[Warning: I will actually be criticising white people, lady gaga and several sacred cows of white culture]
Lady Gaga is all the rage. She loves her some gay people and she even sings a song that takes up the banner of gay rights - “Born This Way”.
Before anyone derails this into a conversation about music (it’s not), my taste (I have none), why I don’t like gaga (I think she’s talented enough), any theory of me being anti-LGBTQI (wrong again, camel-breath) or my dislike for white people (I am white and harbor no such thoughts) - be clear: this is about the institutionalized cultural appropriation has been served up to and consumed by cis-gendered, heteronormative white audiences.
These are the lies we are told in order to maintain division and inequality by those who profit from our ignorance and cruelty toward each other.
I have had my reservations with a reliance on some short saying such as “born this way” to justify the identity of LGBTQI persons and I am not the only one. I am not saying that people are not “born this way”. Some are and it is for each of us to decide for our own selves, whether this is true or not.
- I do not recognize the authority of others to demand from me or anyone - some accounting of how I got to be the way I am. I don’t owe anyone such an explanation and I don’t need to convince them that I am a valid person. I think that there are no shortcuts. For me to accept that LGBTQI persons owe some sort of explanation for whom we are is victim blaming. No different to me than slut shaming. It is placing the power in the hands of the bullies while releasing them from accountability. I may have been born this way or I may have chosen to be this way - either way, I cede no power to anyone challenging my rights to be.
- I also believe that by taking this path, ultimately we will face those who would seek to eliminate us from the gene pool with eugenics either pre or post-natal. The bloodlust of the deeply religious, anti-LGBTQI and anti-women butchers is ever eager to kill others either because of our differences or because of their identities being dependent upon vilifying us. They are responsible for whether or not they mock us, starve us, dehumanize us, bully us, torture us and kill us - not our genetic history or our choices. The murderer is responsible for the death it brings and the life it takes.
So, that is what this post is not about. This is about cultural appropriation. Lady GaGa is the latest “white queen”. The international pop culture sensation / phenom of white worship. The domination of white, cis-gendered, heteronormative culture across the media of print, radio, television and film has been virtually unchallenged for as long as those mediums have existed. She is not the first, last nor is it always women.
Focusing on those examples that co-opt the culture of non-whites for their own fame and fortune. Since the birth of Jazz, white musicians have been taking the music of non-whites and getting rich while the non-whites take a back seat. Elvis Presley, The Beatles, UB40, Eminem to name some of the most successful. It wasn’t until Vanilla Ice embarrassed the planet with “Ice, Ice Baby” that hip-hop became popular with white audiences. The only glaring obvious difference between these musicians and the black musicians they were emulating was that a white guy was front & center.
It is not always about race. In GaGa’s example, queer culture is being co-opted. Madonna and Cher have gone there before and they were not the first, either.
It’s not just music, it’s not just LGBTQI or black people. Liz Taylor just died and in the flash of images being tossed about, more than one site displayed her picture from a visit to Iran.
"Black Face", the horrid appropriation of black culture by white performers is "mostly dead" but still resurfaces from time to time. However, there seems to be no problem or cessation in white artists pretending to be asian, indigenous or latino. Here is a good list of “yellow face” in film. Seriously? Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian? Apparently Mickey Rourke is going to portray Genghis Khan. We just saw two films named Avatar that had white people in non-white cultures.
It really comes down to this: For way too many non-white cultural expressions, there is a white face doing the same thing and it probably is better paid & more famous. Often, the original expression of these cultures are ignored or placed in the footnotes of history after the great white icon is retiring or passed away.
This fame comes with a severe cost to the source culture. The actual voices of non-cis-het-white culture are not being heard. The images, sounds, icons and specifics of these appropriated cultures become associated with someone who is not a member of that group. That’s what happens when GaGa’s face is all over magazines and video feeds as a representative of LGBTQI culture. She is somehow a face of queer culture.
Cultural icons reflect the dominant culture. There is no getting around that. Responsibility for the actions taken by the dominant culture toward the marginalized cultures lies with the dominant culture. Each of us has our share of responsibilities, which for the most people, consist of how we treat the people in our lives.
For the people behind the mass messaging of film, tv, radio and music - the responsibility is even greater. Although, to hear them speak of it - they play no part whatsoever.
A popular rationalization by those who profit from the cultural appropriation is that they are only giving the audiences what the audience is asking for. But, audiences are malleable - they do what they are told to do. Religion, advertising, propaganda and psychological operations all work precisely because people can be manipulated into doing / believing / repeating whatever they are told. And that audience? Apparently it is white, suburban, cis-het teens.
I don’t think there is mere coincidence that the fortunes of money spent to reinforce racial / gender / cultural privilege are all at the whim of some faceless horde of skateboarding kids on a cul-de-sac. I think that it is deliberate, targeted messaging pointed directly at the next generation of white kids, intended to reassert privilege. Like they say when catching organized crime - follow the money. Companies owned by the privileged elements of society would not be sinking billions into advertising, film, TV and music to put a white face front & center if it was not exactly what they want.
I’m not saying that cis-het-white people cannot or should not advocate for or celebrate people outside that privileged group. I am saying that when marginalized persons are denied equality and expression of their own culture because of their non-cis-het-white identity and the role of actual representatives of their own experience, we cannot replace acceptance by embracing a cis-het-white face pretending to be that culture instead.
In simpler terms, “colored face” is not civil rights or equality or acceptance. It is vanity, delusion and imperialism. Nothing good will come of it.
extra bonus if you made it this far: