We, Karina Simonson and Hiroko Tsuchimoto, are seeking contributors for our round table discussion titled "Revisiting Appropriations of Black Cultures" at the ACASA triennial conference in Chicago, 16-21 June 2020.
The proposed round table addresses the issues of appropriation of black cultures as it emerges in the regions, which historically didn’t have significant and visible black communities. By looking at cultural appropriation in underrepresented countries we as well criticize the Eurocentric perspective and seeking to deconstruct the usual binaries of Black and White.
Black writers and artists since the Harlem Renaissance voiced their concerns about the distortion of representation of African cultures in art and pop culture. Recently emerged trend of white female influencers to adopt a look perceived to be black or mixed-race – including braided hair, darken skin, full lips and large thighs, thus appropriating black aesthetic has been likened the trend to blackface.
The appropriation of black cultures is closely connected to the perception of race and colonial history. Nonetheless, the regions that don’t have tight historical connections with African cultures, can still have a deep-rooted tradition of cultural appropriations. In this light, Lithuania and Japan can be considered good examples due to their complicated and multilayered history of cultural appropriations.
Race is not a common question in Lithuania: the country is racially nearly entirely homogenous, and encounters with people of color are not regarded as part of everyday life. On one hand, political correctness and awareness of the history of racial oppression are increasingly part of popular culture originating from the West; but on the other hand, Lithuania keeps producing racist ads and music videos using tropes that are long unimaginable in the West, borrowing them from “older days” and claiming innocence. The two cultures exist side by side, often a click apart or sometimes even in the same sentence; more often, they violently resist each other. The youth culture is hugely influenced by various aspects of black culture – from a ghetto-styled elevation of violence to street dance and twerking – but the mechanism of cultural appropriation, its histories and implications are rarely considered. Graffiti appears overnight on a wall in Vilnius Old Town: “real niggas never die” – but how, and why?
While Japanese culture has been always targeted by “culture thieves”, Japanese people are also in general open to consuming other cultures. However, Japan is still the most homogeneous society in the world, the level of racism awareness is quite low and the Japanese can be cruelly insensitive for racial issues. There has been widespread ignorance about African American culture, for example, Japanese comedians who used blackface and the “Obama monkey” ad in public. In addition, “ganguro” make-up (dark tan and contrasting make-up) was a big fashion trend among young women in the mid-90s. In the late-90s and early 2000s, Hip-hop fashion became popular and was considered as a “bad-boy” style. The reality is that Japanese people, in general, have limited opportunities to learn deeply about Black cultures mostly due to not being able to read English language sources. Therefore, they rarely raise awareness and critic towards the acts of cultural appropriation, both as target and thief.
The round table welcomes presentations addressing the various aspects of appropriation of black cultures, but especially would like to hear about the regions usually less represented in these academic discussions, such as Asia, Eastern and North Europe, or Australia.
The URL included here provides information about registering for the conference and membership of ACASA: https://www.acasaonline.org/conference-registration/
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Karina and Hiroko.