What Appropriation and Gentrification Have in Common

Sheree Sims

People angered by beauty vloggers who painted themselves black or brown to imitate a person of color, or a celebrity who “created” a new look – such as bantu knots have come across my newsfeed countless times. Meanwhile, the exact number of U.S. cities that have undergone gentrification, resulting in the displacement of thousands of prior residents – who are mainly black, Hispanic and poor, is also countless. However, I rarely see them discussed in relation. Yet, they have a lot to do with each another.

Appropriation – to take on the cultural attributes of another culture without giving dues to the originator – is inherently an oppressive dynamic. When one does black face, they alter their skin digitally or with makeup with the purpose of likening themselves to a person of color. The makeup is a disrespectful mimic of actual people.

Gentrification occurs when original residents of a community, usually the poor and people of color, are displaced by wealthier people. A parasitic relationship, gentrification utilizes tactics like rent-hiking to drive out original tenants. Due to the systems in place in the U.S., victims of gentrification are often black and Hispanic.

Cultural appropriation, black face and gentrification all benefit and profit from exploitation and pain of historically oppressed people. All forms of white aggression, they share the need to take on a separate culture like a costume, and claim it as their own.

Appropriation and black face take claim in creating diversity and spreading cultural awareness. As an example of digital blackface, in 2016 a Hungarian photographer imposed her face onto those of tribal women, claiming the project brought awareness to their little-known cultures. Last year, a white beauty vlogger painted her skin brown and donned a tribal head scarf and necklace. She went as far as painting a fake scar on her face. Her Instagram post read “Color and Pain. My Lovely Strong Black Beauty Transformation Makeup.” The post came a month before Halloween. The mistake of both of these women, and many others, is they think another person’s identity and heritage is a play-thing, ignoring the historical pain tied to these identities they shift into for publicity; therefore, they undermine the humanity of the people they wear as a costume.

Many gentrifiers argue they want to advocate a diverse community and the original residents should not try to segregate themselves, arguing gentrification is good because it spruces the place up, decreases crime, and increases overall income of the neighborhood. Many express a desire to move into these up-and-coming neighborhoods, of low rent cost and “the culture”. However, the neighborhoods the genteel swarm into don’t remain culturally, ethnically, or economically diverse. Time and time again we have seen this. The most recent victims of gentrification have been historically black communities like Harlem, Brooklyn and Detroit. These bastions of culturally rich neighborhoods have been targeted by up-scale project developers, forcing original residents out.

A neighborhood is more than the physical space and zip code. A community requires people; it’s held together by the bonds those people have, and the memories tied to that neighborhood. Gentrifiers do not want diversity. Humans are tribalistic and desire company with people who look and act like them. The majority of gentrifiers are wealthy and white. The result of gentrification is never diversity; the majority of the people who built the community – the people who turned the neighborhood into what gentrifiers find hip and trendy – are eventually forced out or voluntarily leave. Gentrification comes from the need to consume a new culture – to become part of the subculture minorities were forced to form to survive.

Gentrification is modern colonialism and is the physical manifestation of appropriation. Appropriation commodifies and exploits black bodies, cultures, intellect and ideas for the gain of white capital. The driving force of both is an illusion of diversity; it is a pillar of white supremacy requiring existence of something impending on your inclusion, as the oppressing group.

ssmf9@mail.umkc.edu

 

(Photo source The Guardian)

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