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Cultural Appropriation Is Overrated.

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

I came across a Netflix movie called Step Sisters, about a black girl named Jamilah who is the head of her sorority. To get the Dean of her University to write a letter of recommendation for Harvard, Jamilah must teach a white sorority the art of Stepping to help fix their tarnished reputation. Jamilah knows how it would look to her step team, and the rest of the black campus community but she agrees.

Watching this movie in the time we are in as protests for social issues are happening all the time, with new buzz words like microaggressions, and cultural appropriation seeming to come out of nowhere, I originally figured that this Netflix movie would be about how white people steal black culture, aka “Cultural Appropriation”. But as I continued watching, I realized this movie Step Sister had a different message than I thought. A message that we don’t hear told in the media.

Be yourself, even if it means you aren’t black, or you aren’t white enough.

You don’t really hear this issue addressed much. When I was young in school, I used to hear my black peers telling another black kid that they were acting too white. From my white peers, they would brag about how they felt more black because of knowing a rap song some black kid didn’t know.We have this notion that our skin color means we are supposed to act a certain way, like certain things, and only care about certain topics. When your personality doesn’t fit into people’s color box, people may point out that you are acting white, not realizing they are suppressing who you are.

In Step Sisters you see this in two characters. Jamilah is our main character, and Sandra who is the only black girl in the white Sorority. While Jamilah teaches the girls stepping, she notices Sandra is having a hard time. Jamilah lets Sandra know that this is a good opportunity to connect to her black roots. It was obvious Sandra grew up around a lot of white people, because she was “Acting White.” But the truth was, Sandra wasn’t acting. Sandra was just being Sandra. A girl who grew up in an upper-middle-class environment with mostly white people. Sandra mentions later that she tried to be a part of the black sorority but was denied for acting too white, therefore she was with the white girls.

It’s no different for white people who are told they are acting black, so what is the truth?

The truth is someone like Bhad Bhabie aka, The Catch Me Outside Girl isn’t acting black. She is from the ghetto. If you ever lived in the ghetto, then you know that there are white people there too. And if you met a white person from the ghetto, you know they aren’t acting, and why? It’s the environment they came from. This isn’t something that just exists in the US. The area or class one came from reflects how one talks. Language changes as time pass, so there really isn’t a right way to talk. It’s not a matter of race, it’s a matter of geography and class.

Later Jamilah gets confronted by a friend about using the black sorority to prove how black she was, which Jamilah admitted was true. The truth was that although she wasn’t like Sandra, they both grew up very similarly. They grew up around mostly white people in an upper-middle-class environment. Except Jamilah was a closeted nerd, and Sandra was a prep. Things you typically associate with being white, at least in the black community.

White people don't have to hate being white to prove they aren’t racist.

This wasn’t really a major theme, but I think it’s important. Jamilah dates a white guy named Dane who is an African American and Political Science Major. Throughout the movie, he shows how knowledgeable he is about black culture. It gets so bad that he ridicules Jamilah for showing the white sorority how to step. He even corrects Jamilah after calling the MC racist for saying the white sorority was “White as shit”. Dane Immediately tells Jamilah that blacks can’t be racist.

It’s common conversation to talk down about white people because of the struggles black people in US history faced. It is seen as punching up, not punching down at white people. It’s still doesn’t make it ok because we are not groups of people but individuals. Believing you are superior to someone else because of your ethnic group regardless of why, makes you racist whether you are conscious of it, or not.

Black people can’t be racist.

If your definition of racism is based on what you learned in college, not the actual definition of racism which is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior, well then you should get your money back from that college course. I know it’s taught that one must be in power over another in order to be a racist. Obama was the most powerful person in the world, so did that make the KKK suddenly not racist anymore? Jamilah hid the fact that she was teaching stepping to white girls because she knew what people would say.

Towards the end of the movie we learned that the white sorority got second place, but really came in first. The judges gave them second place because they wanted to continue to keep stepping black, demonstrating that black people can be racist. You may come from an ethnicity that has been oppressed, or maybe even were taught you that you are better than everyone because of your ethnicity. That is still a racist mentality. It seems like the definition of the word racist has changed to mean one who is born white.

If there is a need for a new word in our language to prove a point, then fine, but instead of creating a new word, the word racist is used to mean a white person. Because of how much power the word “Racist” holds in our hearts, it directly triggers an emotion in us, causing us to see someone in a certain way even though the meaning of the word has changed. Now suddenly black people can be prejudiced, but never racist.

Cultural appropriation is overrated.

Jamilah gets caught teaching stepping to the white sorority by her step team and her mother. She is accused of betraying all black Greek culture, the black Greek community, and those who created the space for black people in a time when they were not accepted. Cultural appropriation is something I have a love/hate relationship with. On one hand when someone rocks something as if they made it up, and then gives it a new name as if it's brand new, that’s kind of messed up. On the other hand, saying someone can't do something because their race doesn’t match a culture is dumb. It’s easy to fix the first issue. When someone is trying to give a new name to something that’s not new at all, call them out. In the age of the internet, it’s even easier to call someone out.

A people group doing something cultural doesn’t mean another people group must ask for permission before using it. Yes, there are cultural things that are sacred, but culture changes, coming and going. For the most part, although there are a lot of cultural differences between people, there are some similarities amongst us all. If we supposedly come from one people, then all culture really belongs to everyone. Culture can be a beautiful thing, but I honestly believe culture can be very overrated. People would put culture above an individual because something has been done for X amount of years. Because something is an ancient practice, it doesn't mean it’s good. It’s pretty obvious when someone is appreciating a culture, and we know when someone is trying to be disrespectful.

It sounds really dumb to ask permission to do something from another culture. One person from the culture might get upset, another person could care less, and there are those who get really excited when they see someone appreciating their culture.

One man may say it's fine to do a rain dance, while the next guy will say NO, but I say do you. If you want to do something because you like it, do it. If you want to disrespect another culture, do it. Don't expect anyone to respect you though.

Steps Sister is a really good movie. You probably think it is too political based on the things I pointed out, but it isn’t. Step Sisters is pure entertainment and very funny. I was happy to see that someone in Hollywood could see what I saw in the world. It's kind of a surprise and not a surprise that this movie has a black writer and director. Which just proves black people are more than what we make ourselves out to be.

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1 Comment

Darren L Lusane
Darren L Lusane
Jul 03, 2020

I love it good job

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