Whitewashing is a term that means to have black culture, such as rap or hip-hop, invaded and taken over by the white population. Today, many black artists are angry that white rappers are becoming famous, acting like they are black while singing and representing a false black cultural heritage. This can diminish the social importance of the messages of popular black artists by making them look like a joke. Whitewashing can have a positive side. White rappers can draw audiences to the genre of rap and black artists, introducing white people to an entire new experience with black culture. However, getting those in the black community to understand this is difficult. Whitewashing has become a great source of conflict both in the white and black communities and unfortunately until white rappers give credence to the black culture that rap started with, nothing will change.
It all started with Elvis Presley. Elvis went on stage and his flashy dress, pelvic dances and crooning voice reminded many of black artists. He was the first to attempt such outrageous behavior. Pat Boone came on the scene and did covers of many African-American songs by such artists as Nat King Cole and Fat’s Domino. They were smash hits. This angered the African-American community as they felt cheated. The hard work that African-Americans put into music were being effectively robbed by Caucasian pop stars. Cover songs are common, but to repackage them as Caucasian and take out the culture of the African-American music.
When rappers that are Caucasian perform their music they purposely make their voices sound like the African-American vernacular and say the racist word that starts with an “N” like it is not offensive. Certain artists like Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly rap about the hard lives they have and how they live on the streets and fight people with guns, and have sex with girls, and use drugs trying to imitate that which they hear in the African-American rap songs. Often these rappers make friends with African-Americans to make their claims seem more real and to help ease their transition into the community of rap. The Caucasians dress like, act like, and use the same gang signs as African-Americans and promotes this to Caucasian teens as cool and they copy it. Teen culture has evolved into acting African-American and talking street vernacular to try to seem tough.
This popularity of Caucasians acting like Africans has created fierce competition in the rap and hip-hop music industry. Award shows are full of white rappers winning Grammys and other music awards over the African-American artists. This has caused such artists like Ryan Mackelmoore to apologize over Twitter to his fellow African-American nominees. The Music of Black Origin (MOBO) awards are specifically meant to honor black artists in music. However, one year two white women won the majority of the awards. This makes white people wonder if racism goes backwards in this regard.
The debate about cultural appropriation is also a debate about so-called white privilege. White privilege is the idea that white people in western countries enjoy certain societal benefits solely on the basis of the color of their skin. People of color in the same economic or social circumstances are denied the benefits of white privilege, due to institutionalized racism. For example, a white person is unlikely to be stopped by the police and frisked just for walking down the street in his own neighborhood after dusk, whereas a black person faces a higher risk of the same thing happening to him.
The idea that the appropriation of black culture is an example of white privilege has its roots in the sentiment that it is yet another form of exploitation endured by blacks. In early 2015, the controversy came to a head when Australian-born rapper Iggy Azalea was awarded four Grammy nominations, one of which was for best rap album. (Azalea is a white woman.) Although she did not come away with any awards at the Grammy ceremony, that did not stop a barrage of disparaging comments to come flowing from a number of well known African-American hip-hop and rap artists, including Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, and Azealia Banks, a singer-songwriter from Harlem. They were especially offended by the lyric in Azalea's song “Fancy,” in which Azalea refers to herself as a “runaway slave-master.”
On a radio show in February, Banks objected to what she considered Azalea's appropriation of “black music” for her own profit. Banks was quoted as saying,
“At the very least y'all owe me the right to my f***ing identity and to not exploit that sh*t That's all we're holding on to with hip-hop and rapI feel like it's being snatched away from me or something The blackness is gone (Barrickman & Walsh, 2015).”
Many other black musicians, and many of those who enjoy “black music,” share Banks' beliefs on this contentious issue. The pervasiveness of the idea that musical genres should be separated by race continues to divide Americans along racial lines.
Now, the debate rages on whether white people belong in the black community in music. It seems that black people want a complete break from white rappers and to be a genre all of their own. Segregating music is an interesting concept. This would take momentous effort and cause a great rift in the entire music industry. Like Motown Records, perhaps an only African-American label or labels should only sign African-Americans.
