FOR THE CULTURE
Hi Mob! I know that August was just put to rest — I hope that Summer Seventeen was everything you thought it would be. That you had the kind of unforgettable nights that echo throughout all of your summers to come. Before I jump into September though, I wanted to share a few thoughts on our August theme — Culture. It's not just a theme for us, it's our livelyhood.
As I sat and thought of what culture actually means to me and how it shows up in my daily experiences, I realize that just a definition wouldn’t be enough. We could talk about aspects of the cultures I am a part of but still, it wouldn’t be enough. I am one of the Afro-Latinas at theGirlMob and to echo my very first article — I am equal parts bachata and hip-hop. I consider myself so blessed to be a part of Latin culture, Black culture and more specifically, Dominican culture. I say this often, with great pride and humble respect for all but I am so happy to be Latin(x). I have also said that we are the true influencers, the 20-something’s from diverse urban communities where multiple diasporas connect. We are bound to one another; for me the Black community and the Latin(x) communities go hand-in-hand.
To be Black in America is to live a double life as both the main influence of pop culture and the least accredited source. I know that my Black experience is much different as a mixed woman from a diverse place like New York City— so I am not speaking for all, because I surely cannot. But just like our E.I.C. Yari Blanco stated last month— you cannot take my Blackness away from me or discredit it in any way. It is who I am, it permeates throughout so many aspects of my life. And in that same breath — I am SO Dominican. You can see it in my face, hear it in my voice, taste it in my cooking and feel it in my fury.
So let’s talk about some parts of my blended cultures…
First of all, being bi-lingual is one the the greatest gifts that I have been given. I speak English and Spanish (and Spanglish). I feel like I’m always in on a joke and am so blessssssed to enjoy my new favorite Twitter: @ReggaeThrones; someone decided to put lyrics of popular Reggaeton tracks over Game of Thrones still shots and it is literally the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m also a really big fan of “Gente of Thrones” from the good folks @ Room28Comedy (s/o to Juan Bago!) and if you haven't seen it yet then please check it out and share it with all of your friends because it will have y’all in stitches, hitting that ‘jajajaja’ real quick.
Language is something that I deeply cherish, as a writer — it is a vehicle for self-actualization, a tool that I can use to channel the Truth through. There is something about the Spanish language that conveys emotion the way English cannot. As much as I love Whitman, there are things that Neruda has said that the English language could never captivate. I don’t know what it is but if you are lucky like I am then you know the power of being bi-lingual in a society that is beginning to celebrate and embrace the combining of these two languages. As a New Yorker from the Heights, I am captivated by the sounds of my two cultures as they escape the mouths of passersby's where they both blend and clash.
It’s like something RZA mentions in The Tao of Wu, another work of blended culture — he was talking about how a track needs to breathe to be perfect. He was talking about how a metronome isn’t as powerful as the human ear. He was touching on the way perfection is a concept that shouldn’t be applied to all parts of expression.
I feel so special being able to understand these two tongues and to know exactly what people mean. And Spanglish? Man listen, there are jokes that could not exist without Spanglish and life just would not be as colorful. Things like Gente of Thrones and Reggaethrones would be impossible to construct without the demographic of bi-lingual 20 + 30 somethings — our very existence makes it possible for these unique brackets of comedy to come about.
Speaking of combining two languages …
As much as I cannot stand ‘Despacito’, I think it’s interesting to see non-Spanish speaking people sing along to another non-Spanish speaking person singing in Spanish. When artists like Justin Bieber make crossover hits that put a spotlight on Latin artists like Luis Fonsi — it is celebrated far and wide, which is fantastic but lets dissect that for a second.
- Luis Fonsi is a powerhouse and has amassed a loyal fan base and following prior to the crossover with the Canadian pop-star, to put it plainly he is not new to this game.
- He had the honor of singing at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2011, where our fav president Super Daddy, ultimate Bae Barry was honored.
- And in that same year, Fonsi was named the Leader of Latin Musics New Generation by Billboard and had a #1 song on their Hot 100 list.
Sooooooooooooo like, why did Despacito pop when Justin Bieber jumped on it? Because people of all walks of life love to participate in Latin culture and when artists they are familiar with give them a way to enjoy it — they go bananas!
Things like music by cross over artists is a fun, lighthearted way for people to enjoy different cultures and feel connected. While Despacito didn’t offend anyone (as far as I know), sometimes artists/celebs aren’t responsible when it comes to borrowing from other cultures. Yup, I’m about to say it — cultural appropriation is a real thing y’all! And as harmless as it may seem at times, it can create deep feelings of resentment — which pains me because it can easily be avoided.
