Whoopi Goldberg Doesn’t Get Cultural Appropriation
In a recent hot topics segment on The View cohost Sunny Hostin tried to explain the meaning of cultural appropriation to her fellow hosts during a discussion of Jesse Williams BET Awards speech.
The term “cultural appropriation” has become a major point of reference when speaking of the likes of the Kardashians, and other well-known non-Black celebrities, who have found success by dabbling (or straight jacking) elements of Black culture. Hostin gave a more than understandable explanation: Cultural appropriation is when “a dominant group in society exploits the culture of a less privileged group without understanding that group’s experience,” she said.
As usual, each woman on the panel weighed in on their lack of understanding about appropriation and how it’s possible that some people might not know what they’re doing is considered appropriation. It’s a given that the non-Black people make it a point to talk about how we might take things out of context, but Whoopi Goldberg’s point of view gave me pause.
I waited to hear her stance on this subject, specifically—despite the fact that since joining The View she’s been more disappointing than not. I hoped Goldberg would offer a deeper explanation or share her experience, but instead the comedian pointed to the fact that Black women wear weaves and blonde hair. Basically, this was her way of saying Black women are also guilty of cultural appropriation against white folks too. To the naked eye, Goldberg’s words might hold some truth, but what she is speaking of is not appropriation; it’s assimilation.
Assimilation is the sister-wife that sprung from white supremacist standards of beauty, living, and social practices. It’s the process by which a person or a group’s culture comes to resemble that of the dominant group. Essentially, assimilation is the culprit behind the phenomenon of skin lightening and the belief that lighter is better, or the idea that anything that resembles whiteness holds more weight. It was the colonizers way of destroying indigenous culture.
In her book of essays entitled Killing Rage, bell hooks clearly and impeccably outlines the depth of cultural assimilation: “Since the notion that we should all forsake attachment to race and/or cultural identity and be ‘just humans’ within the framework of white supremacy has usually meant that subordinate groups must surrender their identities, beliefs, values, and assimilate by adopting the values and beliefs of privileged-class whites, rather than promoting racial harmony this thinking has created a fierce cultural protectionism.”
From its inception, the term “post-racial” has opened the floodgates for those in the mainstream to behave in ways that are easily seen as cultural appropriation. This post-racial idea has tried to diminish the centuries of oppressive behavior towards Black folks. It has given non-Black people—specifically white people—a pass when it comes to how they are now perceived (in many ways, they are still the colonizers, regardless.)
According to Asif Wilson, social activist and Director of Student Services at Harold Washington College in Chicago, one thing Goldberg left out was the ways in which white supremacy is always present in the Black body.
“If I’m colonized, I believe whiteness to be beauty. It makes perfect sense for me to get blonde weave. It’s not about how culturally appropriative we are, it comes down to how colonized we are. I don’t know how we can be accused of appropriating white culture,” he explains.
Wilson does acknowledge there are ways Black people can appropriate from others, namely African cultures.
“When Black folks go to Africa we come back with some form of garb without always knowing deeply about it,” he says. “It’s the American ideal of, again white supremacy. I’m going to go to a place and exploit that place for how I see fit and approach it through a colonial gaze, meaning what do I like about it and how can I take it back home?”
Goldberg’s stance on cultural appropriation falls in line with many of her other problematic beliefs. She defended Roman Polanski, the film director who was convicted of sexual assault, by saying, “What he did was not rape-rape,” and gave Rachel Dolezal, queen of cultural deception, a pass to be Black “if she wants to be Black.”
While Goldberg may be a great entertainer, when it comes to understanding the nuances of appropriation versus assimilation, it’s clear she’s got a lot to learn.