Sunday, August 28, 2005

Ironic Appropriation

Electroman blogged a couple of days ago about an article that appeared in the Washington Post. The article cites a Brooklyn DJ named "Tha Pumpsta" who was throwing "Kill Whitie" parties for a predominantly white audience.

"Kill whitey!" yells Tha Pumpsta into the microphone as he bounces to the beat. "What . . . gonna . . . do dance . . ." he raps to the beat. "Kill whitey!" The kid by the bar busts out with a break-dancing move. Women drop their booties and the guys slide in close. Tha Pumpsta struts around in an all-white outfit from his headband to his high tops, shouting it again: " Kill whitey!"
In a blog that's all about fighting the appropriation of minority culture, I fairly titillated at this story. Here, again, we see another shining of example of white culture appropriating not just black music and black culture, but black anger and fury that arose out of white oppression. How impudent of "Tha Pumpsta" to boil it all down to white people wanting to "let loose"! As if wanting to "kill whitey" originated out of wanting to "get jiggy"-er, "Tha Pumpsta" displays his complete ignorance of hip hop history.
Tha Pumpsta, who happens be white, has built a following in the past few years by staging monthly "Kill Whitie" parties in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for large groups of white hipsters. His proclaimed goal, in between spinning booty-bass, Miami-style frenetically danceable hip-hop records that are low on lyrical depth and high on raunchiness, is to "kill the whiteness inside." What that means, precisely, is debatable, but it has something to do with young white hipsters believing they can shed white privilege by parodying the black hip-hop life. In this way, they hope to escape their uptight conditioning and get in touch with the looser soul within them.
After all, the Miami Bass sound that is played at these parties is not at all about killing whitey, it's about getting as crunk and sexually degenerate (not to mention misogynistic) as possible. But what gets me most is not only the burnt cork that "Tha Pumpsta" dons in order to make his parties authentic, but the mass appeal his party has to people like little Bianca Casady (guess what colour she is).
A regular Kill Whitie partygoer, she tried the conventional (that is, non-hipster) hip-hop clubs but found the men "really hard-core." In this vastly whiter scene, Casady said that "it's a safe environment to be freaky."
"Safe"? Or more like a euphemism for "bleached"? These are parties that are designed to imperialize and bastardize hip hop culture for the white audience (do you really think anyone going to these parties is aware of the history behind the phrase "kill whitey"? "Tha Pumpsta"'s certainly not). They are designed to create a "safe space" for whiteness, where the white hipsters can take hip hop culture without having to deal with people of colour and where they can bask in their white privilege. The "ironic appropriation", as "Tha Pumpsta" describes it only works, only works if the hipsters understand the irony, much as Quentin Tarentino movies only work as "homage" if the moviegoing audience is aware of the history rather than the racialized comedy. "Tha Pumpsta's" point falls flat with this little gem:
His street fliers come emblazoned with the words "Kill Whitie" across a woman's backside. Another flier offers free admission to anyone with a bucket of fried chicken.
Martin Luther King, Jr would be turning in his grave.
Sekaran, a native New Yorker from a mixed-race family -- part black, part South Asian -- occasionally works as a deejay and knows all about hipster irony. "That doesn't make it any less disturbing," Sekaran said. "Their attitude is, 'It's our privilege to do this because we're in our own little clique, in our own little world.' "
But the cherry on this delectably racist ice cream sundae is the subsequent "Pumpsta" outrage. Apparently "Tha Pumpsta" is all about ending his own white privilege only so long as he gets to be leading a bunch of Eminem wannabes in some good 'ol fashioned break-dancing. When it comes to a bunch of people of colour expressing some serious (and justified) "kill whitey" responses to his racist parties, he ran squealing back to his white privilege shell. Electroman's blog, as well as several others, including the wonderful (which I had found earlier during the Hot 97 DJ fiasco) have been the target of "Tha Pumpsta"'s latest comment-blitz. In it, "Tha Pumpsta" attempts to defend his argument by saying that there were black women involved in the creation of the "Kill Whitie" parties. The Pumpsta: But, I have black friends! I can't possibly be racist!! How infantile. If you're going to appropriate black culture, even if you managed to find some members of the race to sign your counterfeit ghetto pass, you're still making a party that bastardizes black culture for all white audiences. If you don't believe that's the truth, then you only need to check out the Washington Post's photo montage of the party the photographer attended. I saw one light-skinned black dude, and he looked lost as hell -- the rest of the party was a sea of whiteness. This party is exactly what the reporter described it to be. Personally, I'd love to see a bunch of African Americans hunker down, take one for the team, and attend this party en masse. Let's see lil' Bianca deal with that -- now that she can get a sense of what it's like to have another community come in and take what she thought was hers. Either way, I do have to say that we need to cut "Tha Pumpsta" a little slack. Although he's an obvious perpetrator of modern white racism, he's by far not the only one, and we have to be careful not to blame this one man for an entire industry that appropriates minority culture. And after all, we're not talking about a great thinker here:


Blogger James said...

