Top Stories

Kim Kardashian, Black Culture, and the Fickleness of Mainstream Acceptance

The Kardashians are moving on from Black culture and mainstream pop culture is moving on with them

Kim Kardashian

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Over the last decade, aesthetics drawn from hip hop and media became mainstream.

Keep ReadingShow less
Culture Feature

This Haunts Me: Miley Cyrus's Twerking Phase

It was the cultural appropriation olympics and Miley was getting all the gold.

Miley Cyrus

By Kobby Dagan // Shutterstock

Imagine if, in the year of our Lord 2021, a white woman claimed to invent twerking.

She would be so swiftly canceled that there wouldn't be a discussion. You'd log into twitter in an attempt to get in on the action and your timeline would be a mess of memes, carnage, and the occasional #woke thread straight out of Race Theory: 101.

In 2021, some people might defend whichever celebrity was trending in an #overparty hashtag, but the majority of the internet would guilt said white woman into making a teary apology on Instagram live.

However, this was not the case in 2013 when Miley Cyrus woke up and chose violence.

Keep ReadingShow less
Culture Feature

How the Online Left Alienates Working Americans

If we're going to build an effective Left movement in America, it has to be accessible to people outside an educated elite.

American politics are a mess.

Even if you accept the artificial team sports dynamic — the fact that the entire spectrum of political beliefs gets artificially narrowed into two warring political factions who are disturbingly similar in terms of military and economic policy — there are some striking questions about how the division between those teams should really be understood.

Keep ReadingShow less

Black Twitter Rolls With Laughter at Adele's Bantu Knots

Adele's recent Instagram post sparked a debate about cultural appropriation—and some entertaining remixes.

Adele 59th Annual Grammy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 12 Feb 2017

Photo by Jim Smeal/Shutterstock

Adele 59th Annual Grammy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 12 Feb 2017
Photo by Jim Smeal/Shutterstock

Adele was rolling in the deep last weekend after posting a controversial photo on her Instagram page.

Captioned "Happy what would be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London," the photo shows Adele wearing a triangle bikini top with the Jamaican flag printed on it, long athletic stretch pants, a yellow feather Carnival shoulder piece, and gold jewelry. The outfit is a good fit for Afro-Caribbean carnival events, so it makes sense that Adele might wear it on a day that people would have been reveling and sharing culture if not for COVID-19. The problem, however, is the hairstyle. Adele's hair is in bantu knots.

Bantu knots, like locs and cornrows, are a Black hairstyle. Hair is parted into sections and coiled into buns. The style is also referred to as Zulu knots because it originated with Zulu people in South Africa. It is now popular throughout the African diaspora, and it is used both for protection (of the hair) and for style. For a non-Black person to wear this hairstyle is, in fact, cultural appropriation.

Celebrities are gassing Adele up in the comments and elsewhere. Zoe Saldana said, "You look right at home guurrrl." Zoe Saldana has only recently come to realize it was wrong for her, as a light-skinned Black woman, to play the role of Nina Simone—which required makeup to darken her skin and a prosthetic nose. She is definitely not the person to give Adele the go ahead on cultural appropriation.

Many Jamaicans and people throughout the Caribbean and African regions have also come to Adele's defense, noting that Carnival is a time for sharing cultures and arguing that her attire would have been appropriate for such an event. It is often the case, however, that those quick to defend people who have been called out for cultural appropriation have never experienced the same discrimination as those drawing attention to the issue.

Cultural appropriation can be a complicated subject, especially in quickly fired tweets, but it's worth the discussion. Technically, cultural appropriation is the use of an element or set of elements from a culture or identity that the offending person does not share. It is usually done without understanding of the history, tradition, or meaning of the element or elements in question, and does nothing to educate other people about their origin. In many cases, the element or elements are looked down upon by the dominant culture or identity, so its appropriation presents a cost to the people who own it and a benefit to the people who misuse it.

Black hair is an easy example of cultural appropriation because Black people continue to face discrimination on the basis of their hair. Black people are fired from their jobs and barred from graduation for having locs while white people use them as a fashion statement. Cultural appropriation at its worst allows people to wear and flaunt an aspect of another group's culture or identity without facing any of the discrimination that group endures.

