No, Winnie: I Don’t Feel “Loved” When White People Steal Our Culture

Le sigh.

This weekend was one of healing. I got over 20 hours of sleep, lined my pockets in overtime pay, and cleaned up both my room and iTunes library to perfection. I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and re-nourished.

And then I came across a debilitating article that reminded me that, despite my restful weekend, I still live in a world where the most oppressed of us lack personal ownership, cultural authority, or a critical analysis that centers our existence with no apology or compromise.

Winnie Harlow, the Canadian-born Black model who lives with vitiligo — a chronic skin condition that causes discoloration — took a major L in dopeness when she (basically) said that cultural appropriation is a sign of love, unicorns, and rainbows.

Ever since gaining international recognition as a conspicuous standout in an industry notorious for its eurocentric beauty standards, Winnie Harlow has become a martyr of sorts — with many viewing her ascension and visibility as a mark against the suffocating status quo.

Some white women are now replicating her likeness by painting themselves in blotchy blackface.

Instead of expressing upset, or linking the blatant appropriation to blackface, Harlow responded with some colorblind/post-racial/yay assimilation!- type bullshit that would make Stacey Dash, Raven Symone, and Ben Carson proud.

From her Instagram, the now less-than-dope model said:

“My response to this is probably not what a lot of people want but here it goes: every time someone wants fuller lips, or a bigger bum, or curly hair, or braids does Not mean our culture is being stolen. Have you ever stop to realize these things used to be ridiculed and now they’re loved and lusted over. No one wants to “steal” our look here. We’ve just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and du-rags and big asses (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don’t have it love and lust after it. Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn’t mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn’t mean she wants to be black. The amount of mixed races in this world is living proof that we don’t want to be each other we’ve just gained a national love for each other. Why can’t we embrace that feeling of love? Why do we have to make it a hate crime? In a time when so much negative is happening, please don’t accuse those who are showing love and appreciation, of being hateful. It is very clear to me when someone is showing love and I appreciate these people recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over #1LOVE 💋

Her words read like those paternalistic slave masters and Christian missionaries who enslaved, raped, tortured, and brutalized us Black people for our own good.

There’s a pervasive sickness within a certain faction of the Black community. To them, success amounts to how much and how often white people recognize us — from our existence to our creativity. Inter-cultural “love” resembles how frequently and how well the dominant white demographic encroaches upon our artistic and personal expressions.

Winnie Harlow is ostensibly one of those Black people. Her riposte — rife in indolent critical race and gender analysis or reality — is problematic as fuck.

For one, fuller lips, bigger butts, and curly hair aren’t “things;” they’re genetic parts of a Black human self that are only free from ridicule when attached to a white or white-appearing body. Kylie Jenner’s lips– paid for by white and class privilege — are of gorgeous quality, while mine are only good for fellatio.

Which leads to another problem with Winnie’s statement. She somehow thinks white culture lusting after Black bodies is a good, commendable thing, and not *another* indication of the patriarchal hyper-sexualization of Black women.

Winnie further evokes the oft-refuted false equivalency argument. When a Black girl alters her body to assimilate into white acceptability, she could be doing so for a host of reasons: to secure and keep employment, or to avoid school suspension and other penalties chief among them.

In the Black entertainment sphere, Black women especially have to assimilate into dominant white standards in order to compete with their highly-favored, heavily-resourced counterparts.

Case in point: Nicki Minaj. The foremost female rapper whose lyrical abilities outpace most male contemporaries, had to break through mainstream barriers with a ton of makeup, platinum blonde wigs, and asinine pop music. And it still ain’t good enough. Toned-down, lyrical-punching natural Nicki, ain’t as popular as clowned-up Nicki with the blonde-bubblegum wig helmets, and has to pose ass-first to make up the difference.

The line between appropriation and appreciation is a thin one. But it’s clear that blackface is in no way a compliment. It’s an encroachment and an offense in no way deserving of Winnie’s high-five. There’s a million ways to show appreciation without stealing space.

Winnie got one thing right — white girls who wear braids and get lip injections don’t wanna be Black. They wanna be white with those parts of Black bodies they believe will make them unique, desirable, or edgy. They don’t want the stigma of Black skin, nor the obstacles and pain of Black existence. They want Blackness on an assembly-line, where they can cherry-pick  what parts of us to take.

This is not love.

 

photo 1Arielle Newton, Founder/Editor-in-Chief. Get at me @arielle_newton. Get at us @BlkMillennials.

