Saturday, February 25, 2017

Let’s Talk Culture Appropriation

“What would the world be like if the world loved black people as much as it loves black culture?”
Besides the fact that I have neglected this blog for long enough (and therefore, should write) I also find myself feeling a bit irritated and thus, inclined to write. As much as I would love to commit to doing a better job of writing more consistently this would be a lie because (believe it or not) sometimes I have nothing I feel strongly enough about to write about. On top of that my semester is a mess! I have seven modules and I’m trying to get them done (by the Lord’s unfailing grace), so time to find out what is going on in this country is limited (I use this time to nap, don’t judge me).

That being said I think it’s time we talk culture appropriation. This is not only because of the outrage that the ‘Kasi Mlungu’ has spurred but also because if some of my (black) friends don’t understand what the problem with culture appropriation is, how much more my white friends that can’t possibly understand black struggles?

I read an article by Tafi Mhaka titled “Kasi Mlungu the South African Dream”, and I felt so personally offended by it (it’s irrational, I know). He justified Anita Ronge's action by stating how some black women choose to look and behave more European than black (I screamed “It’s because of oppression!” in my head). He also went on to use Eminem an example of how much good culture appropriation (he called it multiculturalism ) has done for the entertainment industry, stating that Eminem is “the highest selling rapper of all time and arguably the best lyricist of his generation” (An average white man making money in an industry created by the black man for the black man while better black men still don’t get enough credit, ok so maybe he's not average but Im trying to make a point here). I don’t agree with him, but hey, we are all entitled to an opinion…

Before I delve into the niceties of culture appropriation, I feel like it’s important to clarify that ‘black’ or ‘blackness’ is not just a skin colour (and the prejudices that come with the skin colour) it’s also a way of life that transcends national and continental boundaries. There are rituals, icons, and aesthetic standards that belong(ed) to our great grandparents and to us by lineage. Even though we do not practice these rituals and what-not-all they still belong to us.

So what is culture appropriation? As always, I turn to those google pop-up definitions, and said pop-up definitions define cultural appropriation as:
“the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior form one culture or subculture by another. It is generally applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic or military status to the appropriating culture.”

I think this post should be accompanied by a gallery of its own with instances of culture appropriation but we will make do with what we have.  Below are pictures of models (their names attached) and the campaign, magazine or label they were shooting for.
Lara Stone
Vouge Paris
Source: Fashionising
Ondria Hardin
"Afrrican Queen"
Source: Fashion Bomb Daily
Claudia Schiffer
Dom Perignon
Source: Daily Mail
Rachel Dolezal
She's not a model
She just lied about being black
For a good 14 years- I think
Source: Daily Mail
Yes, I used the most extreme cases of culture appropriation but that’s because I think it drives home the point I’m trying to make. Besides the fact that most of the models are black-facing (I think this is the correct expression) but the underlying message is that black people (or Asian or Indian people etc) are not good enough to represent their respective cultures or races. The photo shoot by Ondria Hardin was titled ‘African Queen’. In what universe? In what universe can she possibly be an African queen? My question when I saw this was: “the world over, with its then 6 billion and some change people, there wasn’t a single black person that could have been better suited for the shoot? “

This is what is fundamentally wrong with society when it comes to race and race relations. It’s this idea that black features, rituals, aesthetic standards, and overarching culture are not good enough until they are embraced or practiced by white people. And I don’t think anyone is justified in arguing that black people appropriate white culture (whatever that means) because we wear weaves, Italian shoes, straighten our hair and what not all. Western culture was not only exported to Africa and other continents and countries, but we were also forced to adopt it in order to survive, be accepted, and considered beautiful. It once again goes back to the perception that western/white things are better than those of other cultures and races.

Just like men have no right to tell women how to dress, act, and feel, no one has the right to say there is no such thing as culture appropriation because this is how we feel about other cultural groups using elements of our culture. If I was a woman wearing whatever I was wearing and I voiced my dislike of how a man was looking or touching me the world would be up in arms supporting me and my rights. I don’t understand why the same principle and sympathy cannot be applied to instances of culture appropriation. If I say something is culture appropriation what I am say, essentially, is “I don’t like the way you are using elements of my culture” for one or other reason. In some cases, I am saying “I hate the fact that people of western descent use elements of my culture and get recognition, fame, and money from it while my people not only “own” these elements but also use the exact same elements and get no recognition for it”. What it boils down is I don’t like what you are doing. I don’t know if I’m articulating myself well enough but I hope you get the point. Maybe I have messed up this whole post with this paragraph and should have left it out. But hey…

The Kardashian-Jenner’s (I, unfortunately, know all their names and faces now, I never wanted this) are a perfect example of white people getting social credit for things they have no business getting credit for. Nail piercings, corn rows, big behinds, big lips, wearing Niqab’s, oh the list is endless... all of these are accompanied by articles on how they have come up with a 'New Trend' and how they are so beautiful, curvy and voluptuous, meanwhile it's things that the black community has beeen practicing and black women have been ridiculed for have been ridiculed for having big behinds and lips.
Source: Akns Images
Source: Akns Image
"It’s not that we don’t trust white people, it’s that you really think my black looks better on you."- Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad
No one can deny the existence of culture appropriation when tags like #WhiteGirlsDoItBetter exist and have close to 30 000 public posts on IG!