"The Pumpsta". Whitespeak for "dumbass".

But really, Sometimes some White people need to take all of their White guilt, White anger, and hollow White culture, and have White parties where they create their own White substance.

Because this type of White appropriation makes this Black man really upset.

8/28/2005 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I think part of the problem is that 'white' people wanna be in on the so-called hip hop culture, without actually having to bother finding out what it actually means/is about. It just ends up making the guy look like a huge prat and making this 'whitie' sad.

I like hip hop music. I like almost all kinds of music in fact. It just makes me a bit sad that people feel they have to go this far in order to gain acceptance, and in the end, gaining nothing but ridicule and censure...

Isn't it enough that people like the music, no matter what colour they are?

8/28/2005 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

No. It isn't enough that people like the music. They must also respect the culture and people who created it.

When they don't, we get Tha Pumpsta.

8/29/2005 12:12:00 AM  
Blogger jose said...

To that end, I always had a problem with White people using terms like "homeboy" and "homeslice" to recently-stale terms such as "jiggy". "Homeboy", arising from 1940's slang and now absorbed into mainstream usage, and "homeslice" as the 1980's variant White people are more comfortable with (and to a degree, making fun of AAVE), are appropriations I encounter every day. When I ask people if they know the etymology of the word and why they chose to use that particular term I get a blank look.

8/29/2005 01:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I didn't make myself clear, James, so I'm not offended by your remark, altho I could have been, should I have chosen to be.

What I meant by what I said (and should have elaborated on, only my sad little brain wasn't working at the time) was that people like him, and all the other poseurs out there should just give up on the posturing, trying to look hip to da homies (or whatever retarded slang they've appropriated today). They should just appreciate the music (and the makers of said music) regardless of who they are, and stop the stupidity.

Respecting the culture is a given, at least I would have thought it was, but obviously some (or a lot of...) people miss the point completely. (not you, those who have no respect for it...) I think that by trying to emulate it, they think they're being respectful, without being mindful of how stupid and disrespectful they look. That's probably what you meant, and I will take it as such.

8/29/2005 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

The problem I see is that 'respecting the culture' is not a given. People can listen to mainstream hip hop nonstop in this country without caring at all about the political issues of the people who created it, nor must they know about the damaging messages hip hop music promotes.

Watch a video from the Ying Yang Twins or 50 Cent or Snoop Dogg, and the general message is that large-breasted young women will make themselves available to Black men's sexual fantasies at a moment's notice. There's nothing that deserves respect there.

However, that's not the whole of hip hop. The genre started as a partly political arm of African American youth culture. That's what makes the whole "Kill Whitie" thing insidious for me - the appropriation and synthesis of both Black nationalist rhetoric and hypersexualized hip hop by White people wishing to denigrate both. Jenn touches on this in her post.

Given this, respecting the culture is a complicated task for anyone. However, that does not excuse Tha Pumpsta blatant disregard for the damages African American stereotypes still effect in the West. The better question to pose is why do White people desire to appropriate non-White cultures to insane degrees so often, but I'll write on that myself.

8/29/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger jose said...

Some more appropriation, committed by Scion, with their true intent revealed:


8/29/2005 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

fascinating blog post you posted, jose. it just goes to show how the music industry is only interested in the one-dimensional, easily processes bitches 'n hoes version of hip hop which can be appropriated for their own means, meanwhile ignoring the authentic motivations of political rap.

as far as the discussion between james and kaede, great points both of you, and i'm fairly sure that james wasn't trying to offend anyone, kaede, but i think it's definitely true that very few people, people of colour as well as whites, truly respect the culture of hip hop. the difference here, though, is that when white people appropriate hip hop in such a racialized way, their skin colour adds an element of white flight and cultural imperialism that cannot be ignored.

8/29/2005 04:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

So wanting to look cool is cultural imperialism? *sighs* I really don't see it that way, but I have the added disadvantage of being white so anything said by anyone in that regard will totally go over my head because I either don't know, haven't experienced it, or am just plain the wrong colour (or lack thereof). And anything I say is bound to be wrong simply because I am white and again haven't experienced any of this stuff.

