Cultural Inappropriation: when does inspiration cross the line?

Being inspired versus outright stealing for your creative endeavours has always been a hot topic. And, when culture is involved, it gets even hotter. Cultural appropriation is adopting customs, practices or ideas from a culture that is not your own. Cultural appropriation is wrong and offensive, but we’re often quick to call it out when it isn’t even happening. What we think is appropriation, can be appreciation but done in the wrong way, without paying credit or homage.

There’s a difference between making things popular and creating things from scratch. Artists continually use other people’s ideas and make them their own, and that’s ok. The problem is, white wealthy voices are always more respected. So, when a person of colour creates art that goes unnoticed and a person who benefits from white privilege takes inspiration from it, it hurts and reiterates the painfully racist society that we live in.

When underground rapper Princess Nokia accused Ariana Grande of copying her song ‘Mine’ on her new single ‘7 Rings’ it was more than just the flow and production of the song that she was talking about. On Instagram the rapper discussed how she made the song ‘Mine’ about “brown women and their hair” and stated that how Ariana copying her “sounds about white.” Ariana’s 7 Rings was by no measure an original piece of music. There are a plethora of musicians before her that have created similar sounding music, and when it took twelve writers to write this 2:58 minute song, who’s song is it!?

Ariana’s 7 Rings has a trap music beat. Trap music was created in the 1990s by rappers including Cool Breeze, Dungeon Family and Ghetto Mafia who lived in Atlanta. Trap refers to where drugs are bought and sold. This is cultural appropriation because as a white woman she will receive all of the rewards that come from making the music while the black people behind the original music will be largely disregarded. The point is, Ariana making trap music isn’t the issue. The issue is people of color are constantly sidelined in the art world to make way for a palatable white person.

Famous Rock and Roller Elvis Presley was known to be inspired by black musicians. When Elvis died in 1977, a popular African American newspaper stated that Chuck Berry was the true King of Rock and that he would’ve taken Elvis’s crown if he were white. While many believe that Elvis opened the door for black musicians to reach white audiences, it still represents where privilege gets you.

Being a POC rapper who began without a label (Princess Nokia) vs being a white mainstream pop star with a large team and label behind her (Ariana Grande) presents a clear disparity. So do all of the black artists who had no chance of seeing the same success that the legendary Elvis Presley did. Ultimately the blame doesn’t lie with any of the artists, cultural appropriation simply serves as a reminder of who really runs the world.

Tali Ramsey is a UK based writer. Follow her on instagram @taliramsey

Photo courtesy of shutterstock