It is easy to say "It's just hair" when you have never experienced discrimination for wearing your hair in a style or natural form that is directly connected to your culture and identity, whether place of origin, ethnic group, religion, or otherwise. Because of all this, there is no denying that Adele got it wrong. She is, however, well-liked. This, combined with what people believe to be her intent to celebrate diversity and the need for light moments led to a hilarious time on Black Twitter.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, top 40 songs were often remixed, giving us reggae or dancehall versions. Reggae artists would sing the songs in the same melody so they were completely recognizable, but with reggae musical arrangements. Yes, My Heart Will Go On had about a million reggae versions. This trend has not maintained the same frequency or popularity as back then, but people brought it back just for this Adele moment.

One of the best has got to be Adele's "Hello" vocals on the Wayne Wonder track "No Letting Go."

They slowed it down a little for "Someone Like You."

We finally have the Jamaican patois version of an Adele album tracklist.

It's been hilarious to see Adele's song titles and lyrics translated to Jamaican patois.

Someone dubbed Spice's "So Mi Like It" over a video of Adele rapping a Nicki Minaj verse.

It is always great to see Black joy, whether in physical or virtual spaces. The whole Adele-with-the-bantu-knots situation has shown that Black people remain undefeated in many areas. The creativity was on full display as video editing, audio engineering, photo memes, and clever turns of phrase flooded Twitter immediately. It took no time to turn a highly questionable moment into hours and hours of scrolling and full-belly laughter.

It has been a difficult year, and Black people have been dealing with far too much. Constantly having to affirm the value of our lives while putting them on the line takes its toll. It would have been easy to respond to Adele with rage, but Black Twitter came through with the jokes. Cultural appropriation is a serious issue, and we can tackle it even as we give ourselves the space and time to enjoy each other's virtual company.

Cultural appropriation is clearly difficult for people to understand, especially as we try to learn to appreciate other cultures. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that there is not enough attention on the discrimination and racial injustices we face every day, so big issues like hair are often viewed as small matters of style rather than evidence of a more pervasive issue.

We have a lot of work to do, from being more honest about our experiences and making private occurrences public to calling on people like Adele—who appear to appreciate our culture—-to speak out against the injustices we face. If it's okay to wear bantu knots as a white person appreciating Black culture, you're going to have to show up when Black people are made to suffer for participating in the culture that we created and fight to maintain. Appreciate the culture and ensure that people in positions of power do too. Use your own power to compel others to act. Be loud in your demand for justice and cultural appreciation at all times, not just on Notting Hill Carnival days.

Gwyneth Paltrow, NYC

Photo by Ron Adar (Shutterstock)

Netflix's docuseries The Goop Lab is a show about B.S. self-care trends being branded and sold as "wellness" and close-ups of Gwyneth Paltrow's golden, glowy demon skin.

It's a show about self-optimization and a lot of beautiful, young, slender–but racially diverse (because it's a woke show)–content creators traveling the world and exposing themselves. Sometimes that means literally staring at their vaginas in a mirror as a sex educator tells them they're beautiful, and sometimes that means processing their personal traumas next to their coworkers and under the gaze of a camera crew and Paltrow's calm, waxy smile.

As familiar as we are with the dark side of constant self-optimization–what with the plagues of "millennial burnout" and influencer worship–bogus wellness trends are still working. The wellness industry is a whopping $4.2 trillion feature of our cultural landscape. Overpriced, often culturally appropriated, "all-natural" remedies promise not only to improve our lives but cure our loneliness, depression, anxiety, and existential sense that nothing we do matters. Plus, sometimes it smells like your vagina, like Goop's $75 candle named, yup, "This Candle Smells Like My Vagina."

In the six short episodes of The Goop Lab, Elise Loehnen, Goop's chief content officer, oversees teams of Goop's editors, project managers, and assistants who "go out in the field" to try alternative medicines and therapies for themselves. In the first episode, "A Healing Trip," Loehnen ingests psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms) with her employees and later reflects, "This is not a typical workspace experience, although I kind of wonder if it wouldn't be incredibly therapeutic for workspace teams if you felt really safe and wanted to become even more intimate and connected with the people that you spend the majority of your day with."