I happen to believe that one can enjoy music without seeing 'colour' or 'politics' or anything else to it - that music can transcend those barriers, but maybe I'm just too idealistic and naive and white.

Of course he does damage, a lot of these so-called musicians do damage to their particular ethnicity when issues of 'gangsta' rap and other unsavoury styles and themes of music are perpetuated. It's not just limited to this guy (who I still think looks and acts like a git).

What I resent is the attitude that if you're white, you're automatically in the wrong, you haven't got a clue etc. and I DO think I have a clue. Maybe not as much as someone who is of another ethnicity, but I'm not exactly stupid either. What I fail to grasp in this conversation is the 'imperialistic' attitude (not everything white is imperialist, Jenn), and the fact that hip hop needs to be 'culturally understood' in order to enjoy it. I don't happen to believe that ANY music needs to be culturally understood in order to enjoy it, otherwise we'd all have to sit through horridly boring classes on German operatic history to get Wagner's Rings of the Niebelung series and it's context in history and all that sort of rubbish.

Whatever happened to enjoying music just for the sake of it? I'm not talking about stuff that glorifies pimps and hos, or says go out and shoot anyone who you don't happen to like the colour/ideology of.

I know you can argue rings around me, but at this point in time, I'm too tired and sick (as usual *sighs* ) so I won't go on about it any more.

8/29/2005 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Well, let's put it this way, looks like this is another case of "everything but the burden."

That being said, I think Hip Hop isn't solely an African American or Black cultural marker anymore. It's more people of color now and even a class distinction. Then, there's good hip hop and then there's bad hip hop.

8/29/2005 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

What I resent is the attitude that if you're white, you're automatically in the wrong, you haven't got a clue etc. and I DO think I have a clue. Maybe not as much as someone who is of another ethnicity, but I'm not exactly stupid either.

Whoah, whoah, whoah... who said that? Kaede, no one is saying that you, by virtue of being (or at least looking) white means you "haven't got a clue". In fact, none of this discussion has been or is about you or whiteness as inherently evil, stupid, etc...

No one is talking down to you. And, without meaning to offend, no one was saying anything to insult you in the first place, which is why I don't understand why you're getting so defensive.

What is being argued is that appropriating a culture that does not belong to you, and misusing it for your own gains is culturally imperialistic. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't matter what colour you are, if you're not a part of the culture, taking it, re-interpreting or bastardizing it, and twisting it for your own gains is disrespectful and racially fucked up. It doesn't mean any different if you were to do it or if I were to do it -- being white only matters in this case because the person in question is not a part of the culture he is taking and twisting.

For example, I hate anime fanboys and anime fangirls who fetishize Japanese anime. Not like: fetishize. I hate white boys and girls who do it, I hate black boys and girls who do it. I hate Asian Americans who do it. It's cultural imperialism pure and simple.

Just because the person in question here is white doesn't mean that everything a white person does is imperialistic. I will venture to say that most of the time I see fucked up things like this, it is a white person committing the "crime" -- but I am not arguing that this is an inherent trait of white-hood.

... and the fact that hip hop needs to be 'culturally understood' in order to enjoy it. I don't happen to believe that ANY music needs to be culturally understood in order to enjoy it, otherwise we'd all have to sit through horridly boring classes on German operatic history to get Wagner's Rings of the Niebelung series and it's context in history and all that sort of rubbish.

No one's asking anyone to sit through a cultural awareness class -- hell, I would be annoyed if anyone thought they could wave a "racial awareness" certificate at me and then promptly make a movie like Kill Bill. What I would like to see is for people to have some respect for culture and music -- not just like the beat or the lyrics, but to have an awareness of the history and, most importantly, an awareness of one's own outsider status in said culture.

I like hip hop, I appreciate the music. I do not pretend I am part of hip hop culture, and I never try to flaunt any membership or expertise in rap. What "Tha Pumpsta" did is listen to hip hop and then completely forgo the political overtones of another culture's form of expression, commercialize it, and couple it with a bunch of racial stereotypes designed to denigrate and exclude the very people from whom he took the artform. How is that not imperialistic?

All I'm asking, as a person of colour who's culture is regularly appropriated, that you don't presuppose you can run in and take another community's culture just because you like it.

8/29/2005 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

@ ben
That being said, I think Hip Hop isn't solely an African American or Black cultural marker anymore. It's more people of color now and even a class distinction. Then, there's good hip hop and then there's bad hip hop.

I dunno, dude... Jin Tha MC might have something different to say about that. Hip hop originated as an African American artform -- just because other communities of colour now participate in hip hop inspired art, can we claim "equal share" over it?

Eminem, Marky Mark and Vanilla Ice initiated a wave of white hip hop artists in the industry, and there have been more and more lately. Does that mean that hip hop will one day become a white artform as well? Where do we draw the line?

8/29/2005 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

I disagree with the idea that music can be divorced from it's cultural and historical origins. If that idea has any merit, nothing The Pumpsta and his cohorts have done is problematic, because they can always say they are "just enjoying the music".

Tha Pumpsta promotes fun through the dehumanization of Black people and Black music. Everyone realizes this. But cultural imperialism is also at work here; it's most obvious in the comments of White girls like Bianca Cassidy, which Jenn quoted from the article.

The Pumpsta and Ms. Cassidy create a safe White space where White people can enjoy Black music without dealing with Black people. Any Black person who's ever attended a mainstream college party probably knows what it feels like to see this close-up; it's truly sickening to watch people hate your presence but rip your culture out-of-context for their benefit alone. That's cultural imperialism - the rape of one culture's traits and creativity by another culture for the profit and benefit of the second culture.

8/29/2005 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Further, I strongly disagree with the assertion that hip hop is not a African American cultural trait in the present day. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hip hop, no matter how commercialized, corporate, global, or widespread, is a Black phenomena. Rap begins and ends with Black people and the Black experience. Don't let Eminem and Jin the MC fool you.

Black America has a long history of allowing people from outside the community to take part in Black cultural expression, yet nothing in that history globalizes hip hop to the degree that it loses its Blackness. Jazz is still Black, so hip hop's not going anywhere.

Cultural traits do not travel between cultures because of mainstream popularity. That's like saying that anime or acupuncture is now 'White' because American teenagers buy Lone Wolf and Cub manga collections in bulk.

8/29/2005 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

Well my opinion is different from everyone so far.Here's my 2 cents.

I find it funny.LOL the pumpsta.Appropriation?Sure.Cultural imperialism? Don't know about that.Sounds a bit mellow dramatic to me.Personally people like the pumpsta don't bother me.However others like 50 cent,the ying yang twins, and just about the majority of rap artist today who takes the bitch-ho-guns-nigga route(the kind of people the pumpsta and other hacks originally get their ideas from in the first place)do.
And in all honestly some of those political/conscious rappers take it too far as well as take themselves waaaaaaay too seriously.

I think he's simply annoying/funny in a dorky kind of way and nothing more.He's not doing anything worse then the real rappers of today.Does it excuse him, no but still.If any group is truly bastardizing hip hop culture(a culture I feel can do more harm then good for young blacks these days) right now, it's other black people.At least to me.

A little off topic but

"For example, I hate anime fanboys and anime fangirls who fetishize Japanese anime. Not like: fetishize. I hate white boys and girls who do it, I hate black boys and girls who do it. I hate Asian Americans who do it. It's cultural imperialism pure and simple."

I disagree.Calling it cultural imperialism is like calling a african or asian fans of chuck jones disney or any other big fans of western animation a "cultural imperialist".In all honesty it sounds downright silly.Or maybe I'm reading you wrong.
In what way do you feel they fetishize anime? Are you talking about the "I love anime and no other for animation (especially western) can't do" types?I always thought japanese styled animation was more of a style of animation rather then a culture.(Although I know subcultures developed from it)

8/29/2005 08:52:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Cultural imperialism is neither melodramatic nor silly. It's a fact of life in America. Before Elvis ever became popular, he studied Black Nashville blues musicians. Later, he made millions from their riffs.

If you find Tha Pumpsta funny, that's your choice. Still, that doesn't alter the damage both he and most hip hop artists do to Black people today.

However, the difference must be stated - when 50 Cent coons at the VMA's, people see a Black man in a stereotypical light. That is a problem. When Tha Pumpsta coons, people see a White man imitating a Black man in a stereotypical light. Both are problematic, but with the American history of White pop culture imitation of Black people for White enjoyment (minstrel shows, Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer), we can't laugh off the difference. This very difference allows little White girls to feel 'safer' in hip hop parties where Black men don't exist, while listening to (and reinforcing) stereotypes about Black male sexuality.

None of that is cool, in my opinion.

Further, the majority of visible, mainstream rappers take the "bitch-ho-guns-nigga route" to sell records to White audiences for music corporations. The real question here is why do White audiences love to revel in Black denigration, whether or not the original perpetrators are Black?

Until that question in handled by the White mainstream, any hip hop imitation on their part will be considered suspect by this writer.

8/29/2005 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

It's definalty appropriation, but I don't see where what he is doing is cultural imperialism.

