I began my career at a well-known gossip magazine about three years ago, meaning that 1,093 of those 1,095 days involved at least one Kardashian story. I think I know more about that family than my own at this point. I can name everything from Kim's favorite weave to Kanye's go-to cocktail (piña coladas, btw).
But even though the Kardashians were virtually the source of my income, I still wasn't desensitized to the fact that they're basically making their own living from command + c'ing my culture. Kylie Jenner wants to be a Black girl so bad. As does Kim. So does Khloe. Kendall, too, but only sometimes. My coworkers and I would roll our eyes until they reached the back of our heads every time Kylie would post a selfie in fiery red cornrows, or wear a Yaki hair ponytail, as if it were something new and innovative. And don't even get me started on Khloe's Bantu knots. Or those Marc Jacobs yarn dreadlocks. Ugh.
Thinking about all of those times when they mimicked my heritage for play still pisses me off. And, way too many times, I had to swallow my pride (and hide my tears) to write about this stuff for the sake of my job. Yes, I griped to my work friends on Slack. Yes, I screenshotted the offending looks to my loved ones. I'd even throw shade along with my story links on Facebook (always making sure to set my status updates to private, of course). But I don't think that I've ever been moved enough to react with violence.
But Carmen Figueroa was, allegedly. Local newspapers in Amherst, Massachusetts report that the 20-year-old Hampshire College student assaulted a visiting basketball player at her school on January 27. Members of the team were wearing braids, and Figueroa asked them to remove their hairstyles in the name of cultural appropriation. On March 17, Figueroa plead not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
I'm not defending Figueroa at all. Violence has never been the answer. During the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stressed the importance of nonviolent behavior, even when courageous freedom fighters were hosed down, beaten, and attacked by police dogs. We're often told to hold our heads high, stand firm on our beliefs, turn the other cheek, and take the higher road. When they go low, we go high, right?
After Donald Trump was elected, though, I remember seeing a smattering of cheeky T-shirts on Insta that read "Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands." Heh. I can admit that I chuckled a little. But I found the shirts disrespectful to the generations before us that stood their ground without breaking. You can block a racist Tweeter, or ignore the ignorant comments on a story. To not strike back when you're being pummeled, though? I wish I were my grandparents.
Carmen: I get you. Appropriation is annoying as hell. It makes you wanna holler and scream and get angry. But we've got to find a better way to fight it without actually fighting. And to me, that begins with dialogue. I know that you've probably seen 4,050,320 think pieces and twice as many tweets and social media posts about it. Amandla Stenberg even made an entire primer on cultural appropriation, linked here for your convenience. Yeah, you can beat someone's ass to get your point across... but a much more dangerous weapon is education.