Cultural Appropriation's Role in Systemic Racism.
It is not an innocent mistake.
This was a doozy. I could not push publish on it as it became three or maybe even four posts. The subject of cultural appropriation is so intriguing to me and over the next couple of weeks, I will delve more into this.
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Jennifer M. Buck is an Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Azusa Pacific University where she has taught a course “Trap Feminist Theology” since 2017. She holds a PhD in Philosophy of Religion and Theology from Claremont Graduate University and a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theology Seminary. She also is a licensed minister in the Quaker church.
Nice qualifications in my book!
She recently wrote a book called Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology published by Wipf and Stock and Yale University gave her a $10,000 grant to support the book’s research in 2017.
How cool is that??
The Amazon description of the book says it “engages with the overlap of black experience, hip-hop music, ethics, and feminism to focus on a subsection known as ‘trap feminism’ and construct a Trap Feminist Theology.” It also states that “Trap feminism emerges out of trap culture, where the black woman is creating a space outside of the barriers of poverty harnessing autonomy, employment, and agency to allow for a reinvention of self-identity while remaining faithful to social location.” Trap music is a subgenre of hip-hop.
Wow! Sounds like very interesting reading! I love stuff like this to expand my horizons. I know nothing about trap music and culture, so to me, this is an amazing way to learn and hear the voices of those in that orbit.
Well.... not so fast!
The term "trap feminism" was a term first coined by gender-studies scholar and entertainment writer, Sesali Bowen in 2014 and encompasses what she calls the “complex, sex-positive, financially ambitious, and self-affirming components” of trap music. Bowen published Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist in 2021.
O, so someone else started this trend and Buck expanded on it? Well, no. Buck has one footnote in her book about Bowen's work.
Buck is a white American woman who taught hip hop classes in her teens.
She is now being dragged for filth in these here social media streets, as she did not credit Bowen (except for one footnote) in her work and is now being accused of cultural and racial appropriation.
Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a clinical psychologist, public theologian, and ecumenical minister whose work focuses upon healing the legacies of racial and gender oppression, is a professor of practical theology and pastoral care at Columbia Theological Seminary. She states that "The only endorsement [for Buck's book] is from a White man. The lack of Black endorsers is a huge red flag that Buck has no relationship with Black scholars AND that the book’s content couldn’t generate interest."
O Boy! Here comes trouble!
Let us untangle this hot mess!!
Cultural Appropriation is "the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society."
Why It Matters:
Here in the US, when people invade the cultures of others, they do it to:
1. make money, and more money, thereby their power,
2. increase their reputation, thereby, their power,
3. be distinct and "exotic"- the cool factor, and/or
4. appear knowledgeable about something strange and "other."
This used to be called "colonization" because all this was done for the benefit of "The Crown." Today, it is called "exploitation," as it is all about personal benefit to the individual and not the government. Cultural appropriation is to the individual, as colonization was to the country. The results are still the same - exploitation, wealth and increased global dominance.
These days there is often there is an aura of romanticism or spirituality involved with this exploitation which then makes it "permissible" since such things are so subjective. The cultural appropriator becomes an "expert" on a culture that is not part of their identity.
But here is the conundrum: Meanwhile, folks within those cultures that are being exploited are ostracized, punished, and considered "less than" by the dominant culture. Often, the person appropriating culture does this work under the guise of "scholarship" or "research" to give "legitimacy" to the culture. Such supposed legitimacy is based on tropes of superiority, the scientific method, and the appropriator's incredulous conditioning that they can determine what should be "mainstream" and thereby "legitimize" it. This is the way that exploiter's shape a "narrative."
The Difference Between Narratives and Stories:
A narrative is a collection of stories that create an overarching message. The stories are factual, but the narrative is an interpretation of the stories woven together to create an overarching meaning. Narrative can shape culture while stories can be ignored or included in the meaning making.
Example: The Christian Bible is made up of different stories. However, the overarching narrative of the Bible is interpreted differently based on the religion's denomination.
A white middle class female scholar who taught hip hop in high school does not have the authority to write stories about trap culture or shape the narrative of that world. The true stories of Trap culture are to be told and captured by Black folks who have lived the trap experience. They should be the one's shaping the narrative and its relationship to poverty, resilience, determination, and oppression.
The larger cultural narrative about Trap culture is not positive. For those of us that may not know, a Trap house is considered a "crack" house where drugs are produced and sold. A genre of music came out of this orbit. It was called "Trap music." To talk about "Trap Feminism," you have to have lived that life as women are featured prominently in Trap houses and Trap music.
