranquil versions of themselves.”
I would add that these artists have been completely comfortable to put on blackness until they are asked to stand with black people.
I agree with Gaillot that “there’s nothing wrong with a white artist expressing black influences in his music.” However, I think those of us who are white artists inspired by cultures we are not born into need to tread very carefully. If we are willing to take from the culture but not stand in solidarity with those who created it, we are engaging in acts of cultural violence and we need to repent.
Readers, I’d welcome your input as I confess that I’m certainly still grappling with this stuff so feel free to drop a comment or two 🙂
[side note: I’d also recommend checking out Jarrod McKenna’s excellent sermon “The White Elephant in the room”]