8/29/2005 10:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

From my experience, I'm adding on that hip hop is still a Black and African American marker, but I'm also adding that it's broader than that. There are plenty of people of other colors who use hip hop to help flesh out their identities. I'm not talking about Jin and I'm not talking about the mainstream. There are plenty of artists who come from all colors that represent what hip hop is. I can tell you what I think it isn't. It isn't rap.

8/30/2005 12:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Ben said...

To add on, I hardly see culture as being something solid or stable. It's ever changing and people have to acknowledge that it's allowed to change and find other bodies to be incorporated into to really appreciate it's rooots. Hip Hop isn't all blacks, hardly. Hip Hop has roots in poetry, spoken word, toasting. These forms of expression aren't black. Hip Hop may be a refinement of what forms of expression that these may be, but they're hardly because of a particular group of people.

re: the article, that man, has no appreciation of the art.

8/30/2005 12:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" No. It isn't enough that people like the music. They must also respect the culture and people who created it.

When they don't, we get Tha Pumpsta."

You know, I gotta throw my three cents in about this comment because it irks me. I live in a city that by demographic is 80% Black and I am living in the house on the block that is the ONLY house with white people in it on this block. As such, I have to ask this, and take it however you will.

I respect my neighbors and their choice of music. I respect the fact that they can listen to it however they want, do what they want, act how they want, and so on and so on. However when their music requires them to turn their base up so loud that it shakes my entire house and wakes my daughter up at 2am, I have a problem with it. That is when my respect starts to wane. However my respect goes flying out the window when I get yelled at from across the street to "turn that shit down" if I so much as have my radio turned on in my car with the windows down. I look at it this way, you get what you give. I don't GET any respect from the Black people in my neighborhood that is predominantly Black, even though I continue to GIVE it for fear of being considered a racist just because I am white. You want to talk about opression, but frankly, you weren't alive when the civil rights movement went on, and to be honest, more than the random racial slur that somebody throws at you, what opression have you truly seen?

Have you ever been made to walk in the street so that a white woman can walk on the sidewalk? Have you ever been told to sit in the back of the bus? Have you ever been denied a job because you were "Black"?

Lets turn the tables here a little bit. Did you get into college because of "affirmative action"? Did you get grants from the government based on your race? Did your boss hire you to fill the "minority" quota?

You want to talk about opression, then fine, here I am to bring it to you. You know what I got from affirmative action? I got told that somebody who had a lower GPA than I did would get into school because of the color of their skin. And that, as so many people in my neighborhood have put it, whitey isn't on top anymore. In this state we kiss the ass of every person that is Black, but fuck everybody else. I didn't grow up rich, and I am not rich now. I live where I live because I can't afford to live anywhere else, and even here, I am told to get out because I am white. That's right, white.

You wanna talk about angry white people? How bout angry Black people. How bout taking your music compared to what I listen to. Every other word it seems is a word that has to be cut out because of FCC regulations. You know what I listen to? Opera. How many words of that have to be cut out? Oh wait, they don't get cut because they aren't on the goddamn radio. "Hip Hop" is popular thanks to the media. Just as everything else that is plastered all over is. If you don't like it, you can always bleach your skin and find out what it is like to be white and not get all those racially funded perks that you DO get whether you realize it or not.

Doctor King turning over in his grave? Yeah, he would, if he saw the state of Black culture in this country currently. He was be disgusted about a little boy idolizing the thug life and selling drugs and being in gangs. He would be outraged at little girls aspiring to dress like a whore at the age of 12. And frankly overall he would be disgusted that everything he fought for was thrown to the wind the second that a Black man realized that he didn't need to be educated to be given a handout by the government just because over 200 years ago we were ill educated people and believed that it was right to keep "slaves". Maybe you should go back and read some of the writings that Doctor King wrote. Being white, I was FORCED to read ONE of them, yet I took it upon myself to read as many as I could find and nowhere does it state that Black people are supposed to be intentionally ignorant to "be Black".

Yeah, I am angry. You are angry. The whole world is angry. You want a cookie now? Get off your high ass horse and realize that just because you are black that the world is not a handout for you. It isn't for me or the next person either. If you don't like it, do something about it, otherwise shut up like the rest of us.

And just so you don't get a little more offended, I made sure to capitalize the world "Black" whenever referring to your racial status, and just to make you feel a little more superior while I listen to the gunfire go off in my neighborhood and the car theft ring that is running next door, I made sure to have "white" always uncapitalized. I hope it helps your "angry black man" ego.

8/30/2005 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Wow, Anonymous. It must be damn hard to be White.

Hope you find some way to persevere. Good luck to you.

8/30/2005 07:24:00 PM  
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