Not all instances of culture appropriation are as obvious and extreeme as the ones in the photos of the models, and it's not only black culture that is appropriated but I'm black so...

The line between culture appropriation and cultural exchange is a very thin one and we should all walk it with care and sensitivity. It's one thing to appreciate elements of a culture or religion, its a totally different ball game when you use those very same elements foolishly, ignore their significance, history and the history of the people to whom the culture belongs.


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Friday, February 3, 2017

Education Itches

Source: Calibre
“If you measure the statistics you miss the human aspect” -Timo Heikkinen

I truly think I’m a horrible friend, I forgot the love of my life’s birthday. We’ve been friends for almost a decade but it feels like we’ve been friends forever. To make matters worse my financial standing over the past two months has been in the dustbin so I couldn’t do much to even attempt to fix my fails. Because I’ve felt horrid I haven’t been able to write much. I thought of writing a 2016 reflections post but…. I also thought of writing a new year’s resolutions post, sat in front of the computer for a good hour and nothing came. And now here we are, the academic year for high school and primary school has commenced, and matric results of 2016 are (have beeeeen) out. With all these academic/school/education things in mind I feel that it’s time we talked about the state of education in South Africa (and perhaps Africa in general).

I have two real goals in life. The first is to want to be and consciously work towards being the person that Christ wants me to be. And the second one is success. Success for me is not simply being able to afford lavish cars and an even more lavish house and lifestyle (even though these are great), but it also means success for my community, country and ultimately the continent; with economic growth and development, and wealth distribution being the main indicators of said success. That being said I also believe that quality education is the key to the abovementioned “success indicators”. I’m also of the opinion that access to information is fundamental in achieving, facilitating, and providing quality education. The state of the South African education system is a long standing itch for me, and I’ll explain why.

The art of learning isn’t just about knowledge retention and recollection, it’s more about skills acquisition and application; confusing the two can and does have disastrous consequences (see South African education system for evidence). In my opinion, the problem with the education system in South Africa is the fact that it is knowledge focused instead of skills focused. In high school you have to choose a set of subjects that you want to study, the decision you make in Grade 9 (as a 15-year-old) determine (and possibly limit) the number of career options you have going into university.

Personally I don’t agree with the emphasis and pressure that is put on students to take mathematics and science in school, but these are currently the main (if not the only) subjects that equip students with skills and not just knowledge. Mathematics isn’t just about math operations and solving for x, most of it meant to develop problem solving skills. And so to have the government lower the pass rate for math to 20% is just them making a bad situation worse. The motivation behind the reduction in the math pass rate is that so that students who pass their other subjects don’t get held back by math (this a bucket of you know what, but what do I know).

The Finnish education system (one of the best ranking in the world), has no mandatory standardized testing until the end of a child’s high school career. There is no ranking, comparison or competition between students, schools or regions (all the things that South Africa does). There is so much pressure to perform (for both the government and the students) it distracts form the actual goal, providing and attaining quality education. But the problem is we are always looking at the wrong stats, like how many people passed matric instead of how the majority passed. Perhaps if we moved away from all the standardized testing we would do better.

The Finnish and Danish education systems (among others) are popular for being unconventional, yet they are successful. I believe this is what South Africa needs, to design an unconventional education system that better suits the need and lifestyles (is this correct English?) instead of adopting teaching and learning methods that are not suited for our people.

Source: ALU
Seeing institutions like ALU (African Leadership University) brings me immeasurable joy because it means the change that I’m talking about is coming even if it’s taking a while. ALU is a university founded by Fred Swaniker and deviates from traditional teaching and learning methods. Instead of the traditional lecturer relationship that plagues campuses all over the world, ALU has peer-learning at its heart. From my understanding, the assessment is not limited to the traditional assessment methods but tests the skills that students have developed over time; these are skills like critical thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, quantitative reasoning, and communication. I don’t know about you but these learning outcomes are more practical than being able to remember when the Boston Tea Party was… just saying.

Source: Square Space
I can only hope that in the near future someone with Fred Swaniker’s innovative and creative thinking will be the next minister of education (or president; but you can only dream so much). I don’t know how long the education system can go on like this before it crumbles, but maybe that’s what we need, for it to crumble so we can start afresh on a clean(ish) slate.

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