[Ed. note: This post originally appeared here.]
Black feminist Professor Brittney Cooper gets her mean-girl panties on for Iggy Azalea, and it’s almost amusing to watch the contortions she goes through to blame Black men for what she perceives as a problem with “cultural appropriation”. Black men are appropriating black culture?
Yeah, let’s investigate the Professor’s logic.
Recently, my nine year-old nephew came running into the room, eager to find a seat to watch a performance by Iggy Azalea on an awards show. He sat, enraptured by her performance, yelling, “Iggy!” utterly oblivious to the look of chagrin and dismay on my face, as I, too, tuned in to watch this white girl from Australia, turned ATL-style rapper, caricature everything I love about Southern Hip Hop.
And right out of the starting gate, Cooper goes on a sulk and demands that everyone, including children respond to her feelz! She was chagrined, people! Dismayed! And the boy did not drop everything to assuage her hurtz. Little bastard. He was just enjoying some music. Can’t have that now, can we?
The look and feeling of chagrin has stayed with me each time I turn on my radio and hear Iggy’s hit song, “Fancy” coming through my speakers. And some of the dismay I feel is at myself, because almost without fail, I immediately start bobbing my head to the beat.
I’m no huge fan of Iggy, but yeah, Fancy has a pretty good little beat.
Iggy is a protégé of T.I., one of my all-time favorite rappers. Though T.I. is known for Atlanta-style, crunk Southern bravado that is a hallmark of Black culture in that city, according to journalist/blogger Bené Viera, T.I. recently expressed disappointment that “we’re at a place in America where we still see color.” Apparently, color is only relevant when he’s talking about racist acts against Black men, but not when he has to think through his complicity in white appropriation of Hip Hop music.
The children won’t kowtow to Cooper’s feelings and the music is pretty catchy on the whole, but there is no way Cooper is leaving a good beat alone. Three paragraphs in, and it’s the fault of Black men that Iggy captures her nephew’s attention when the boy ought to be paying attention to his Auntie. What I find amusing about Professor Cooper, a professor of cultural studies, is that she appears to have no idea how culture works. The whole point of culture is to share it, so it spreads. Culture is not something you nail shut in a box, and only approved visitors get to see it. Cultural appropriation is just some bullshit feminists and social justice warriors cooked up so they would have something to bitch about. Insisting that culture must never be shared ironically works to injure the very culture these idiots, presumably, are trying to protect.
As a born-and-raised Southern girl, who believes that lazy summer evenings are best spent with your top back or your sun roof open, bass-heavy music booming through nice speakers, while you slowly make a few blocks through the neighborhood, to see who’s out and what’s poppin,’ I resent Iggy Azalea for her co-optation and appropriation of sonic Southern Blackness, particularly the sonic Blackness of Southern Black women. Everytime she raps the line “tell me how you luv dat,” in her song “Fancy,” I want to scream “I don’t love dat!” I hate it. The line is offensive because this Australian born-and-raised white girl almost convincingly mimics the sonic register of a downhome Atlanta girl.
And if one of those downhome Atlanta girls was a pitch perfect soprano with a love for Kiri Te Kanawa, would her ability to convincingly mimic the New Zelander’s voice be offensive, or does that only work one way? Is the sonic “whiteness” of Maria Callas up for grabs? Are Jessye Norman or Leontyne Price mimicking white culture, or are they kickass opera singers, singing whatever the hell they want?
The question is why? Why is her mimicry of sonic Blackness okay? Though rap music is a Black and Brown art form, one does not need to mimic Blackness to be good at it. Ask the Beastie Boys, or Eminem, or Macklemore. These are just a smattering of the white men who’ve been successful in rap in the last 30 years and generally they don’t have to appropriate Blackness to do it. In the case of Southern rappers like Bubba Sparxx or Paul Wall, who do “sound Black” as it were, at least it is clear that they also have the accents of the places and communities in which they grew up.
How interesting that Cooper gives white men a pass, but not white women, and certainly not Black men. One wonders how Cooper navigates the twin highways of hate feminism and cultural studies have laid out before her. Men are to blame, but not white men because they pay good money and women are always victims, but not white women unless they’re being victimized by white men and Black women are victims and Black men are always to blame but not white men …… and round and round she goes.
Not so with Iggy Azalea, who left Australia at age 16. To be clear, I know all of the problems with the phrases “sound Black” and “sonic Blackness.” As a kid, I was mercilessly teased for and accused of “talking white,” “acting white” and basically attempting to “be white.” I learned during those difficult days to dissent from social norms that suggested that the only English for Black people is a vernacular English that stands adjacent to “corporate,” “standard,” or white English. I balked at such suggestions and reveled in my ability to master “standard” English.
Obviously, I do not know Cooper’s personal history, but if the narrow-mindedness of her writing is any indication, the key part of this revelation is the word “only”. Virtually every adult human understands that there are degrees of appropriateness when it comes to language and expression. Most of us will use a very formal tone standing in front of a judge, and a completely different vocabulary in everyday life with family and friends. Those individuals who never modify their speech, adjusting it for the occasion and the environment are considered socially awkward. Sometimes that is the result of neurological conditions like autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, but it can also be the result of dogged adherence to ideology. Class, race, ethnicity, geography, demography – all these things have an impact on language, and mature, intelligent people understand how to navigate the various contours of their social worlds. Not the Professor.