"While on the surface trap seems to only talk about sex, drugs, money, and ultimately an idealistic lifestyle, it is more profound. Trap music is unique in a way that it speaks to the cultural and economic disparities that exist in the Black community of both past and present. It details the bleak standard of living in the hood and the observations of life in the streets." ~ Ashley Pointer
You must be embodied with the stories to be able to write about them and relate them to the desired narrative. Anything other than that is simply stealing what does not belong to you.
Picture Perfect Cultural Appropriation:
Jennifer Buck, her product Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology, Yale University giving her $10,000 to work on this book, and her publisher, Wipf and Stock if a picture-perfect example of cultural appropriation and its relationship to systemic racism.
1. She presented work about this book at the AAR - American Academy of Religion - the annual conference for scholars in this field. No one challenged her.
2. Yale University read her proposal, and no one challenged her and, in fact, gave her $10,000 to do this work,
3. Azusa Pacific University where she has taught a class on Trap Feminist Theology since 2017 did not challenge her or stop her.
4. Her publisher, who is known for being friendly to LGBTQIA and Womanist scholars edited and published her book with one endorsement from a white man. This was an egregious error.
Four different "institutions" of longstanding reputation did not stop or challenge Jennifer Buck. This is how entire structures of education and publishing have intersected to support the exploitation of the experiences of Black and Indigenous communities in the US.
The power of these four institutions behind the white individual despite the damage to other communities is the face of systemic racism.
Chanequa Walker-Barnes also says "It’s not that White scholars can’t write about Black women, but it has to be done with extreme care, a whole lot of cultural sensitivity and humility, and in relationships of accountability with Black women. And it would probably need a Black woman editor."
Y'all this is the equivalent of a white man writing on white feminism because he has a female spouse.
The Reason Cultural Appropriation is Not OK.
To engage with a communal culture from a stance of individualism is to pervert the culture. This is hard to understand and even more difficult to become aware of this if you are someone steeped in individualism and white supremacy culture. There are power dynamics at play. If you are not aware of the power that the dominant culture accords white people, and you are white, then you are going to abuse that power dynamic.
When you take the story of another person from another culture, it is not possible to tell their story without your perspective and lens shaping the voice of the story. And the governing principle is to only tell stories that are yours to tell. Trap Feminism cannot be a white woman's story to tell.
Now, that is not to say that if a white woman has lived a trap lifestyle that she is not legitimate to the community. She may be accepted, loved and respected in the trap community but if she decides to be the voice of the trap community, then she has erased all the Black voices that are in that orbit.
For a white woman with a PhD, raised in individualistic white supremacy culture, to attempt to shape a narrative that is about poor Black women is anathema. And then putting a Black woman on the cover of the book to add to the legitimacy of your research is even more offensive.
It is a power move.
And why, you might ask?
Black folks have written on these subjects and have pursued PhDs in these subjects and are often never given book deals, fellowships, grants, jobs, or valued in their own interpretation and explanation. In fact, truth be told, some white advisors in PhD programs have been overheard telling their Black PhD students who may want to dive into such subjects, "that is not legitimate scholarship."
What that means is that when Black people emerge into a phenomenon like "Trap culture" out of their pain and coping response, it is demonized in the media and only becomes "valid" or "mainstream" when some whiteness is slapped on it.
This process denies human beings’ power over their own stories by the erasure of the stories of Black people speaking about their own experiences, and shapes a larger narrative created by white dominant perspectives. This does not serve the Black community. This is racism.
Chinua Achebe, a famous Nigerian writer once said, "Until the lions have their historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter." That means, the dominant culture shapes the narrative of the stories of the non-dominant people who have not been allowed to voice their own stories.
I do not know why Jennifer Buck and the systems around her supported her and the writing of this book. I do know that she thought she experienced resonance with trap culture and imagined that meant it was part of her identity. You can listen to trap music. You can dance to it. It can even be part of your daily life. You can enjoy it, but it is not yours to own.
Whiteness will have you believing that the only legitimate way to be in relationship is to own it/the person/the place. Not true. You can have a respectful relationship without ownership.
I encourage all of us to seek out the historians of the lions and be aware that the hunter's narrative is not the whole story.
Know that more on this issue of cultural appropriation is coming this week, next week, soon.
But in the meantime, tell me, what made you come alive in this article? Talk to me and please leave a comment.
Liminal Space with Iyabo is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.