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Shake the Dust: Is It Appropriation If We’re All Black?

This week has been pretty amazing for Diasporan culture namely because I managed to find the awesome trailer for Shake the Dust, a Nas-backed documentary looking at manifestations and meanings of hip hop in Uganda, Yemen, Haiti, Colombia, and Cambodia.  I’m not going to write a lengthy post here; I just want to wax briefly on what I love about this project and share a few of the chin-scratching questions about Black cultural meanings that it raises for me.

Shake the Dust kind of had me at Nas.  But beyond that, I find it refreshing that the documentary highlights rarely focused on locales to explore the world of breakdancing and hip hop.   Yemen?  Cambodia?  Really, though?  Yes.  In Shake the Dust Director Adam Sjoberg accurately connects the grit and creativity that birthed hip hop in Black and Brown ghettos of the Bronx  to localized struggles for visibility, survival, and upward mobility elsewhere.  And I greatly appreciate it.

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Now, on to my questions.  I don’t find it surprising that marginalized groups abroad are molding hip hop to the personal and political contours of their lives; folks have been doing that from Japan to Brazil for some time now.  What Shake the Dust raises for me is what, if anything is at stake when Black (and Brown) folks culturally (and politically?) appropriate from one another?  Or, is appropriation cool when it’s done on an intra-racial level?

Humor me.  We all were up in arms when Igloo Australia (Iggy Azalea) got a Grammy nod for co-opting hip hop–which we all know came from Black and Brown people–  yet we rarely utter a peep when Black Americans sport daishikis (one day we’ll learn the African names for those shirts, I swear) at the African street festival.  Or, we give the side-eye to Black people living outside of the US who claim an affinity for African Americans, but will be the first ones to call ourselves “Afrikan.”  Riddle me that.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognize that Diasporanly-speaking, Black people have drawn on each other’s political and cultural struggles to strengthen our own (i.e. Civil Rights and decolonization are great examples).  Appropriation/inspiration can be used for good, and unifying causes.  I get that.  What I’m wondering is if there’s a line crossed when we jack each other’s styles for our own uses?  And if so, how do we define it?

Let me know!

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