However, without the white rappers and hip-hop artists many now famous black rappers would not exist. In the 1980s rap went mainstream with the union of Run DMC and Aerosmith in Walk This Way. After this both hip-hop and rap began making the rounds on television music channels and radio stations. Artists like N.W.A. and the Fresh Prince became popular among others. This gave way to a revival of soul and R&B. The African-American community might not like it, but Caucasians have helped their music to reach bigger audiences. “Black Eyed Pea rapper/songwriter Will.i.am tweeted saying: Hip-Hop Is global nowit doesn’t matter if your white or blackthanks for contributing & spreading our culture positively” (Lee 1).
Unfortunately, whitewashing looks to continue into the future as more white rappers and hip-hop artists climb the charts. Today’s fashion, music and lifestyles including the negative aspects are copied by youth and young adults regardless of race or gender. It is precisely because it is that well-liked that black culture sells. White people want to be black, at least in the matters of what is trendy. Jamie Joshi states:
The diaspora of hip hop has lead to an interesting cultural phenomenon. Instead of being localized to the five boroughs or the West Coast, hip hop is now a global spectacle felt everywhere from the cornfields of Romeo, Michigan to the cobbled backstreets of Paris, France (1).
So in all fairness the black community should consider this a boon to their music industry rather than a sign of whitewashing.
The problem with this is that the vast majority of black artists do not see this or feel this way. There is no gratitude and there may never be. This comes down to the issue of race history and racial tensions.
Racial discord between blacks and whites are a constant in America. Racism still exists and is strong, especially in certain regions of the U.S. The black community is fighting for their rights to be recognized as a unified people, different in color but equal in humanity. The music industry whitewashing is just a small portion of this fight. A proud black man or woman does not want a white man or woman infringing upon their culture and then making it a profit. It is not only fake, but it also like a slap to the face of all the struggles that blacks have gone through to be heard, recognized and respected.
Music expression is just one way that all people put their opinions out into the world. The community of black people have so many issues with injustice, racism, poverty, violence and civil rights. Their music talks about these problems. They address the issues by singing and rapping about them. Their messages get out and the black community all over the U.S. can relate to their feelings, even anger, and sometimes movements get started for change. When whitewashing occurs it cheats the black community of communicating these political and social issues. White people are not black; they will never be. Therefore they cannot understand what growing up and living as a black person means. The white person cannot fathom the injustices committed on the black race. When the white person raps about injustice it is only from a whitewashed perspective – an outsider’s viewpoint. There is no way they can understand racism, slavery and feeling less than human because of their skin color. Even if a white person grew up in poverty and violence they still are white, and that was one thing that he or she had going for them.
The black community has every right to be upset over whitewashing. It is damaging to their community for whites to pretend they are black and to take away the rich culture that blacks live. It is also offensive that whitewashing makes the struggle of blacks out to be unimportant especially with all of the problems that they faced and still face today. Whitewashing robs the black community of recognition and feeds the white youth with ideas that being black is cool while it is actually not the truth. Every black person has faced some sort of racism or discrimination at some point in their lives by another race. White youth may understand that racism exists but they do not understand what it feels like to be black and they should not act black for fun or pretend to be gangsters to be tough.
Whitewashing is considered to be whites stealing the rap and hip-hop culture, but it goes deeper than that. It is really about whites wanting to take on the black culture without taking on the stigma of being black. That is what makes whitewashing so offensive. Whether it is music or a lifestyle or clothing, white people will never truly understand the black culture. Underneath the criticism of white artists being called whitewashing artists lies the real pain and it is that blacks are being absolutely cheated of their history, struggles and the work that has been done to make blacks equal with whites.
Is Iggy Azeala Really Whitewashing Hip-Hop Music? Black News.com. 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 28 June 2015.
Jamie Joshi. Whitewashed: A Study of Caucasians in Hip-Hop Music. WordPress. [web log]. 2015. Web. 28 June 2015.
Barrickman, N., and David Walsh. “Cultural Appropriation,” “white privilege” and the attacks on the rapper Iggy Azalea. World Socialist Web Site. 20 February 2015. Web. June 29 2015.