After a few more paragraphs complaining about that darn Iggy, making money hand over fist by singing rap songs, Cooper gets to the heart of the matter. Someone is to blame for Iggy. Someone has made Iggy possible. Someone has permitted Iggy to succeed.
By riding for white female rappers to the exclusion of Black women, Black men collude with the system against Black women, by demonstrating that our needs, aspirations and feelings do not matter and are not worthy of having a hearing.
The exclusion of Black women??!?! Is she fucking kidding? Cooper do you even Beyonce? Ever heard of Nicky Minaj? How about L’il Kim? Queen Latifah? Missy Elliot? Mary J. Blige? Nitty Scott, maybe? Anything ringing a bell at all?
Time Magazine put together a list of female rappers worth a listen, and every single one is Black. No one is excluding Black women from rap, least of all Black men.
This is straight up, run of the mill feminist man-hate. There is no evidence that Black men are stomping down Black women and lifting up those precious white rappers at Black women’s expense. It’s bullshit. But once Cooper gets the misandry ball rolling, she just can’t stop.
Black men keep on proving that when given access to power, money and influence, be it political or cultural, it is not Black women they ride or die for. They want our unwavering devotion, even as they make choices that contribute to the silencing of women of color in a culture we helped to build. And young, oblivious white women, caught up in fanciful ideas about a post-racial universe, climb on board, taking my unsuspecting nephew and his friends for the ride of their lives.
This paragraph illustrates perfectly why feminism and Black women go together like fish and bicycles. The feminist part of Cooper knows she has to blame men, and that women must always be victims. The white woman becomes oblivious – Iggy is not making conscious decisions about her life – she’s just some clueless chick being led astray by THE EVIL MENZ.
Well, we’re talking about rap music here, so obviously Black men get to be the villains.
If feminism rejects traditional gender roles and demands that men and women be treated as social, moral, financial and literal equals, why the hell should men ride and die for women? You want the benefits of traditional gender roles, but none of the responsibilities or constraints? Give me one good reason Black men are obliged to ride or die for any woman, no matter what color her skin happens to be?
The ability of Blackness to travel to and be performed by non-Black bodies is supposed to be a triumph of post-racial politics, a feat that proves once and for all that race is not biological. Race does not have any biological basis, but I maintain that there is no triumph and no celebration when we embrace a white girl who deliberately attempts to sound like a Black girl, in a culture where Black girls can’t get no love.
Black women who sing can’t get no love? Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, Rhianna, Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Erykah Badu, Leona Lewis, Kelly Rowland, Ciara, Brandy Norwood, Nikki Minaj and Aretha would like a word with you.
I wonder what Jessye Norman would think of Cooper’s cultural appropriation? She’s a dramatic soprano who specializes in Wagner. Flawless German opera.
Iggy profits from the cultural performativity and forms of survival that Black women have perfected, without having to encounter and deal with the social problem that is the Black female body, with its perceived excesses, unruliness, loudness and lewdness. If she existed in hip hop at a moment when Black women could still get play, where it would take more than one hand to count all the mainstream Black women rap artists, I would have no problem. Iggy would be one among the many. But in this moment, she represents a problem of co-optation. She represents the ways in which hip hop is on a crash course to take exactly the path that rock ‘n roll took such that 20 years from now, people my nephew’s age, will look at the Macklemores and Iggys of the world as representative of Hip Hop Culture, with nary a Black soul making their top ten list of hip hop greats.
How many fingers do you have on one hand??!?! Cooper should perhaps keep in mind that most male rappers are not mainstream either, but that is changing because rap music is being integrated, word, by word, into mainstream pop music.
When Taylor Swift adds a rap bridge to one of her saccharine sweet pop confections, you know some headway is being made, and the culture is adding layers.
Cooper’s words are exactly what people said about Elvis. Elvis took Black music and brought it into the living rooms of every home in America. He took a great innovation in music, packaged it for consumption by the masses, spoon-fed it to them and created an entire industry and culture that was suddenly open to Black music.
That is how culture works.
Iggy isn’t stealing, or appropriating anything. She is celebrating, and spreading inner city Black music far beyond the borders of the original innovators. She is solidifying rap music and inserting it deeply into mainstream culture, from where it will not be dislodged anytime soon, and in doing so, she is broadening the market for all rap artists.
Cooper is the anachronism here, stamping her feet that she doesn’t get to dictate the exact terms of how Black culture becomes popularized. That makes her immature, out of touch and petulant. It’s her insertion of Black men as the evil oppressors that bothers me. In much the same way that feminists are the true misogynists, Black feminists are the true racists. Cooper’s insistence that Black men are running rough-shod over Black women rappers has at it’s a heart a rather grotesque vision of Black men: so enthralled with the beauty of white women, they will destroy their own mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces, friends to get at it.
You know there is something fundamentally flawed with your worldview, Cooper, when you work harder than any member of the KKK to paint Black men as lewd darkies lusting after white female flesh. You might want to think that one through.
I’ll be over here, enjoying Iggy singing Black music, and Jessye singing white. It’s called “culture.”
Feel free to join us.
You can sing any damn song you like.
We’ll do the same.