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The Cultural Appropriation Police have been quite busy lately. Their latest target is singer Bruno Mars, who is famous for hits like “24 Karat Magic,” “Grenade,” and “Just The Way You Are.” Why? Because the singer’s music is influenced by black music — and he’s not black.
Oh, the horror!
For decades, many on the left have whined about non-black musicians who are influenced by black music. Unfortunately for them, they are out of touch. Indeed, many blacks don’t care if a white, Hispanic, or a person of another race borrows from the stylings of black musicians. Many even see it as an homage. Unfortunately, the social justice movement’s philosophy of cultural totalitarianism dictates that Americans should be gravely offended.
The Social Justice Left’s Fixation On Cultural Appropriation
Last week, writer Seren Sensei appeared on an episode of a web series called “The Grapevine.” The episode included a panel of artists and writers who attempted to answer the question “Is Bruno Mars a cultural appropriator?”
In an asinine rant against Mars, Sensei stated that the singer “100 percent is a cultural appropriator.” She also indicated that Mars uses his mixed-race heritage to exploit black music. “He is not black at all, and he plays up his racial ambiguity to cross genres,” she said. For the record, Bruno Mars is Jewish, Puerto Rican, and Filipino.
This type of criticism is nothing new, and Bruno Mars isn’t the first non-black artist to be accused of exploiting black music by a small amount of overly sensitive individuals. Elvis Presley still gets criticized for incorporating black musical stylings into his music. Sting and The Police have been slammed for their jazz, reggae, and R&B influences. Paul Simon was criticized for performing with — and using the musical stylings of — African artists like Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
I mean seriously, how could anyone hate on Paul Simon?
Why All The Fuss Over Non-Blacks Singing Black Music?
As I stated previously, most blacks don’t care about non-black musicians playing black music. I’m one of them. I have absolutely no problem with blue-eyed soul. Minute by minute, I enjoy the soulful crooning of Michael McDonald. Like Tower of Power, I like soul with a capital “S.” I have no intention of crying like a hound dog over Elvis Presley.
Speaking of Elvis, there have been several black musicians who appreciated the fact that Presley was instrumental in bringing black music into the American mainstream. Blues legend B.B. King met Presley when both of their careers were starting to take off. “Let me tell you the definitive truth about Elvis Presley and racism,” King said. “There was not a single drop of racism in that man.”
King went on to describe how he told Presley that music is not owned by any one race. He told Presley that music is like water — it’s for everyone. “Water from the white fountain don’t taste any better than from the black fountain,” he said. “We just need to share it, that’s all.”
Performing Black Music Is Not Cultural Appropriation
The left claims that their cries of cultural appropriation are a response to the idea that non-black musicians are not giving the proper credit to the impact that black artists have had on their music. One of the reasons this argument is ridiculous is because it’s not true. Elvis regularly spoke of learning his art from black musicians. Bruno Mars routinely credits the black musicians who have inspired him.
Another reason these pearl-clutching cries of cultural appropriation are absurd is that Mars and other non-black musicians are not trying to pass their influences off as their own. When people hear Bruno Mars, it’s easy to tell that he was influenced by black music. I mean seriously, does anyone think that “Uptown Funk” was inspired by Kenny Rogers?
Note to the Kenny Rogers fans: I have no problem with Kenny Rogers, so please don’t come after me in the comments section!
Fortunately, other black musicians have come out in defense of Bruno Mars. Both Stevie Wonder and Charlie Wilson have stated that Mars isn’t guilty of cultural appropriation. In an interview with TMZ, Wonder said, “Here’s the deal, God created music for everyone to enjoy so we cannot limit ourselves by people’s experiences and insecurity. So the other stuff is just bullsh*t.” Is the social justice left really going to argue with Stevie Wonder, one of the pioneers of soul music on this issue?
Here’s the bottom line: there is nothing wrong with non-black musicians performing black music. Indeed, music should be appreciated and performed by all regardless of skin color. When the Rolling Stones played their black-influenced songs, they weren’t stealing from black culture. When Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour slams out his blues-infused guitar solos, he’s not exploiting black musicians. These people are playing music that they love, and that’s all that matters. Stevie Wonder is right — the left’s hand-wringing over cultural appropriation is bullsh*t.
A self-confessed news and political junkie, Jeff’s writing has been featured in Small Business Trends, Business2Community, and The Huffington Post. Born in Southern California and having experienced the 1992 L.A. Riots up close and personal, Jeff's insights are informed by his experiences as a black man and a conservative.
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