Which brings me to another part of my blended culture discussion... the celebration of hairstyles and our unique sense of fashion! Here’s where a lot of harmful appropriation takes place across, most if not, in all cultures... I can't speak on behalf of other cultures, but I can highlight my own and the sentiments I've seen across social and in real life.
Cultural appropriation is when someone who is outside of a culture uses elements of that culture without the consent or permission of those who are a part of the culture. And it’s usually the dominant culture taking from the oppressed one!
I know, it’s wordy but if you’ve ever felt some type of way seeing a Kardashian in cornrows being labeled a trendsetter when you were told to take yours out at school back in 2001— you already know what I mean. And this isn’t an attack on their family, I wish them much success and peace of mind... this is an open letter to people who ‘borrow’ from black, Latin(x), and other cultures but don’t offer support when and where these communities need it.
Sharing my culture is something that empowers me, I love introducing people to the elements that keep me sane in a post-Cheeto America. In an era of American history like this one, we need to preserve the culture that has given us what the American Dream never could.
But I will not share my culture with people who want to exploit it or with people who can’t show up when the communities they ‘borrow’ from are attacked. Your silence makes you complicit and if you will not defend the rights and lives of the Black people you emulate — You cannot sit with us and you cannot use our image and likeness.
Where were the celebs who borrow from the culture when the country tried to mobilize and Black Lives Matter came to be? Did they ever say anything about the countless men and women of color who have been murdered at the hands of law enforcement and never found justice? Maybe that’s too much to ask of someone I do not know and I take into consideration the nature of being uber-famous but still — sometimes, it feels like the people who are supported by people of color don’t give a f*ck about us. I hope that someday, we’ll see ALL powerful media personalities address the issues that really matter, without being asked to— we as a community are deserving of this act.
Soabout some of the elements of hair and fashion that are a bit problematic. Here’s the deal — it’s not that we don’t think people from other cultures shouldn't wear their hair the way we do or dress the way we have (for decades), we just want our credit and respect for having pioneered it. We want you to understand that there are levels to the black experience and that in order to borrow from the culture and enjoy the fruits, you must also labor.
What I see too often from white women in the media is a satirical or objectifying interpretation of black girl magic. What I see is Miley Cyrus, twerking her little chicken cutlets off and clinging to black celebs and then implying that hip-hop has become too misogynistic for her and that because she has elevated herself, she can no longer participate. Girl, if you don’t! I agree with her on one point — there is a lot of misogyny in hip-hop, both blatant and subtle and it needs to be addressed and corrected. But I think it’s harmful to imply to her fans and to the public that hip-hop culture is something that made her feel exploited — when it’s actually the other way around.
When she decided to use black women as props in her music videos and her live performances she was objectifying black women and saying ‘It’s cool to treat her as a sexual object but don’t do that to me!’ And that’s that sh*t I don’t like.
What is so hard about being respectful when we emulate women of different cultures? What advice can I offer women who aren’t black or Latin(x)? Well, if you’re going to use elements from a culture that isn’t your own consider the message you are sending to members of this culture. Are you using the culture in a satirical way? Is it upholding and enforcing a stereotype? Are you being insensitive to the experience of the people from that culture? Have you ever had a conversation with someone of that culture — do you think they would be offended by your use of this element? These are things that we should all frequently ask ourselves. We live in a society where we constantly borrow from one another’s cultures and we should encourage each other to do so responsibly and ethically.
We share this world. We share this planet. We share the sun rays, we share the oxygen, we share the atmosphere. We share our customs and our beliefs, we share our land and our oceans. We share this tiny corner of the galaxy and if we can get to know one another a little better and learn how to exchange and use culture in a healthy and inclusive way — I’m sure that we can all learn to share the culture and hold each other accountable for doing the right thing. Cultural appropriation will always exist — so long as there is a dominant culture to dictate what is acceptable and what isn’t, there will be an imbalance of power and some people will be celebrated for the same behavior that others are punished for.
To all the allies, to all the white women who believe in inter-sectional feminism and use your privilege for good — thank you. To the people across the cultures who pay homage and use our cultural elements in appropriate and respectful ways — keep up the good work.
And as a reminder—Black is beautiful! It is inclusive and it is constantly re-defining itself. Black is both fluid and static. Black culture in America is a phenomenon. Black culture is something that was supposed to never happen. Our ancestors were stripped of their identities and robbed of their religion and culture but here we are centuries later, paving the way for generations to come.
This culture is ours. Has always been, will always be. We who have had nothing and made it into something. We who persevere it and are willing to share it everyday in spite of all opposition.