Why You Shouldn't Accuse Beyoncé Of Cultural Appropriation

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty.
In the moments following Beyoncé’s godly performance, several things happened. The Beyhive literally combusted from the glory of it all and tried to regroup. I personally died and came back to life. Other viewers accused Beyoncé of cultural appropriation. And Beyoncé herself returned to the stage to accept the award for Best Contemporary R&B Album. The latter two events are the most important.

Lemonade is one of Beyoncé’s most intimate projects to date. In her acceptance speech, she directly addressed her investment in making such an album. First, she did it for the South. She said, “thank you to everyone who worked so hard to beautifully capture the profundity of deep Southern culture.” You need only look at the kind of rappers who are excluded from the rap category at the Grammys to see how relevant this acknowledgment is. Beyoncé also talked about creating a body of work that would both voice pain and give her children the opportunity to see themselves in the cultural staples around them.

Flip to Twitter. Many were saying that Beyoncé’s performance regalia is cultural appropriation. There was no consensus on which culture — some said Muslim, others referenced Hindu gods — but these disgruntled viewers felt sure that Beyoncé was borrowing from a culture that wasn’t hers. They were wrong.
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Google is a good friend to us all, and a quick search could have quickly educated naysayers on the orisha Oshun and how her symbolisms manifested themselves in Bey’s performance. Contrary to popular belief, Black culture did not start with slavery. We have ancestral traditions that go beyond hip-hop and expand throughout the diaspora. By assuming that anything that wasn’t explicitly American must be ripped off someone else, critics participated in the erasure of Black history that made Beyonce’s speech necessary. She had clapped back at adversaries before they could even push send on their tweets.

Beyoncé also issued a warning about our tendency to repeat our past mistakes. Anti-Blackness is a global phenomenon. There is hardly a place in the world where people who are darker aren’t treated more poorly. Whether it be through caste systems, blatant discrimination, or the collective erasure of certain histories, Black people bear the brunt inequality. Let us heed Bey’s warnings and think, or at least Google before we throw stones.

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