An Antidote to Cultural Appropriation

Latino Culture is Not a Bootleg Version of Black Culture

In December of 2020, fans accused Bad Bunny and Argentinian rapper Rosalia of appropriating African American culture. This conversational stick of dynamite is a perfect ice breaker for you and I to have a chat about the Latin identity. What you are about to hear does not get a lot of media coverage, but it is a conversation that is sorely overdue.

Dear White (and Black) People

As much as it hurts me to say it, the way North Americans of all shades and colors see my Latin identity, or the “Latino brand,” if you will, is a bootleg version of African American clichés. The cholo is often portrayed as a Spanish-speaking “Big Scary Black Guy.”

I’m not saying these human beings don’t exist in real life. I’m saying they do exist in America. In the U.S.A, the Latin image has been pimped out by Hollywood executives for more than 90 years.

I’m fed up with that sh*t.

Who is Bad Bunny? IDK, But He’s Definitely More Black Than Rosalia

Who are these Spanish rappers who find themselves serving as ambassadors for the diverse people of the Spanish world? And if it is not braids and chains like their Black Anglo counterparts, then what the hell are they supposed to be wearing? Instead of angrily Tweeting about cultural appropriation, why is nobody asking these questions?

Let’s start with Bad Bunny. Bunny is from a unique place in the world. Puerto Rico is literally part of the U.S.A. But while it technically boasts both English and Spanish as its official languages on paper, its people speak much more Spanish than English. Puerto Rico is an island full of proud U.S. citizens who cannot speak a sneeze of English.

Puerto Rico THINKS more North American than any of the 19 Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas. PR also has the quirk of being particularly Black — meaning influenced by African culture. So when Bad Bunny interprets African American culture by rocking grills in I Like It ft. Cardi B, he is doing it both as somebody with both African and American “affiliations.”

Bunny is not ignorantly appropriating African American culture since he actually does have a claim for being both American and (kinda) “Black”.

Rosalia is a different story. She has no alliance to Black culture. Spain is less than 3% Black. It’s a country rich in original history, style, and fashion. Ironically, Spain is as protective of its culture as African Americans are with theirs.

Her wardrobe in this particular video is OK. It has no relation with African American styles and is actually more reminiscent of the dress worn for Spanish flamenco.

However, none of this matters. Cultural appropriation is a problem, and not a solution. The point of this conversation is proposing a solution to cultural appropriation.

One Characteristic of Gen Z is the Rejection of European Beauty Standards

Internet-educated young people are starting to pick up on the fact that there are millions of styles missing in their world. Millions of fun, beautiful, efficient ideas have been laughed and ignored out of existence since the freaking Renaissance.

European standards of beauty are not the best. Certainly, they are not the only standards in the world.

Flickr search showing a cultural appropriation problem that is not very well known
I typed “Angry African man” into a search engine and literally got images of Central American gangsters. The problem is these are two completely separate cultures that are often lumped together in popular culture.

I’m talking about Latin American styles, West African styles, Asian styles, South African styles, even Aboriginal Australian styles. These are styles of design that have come from places other than Caucasian Europe.

I have one example for you that is near and dear to my heart.

Magical Realism, One Solution to Cultural Appropriation

Magical realism is an Amazonian art movement. It is a standard. It is a non-European standard. It is a pattern of design that we can use going forward as Latin American artists.

Magical realism was made reality in our world through the books of 20th century Colombian author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I can’t tell you what should be beautiful, but I call on trendsetters and those whose business it is to spread good ideas and ask them urgently to not turn away from their own culture when it comes time to design the brand or product.

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Robinson Crusoe is a Good Negative Role Model

Robinson Crusoe is a British guy who gets stranded on an island after selling the Black guy who helps him escape from pirates. It is considered a contender for the first British novel.

Philosophy >> Morals >> Negative Role Models

Who has impacted you more: The person you think of when you think of whom you don’t want to be, or your hero?

It’s not an easy call. I couldn’t tell you my own answer.

Heroes are important. No doubt. Goes without saying, really, but rarely is the importance of the villain vocalized. It’s true that we would never get anywhere without Simba, but sometimes it is all we can do to Not Be A Scar. That is normal. It does not make you a bad person. 

Negative Role Models

Adding fuel to this argument is the element of Lowest Common Denominators (LCDS) — the LCDs of a society. The LCDs of understanding a hero will have serious obstacles to overcome in order to be like the hero. The path of least resistance for these folks, and many people, really, is to simply avoid rather than seek. And although it is an incomplete path, there is nothing wrong with where it leads.

For more clarification on what it means to be an LCD, check out the attached link.

Some people, including a lot of kids and teens, might not understand all the deep virtues in a complex story, but they WILL understand that being the bad guy gets them nowhere.

The Point

So why would a proud South American recommend that you read an annoying book about how the British colonizer successfully converted South American cannibal savages into proper Christian citizens?

Well, it is because there are people whom I accept are a part of me who I very strongly do not want to be like. However, my solution is not to detach myself from the negative role model entirely. Frankly, it would be really nice to raise the LCDs and the negative role models.

Of course that leads to a whole other discussion about Absolute Progress.