Miley Cyrus’s controversial performance at the MTV Video Music Awards last week launched thousands of think pieces on the former Hannah Montana star’s co-opting of “black culture”–from wanting music that “feels black” to the overused, misunderstood interpretation of twerking–and general grossness. (“Black culture” is in quotes because the contributions of African-Americans to American society is too diverse in comparison to the limiting viewpoints most people have.) Loads of white people have borrowed from black artists throughout time to gain popularity, from Al Jolson to Elvis, Madonna and Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst. (Some were more talented than others.) This doesn’t mean their endeavors were right, but they were still rewarded.
But let’s flip the script for a second: did you know that blacks have re-appropriated white culture as well? NO?!? Well get out your fainting couches, because here are a few examples–as more than five would literally blow your mind-cages.
- 1770: Former slave Crispus Attucks proves that white men weren’t the only ones that could be martyrs in the American Revolution, as the anti-slavery abolitionist is killed during the Boston Massacre. His death was not the last time blacks would be wary of being in Boston.
- 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution is ratified, allowing people of any race, color or previous condition of servitude the right to vote. Racists were not happy about this, suppressing minority voting in efforts that continue to this day. But hey, at least we can vote, amirite?
- 1964: Blacks get caught up in the British Invasion brought upon by the Beatles and take it out on their hair. Some are bringing it back.
- 1990: Carlton Banks, he of the Bel-Air Banks family, popularizes a dance commonly known among Caucasians as “trying to move in rhythm to the music.”
- 2005: The Boondocks‘ Uncle Ruckus proves that hating black people can be done by black people, too!
So don’t think for a second that re-appropriating culture only goes one way. While blacks are stereotyped for stealing, the examples above prove that it goes in other directions beyond the clichés. Maybe a brave black pioneer will dance nearly naked onstage with teddy bears and a foam finger as a sexual aid. SOMEONE has to stand alongside the predecessors.