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Jessica Jurado

Ms. Yolanda Franklin


ENC 1101
22 July 2015
Cultural Appropriation in the Media: Condemned or Condoned?

Media and social media have shaped many of the opinions and viewpoints of the world
today. The world is given news through a vast system of networks accessed by todays
technology. The common person now has what used to be nearly twenty devices in a small
square phone that can fit easily in a pocket. Because these tools and information are available at
ones fingertip, updates and events spread fast. With social media websites such as Twitter,
Facebook, and others, everyday people can not only share news, but also voice their opinion on
it. Celebrities and famous artists are not excluded from this online movement. Pop idols, models
to their fans, are no longer having their opinions filtered through magazine editing but are
making their statements directly from their online profiles, often without consulting a second
opinion. What these celebrities dont realize- or maybe they do- is that their status and fame
cause their opinions to reach a much larger audience than any other random person on the
internet. This far reach is a delicate balance, for the opinions shared by pop idols can cause a
ripple effect than influences their fans, their career, and even people who have never heard of
them. Words are powerful, so how do celebrities in social media set an example when discussing
or exhibiting serious issues like race or cultural appropriation?

The topic of race has been at the forefront of conflicts in society for centuries. With the

integration of many cultures into modern day America, it would make sense that this conflict will
be solved. Sadly, that is not the case and that fact is unlikely to change in the coming years.

Jesse Williams, an actor best known for his role as Dr. Jackson Avery on the ABC
Television series Grey's Anatomy often discusses the sensitive issue of race. When making a
comment about the defensive outrage that follows an accusation of a white person, he states that
You don't feel compelled to justify everything done by everyone who happens to be straight or
male or right-handed. So why whiteness? (Jesse Williams Twitter). Williams frequently makes
his point on twitter by asking questions rather than making statements. This provokes internal
interrogation, forcing those who read his tweet to answer the question for themselves rather than
just giving them a concrete fact that can be easily denied. The actor also prompts his followers to
look at the pop culture around them and find its African American roots. Millions of you smile
in awe of our music, comedy, inventions, athletics, fashion, etc. but when we're not entertaining
you, you hate us? (Jesse Williams Twitter). Cultural appropriation, as described by actress
Amandla Stenberg, occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations but is deemed cool or
funny when the privileged take it for themselves (Amandla Stenberg Buzzfeed). An example of
this can be found in the use of the cornrows hairstyle. While the style is an easy and necessary
way to style African American hair, it is often judged as a trashy or unkept style, leading to a
lack of respect in the professional workplace. Yet, white pop artists wear this style in music
videos to display an edgy bad boy/girl appearance, ignoring and taking for granted its original
functionality.

Talib Kweli, a hip hop music artist, speaks bluntly about his views on race and racism

within not only his industry, but in the world. Like Toni Morrison, he believes that race does not
truly exist, rather, race is a construct of greed. It's an illusion. But let's not pretend that it doesn't
inform every aspect of American society (Talib Kweli Twitter).

These celebrities, as well as many others, set examples for their followers and viewers.
They have the power and fame to influence others, so why not promote positive education about
the daily problems of race and cultural appropriation. Ignorance and arrogance are the bane of
human advancement, idols with fame and money can change that. There is a line in which
admiration become appropriation, the world needs better education as to when that line is
crossed. These issues need to be faced and discussed rather than ignored and brushed under the
carpet simply because one has the privilege to do so.