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8 responses to “No, Winnie: I Don’t Feel “Loved” When White People Steal Our Culture

  1. Well spoken. No, I do not agree with you on this, but I’m not going bash you for having an opinion. The girl expressed how she felt about what those people did to their faces. Just because she didn’t have the same reaction as some black people did doesn’t mean she doesn’t know her culture.
    You mentioned that “For one, fuller lips, bigger butts, and curly hair aren’t “things;” they’re genetic parts of a Black human self that are only free from ridicule when attached to a white or white-appearing body” forgive me, but I don’t quite understand this part. Do you mean people of other races that are not black can’t have these features. I think the problem with our generation is that we overthink everything, why? Do I support blackface? Absolutely not! Do I support police brutality? Absolutely not! Do I support racism or racial profiling? Hell no. But I don’t think everything has something to do with race.
    We blacks are so quick to “judging” other blacks that don’t associate everything with race or don’t agree with majority. I know the arguments “our ancestors were enslaved, treated poorly, like animals among other things in the hands of white people.” That was years ago, and while we should always keep this in mind, we shouldn’t allow it to separate us. We should always look back and appreciate how far we’ve come and hope to continue to progress as a race and as a community.
    We’re all entitled to our opinions, and we shouldn’t be bashed for not having the same opinion as most.
    Before I end, I will like to say something about this “When a Black girl alters her body to assimilate into white acceptability, she could be doing so for a host of reasons: to secure and keep employment, or to avoid school suspension and other penalties chief among them.” What if she just wants do so just because without all these reasons attached? Some block people may appreciate something about the white culture, say for instance, their songs, fashion, and so on. That doesn’t mean she wants to be white or something. She just does. We’re not the only oppressed minorities, but we’re act like we’re the only ones and even sometimes make fun of other minorities. I mean no offense at all, all I’m saying is everything doesn’t have to do with race. Let’s love eachother regardless of race especially when it comes to little stuff. And Yes, Black lives matter and also, all lives matter.
    I in no way speak for all black people, I speak for myself.

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  2. I love how reading your articles challenge my current perspectives on things. I don’t always agree but you never fail to give me something to think about, research and reconsider. Thank you for that.

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  3. How do you view this in light of the non-United States citizen? How is her perspective representative of nationality and not a purely US racialized view?

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  4. I do not entirely agree with this view and really believe Harlow should not be condemned, I believe she comes from a good place. But one thing I know and appreciate is how this will offend you. I remember when Mcebo Dlamini said he liked Hitler and was persecuted and thrown out of school for it, but what he was saying and what I heard was that he was merely opening up a discussion a dialogue to encourage the topics of De-Africanisation and what he called “questioning ones blackness.” he talked about issues of how we have been de-Africanised, de-blacked to a point where we do not know what we like without the west and the whites telling us what we should like. We have been taught to sympathize with the west I remember when I was young and Princess Diana died, my father made us sit and watch the whole funeral program, he was celebrating his colonial masters his oppressors and we were taught in a very beautiful way to shed tears for the whites as if only their lives matter. When America attacks the Arab world and we are told how Muslims and Arabs are terrorist we agree, why? Because we have never given ourselves permission to question the “masters” never wanted to form an opinion of what we agree with or what we do not, the western monster of a media feeding us lies….We are a people constantly fighting for our identity, a people fighting to let go of mental oppression that is why I understand why it would hurt you…here they go again the whites telling us about ourselves, narrating to us how we should feel and think, it pisses me of sometimes…how someone comes to Afrika for a month and all of a sudden they are an expert and hold it there surprise they are more Afrikan than you are and how they all of a sudden know how you feel and what you are thinking…that is how I understand and please keep on questioning and fighting for your blackness….but I also feel like we also need to include those who love us and appreciate us as long as they are not malicious…Being black is not as easy and being black most times means being a chameleon

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  5. Many disabled people believe that able bodied people wearing our disabilities as a costume is ableist and not a compliment. Vitaligo is a disability

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  6. A “Panamaican” friend of mine (his description of being of Jamaican and Panamanian lineage) recently wrote about this issue, as cultural appropriation is a burgeoning topic in the black left.

    In regard to the more focused issue of “appropriating” cornrows, he wrote:
    “As if white people never braided their hair before 90’s rap music (I believe that there is greek art showing braids and African art showing the same). Some people really have a hard time understanding that things cross pollinate for millennia and no one really owns most of them.”

    He then compared cultural evolution to be analogous with the development of musical genres in American history. He then broaded this thought to say:
    “If you believe that the U.S. has completely separate cultures then yes. It’s well documented that a significant amount of “black culture” is eventually incorporated into ‘white culture’.

    I don’t believe that to be the case. I don’t think there is a separate black/white culture in the U.S. (Europe is a different conversation). Black America and white America are so interwoven that they are essentially different facets of the same culture. The U.S. culture has always incorporated elements that originated in different locations and socioeconomic segments into the culture as a whole.
    Some people would like to believe that their ethnicity has some independent super special culture but unless you’re actually from another country – it’s just American culture. We don’t have Irish culture or Italian culture or German culture or southern black culture or west coast white culture. We have east coast culture, west coast culture, southern culture, Midwest culture. ”

    I’m not versed on the subject, so I thought I’d share his take.

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