I'm sorry, what? While there's a growing body of research confirming that psychedelics can have unique therapeutic benefits–when taken in carefully measured doses and within extremely monitored circumstances–there's more than one way to abuse them. Aside from recreational usage, the danger of psychedelics lies in their invasiveness in one's psychology and experience–a bad trip is an incredibly bad trip. In fact, Paltrow and Leohnen interview Mark Haden, executive director of MAPS Canada (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), who identifies the primary difference between traditional talk therapy and psychedelic therapy as, "You get access to somebody's unconscious material." So, yeah, let's do that with co-workers as a bonding experience. As Rachel Charlene Lewis writes for Bitch Media, "Encouraging coworkers not only to do drugs together, but to explore trauma en masse seems like an HR disaster waiting to happen. But in the world (or, rather, the career) of Goop, it's just another day at the office."

Actually, invading consumer psychology in order to bring individuals' traumas to the fore seems to be the integral approach of wellness brands these days. Companies like Goop exploit personal traumas by marketing their products as curative, with The Goop Lab targeting content to showcase how epiphanic and life-changing alternative therapies (and related products–you know, like theirs) can be. Also interviewed in this episode is Jenny, a photo editor, who talks about her personal trauma over her father's suicide and how it impacted her understanding of her own depression. There's Kevin, Paltrow's assistant and a veteran Gooper (yes, that's what Paltrow calls them), who talks about his attachment struggles after growing up with an absentee father. Among genuine testimonies from people who have overcome anxiety, depression, PTSD, and suicide attempts thanks to these alternative therapies (which many people don't have access to due to resources and legal restrictions in their areas), there's an ugly spectatorship to watching Jenny and Kevin sob on a mat on the floor while soft-spoken counselors in white whisper to them softly and rub their backs. Kevin, in particular, is hugged tightly by two male counselors, which Leohnen later calls "very profound" since "they were embracing him in a way that he hadn't been embraced as a child by his own father."

Clearly, the Goopers who volunteered to participate in these experiments are aware of the vulnerability of (potentially) processing their trauma in front of a camera, but the whole show is designed for viewers to spectate and consume their personal trauma as content that ultimately promotes Goop as a brand. And aside from being targeted to those wealthy enough to spend $120 on "healing" wearable stickers, Goop as a brand is patently ridiculous, pseudo-scientific, and even dangerous for public health. With health claims that are repeatedly disproven by alarmed health experts, as well as NASA, studies show that the public has grown increasingly confused about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle.

Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, wrote a detailed overview of why the most popular (and lucrative) celebrity-backed health crazes have lodged themselves into our public consciousness. "This decade of celebrity health hogwash should also be considered in the broader context," he warns. "This is the era of misinformation, a time when trust in public institutions is declining and people feel uncertain about what to believe about, well, everything. Celebrity wellness hype contributes to this 'culture of untruth' by both inviting a further erosion of critical thinking and promoting what is popular and aspirational rather than what is true." Between Instagram fitness gurus and absurd celebrity "beauty secrets," we're all surrounded with contradictory pieces of wellness advice. Goop describes their prescribed practices as "out there" or "too scary" for people because they go against basic common sense.

With a throwaway legal disclaimer prefacing each episode (the series is "designed to entertain and inform–not provide medical advice. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health, or before you start treatment"), The Goop Lab is just cashing in on the trend of exploiting personal trauma for branding and, ultimately, profit. It's appropriate that the credits include Paltrow declaring their end goal as the "optimization of self," in the sense that "we're here one time, one life, how can we really milk the sh*it out of this." This is the next stage of "the age-old marketing language of 'Women, you suck, but this miracle product will fix you,'" only now it's saying, "The world has hurt you over and over again, and this can help heal the damage–for a price."


Pamela Anderson Doesn't Know What "Cultural Appropriation" Really Means—And Neither Do You

Offensive celebrity costumes underline the common misconceptions about cultural misappropriation.

Pamela Anderson

JP PARIENTESIPA (Shutterstock)

Early November is that beautiful time of year when Western society can collectively stop pretending pumpkins serve any purpose whatsoever and bask in all the tone-deaf Halloween costumes celebrities have donned.

Keep ReadingShow less