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As a white woman, I don't really get cultural appropriation, Like, really get it. I can understand the more egregious cases: Miley Cyrus twerking around in skimpy clothes in order to do "black music", and models parading down a runway wearing bathing suits and headdresses - yeah, those are pretty obviously offensive. But white people with dreadlocks or cornrows, doing yoga for fitness, or getting tattoos of Chinese characters? Where do you draw the line between appreciating an aesthetic and stealing and/or misrepresenting something that's not yours? I don't get it.

But then, it seems like it's not for me to get. This is one area where I've really had to force myself to step back and listen. Whether or not I fully understand, I've learned over time to start picking up on these types of things (though I'm sure I don't always notice), and think, "hey, I probably shouldn't do things like that since it seems to offend people whom I respect." These things being appropriated - they're not my culture. It's not for me to say what's appropriate and what's not.


The reason I'm writing about this right now is that I heard the new Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake song where they quote Nirvana. And it just does not feel right at all. Does either of them really understand what "Smells Like Teen Spirit" meant? Does either of them have a connection to grunge culture? To twist a couple of Nirvana lines and use them in a song about how tough it is to have paparazzi follow you around - it just feels disrespectful. Here are the lyrics in question for those of you that haven't heard it:

Nobody to blame

Kurt Cobain

I did it to myself

And we all just entertainers

And we're stupid and contagious

Nirvana is my culture. Although Kurt Cobain died before I hit middle school, grunge culture was very much a part of me when I was growing up. His music spoke to me. It was the music of a generation of depressed, apathetic kids, fed up with the establishment. It was the music of a generation of adults that still felt like teens because they didn't know how to fit into the roles expected of them by their baby boomer parents. The music was poetic, meaningful, and difficult to understand (both literally and figuratively). "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is about anger and boredom and confusion and depression and contradiction. And it was fucking important.

So what do you think? Am I out-of-line to consider this a misappropriation of sorts?


ETA: Ok, before I get more people telling me that I'm being racist, please understand that I know this is nowhere on the same scale as a majority culture appropriating something from a minority culture. However, I do not think of grunge culture as a majority culture. Though it may have enjoyed some mainstream acceptance, the mainstream never really got it. But no, I understand it's not harmful anywhere on the same level as most types of appropriation.

ETA2: Ok, you've all convinced me. Using the term "appropriation" is inappropriate here. Offensive, disrespectful, irritating, missing the point completely, but not appropriation. I remain annoyed with Jay-Z and JT, but I apologize for using a term with much more serious implications.

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