White privilege in accordance to Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is “unseen and unconscious advantages that whites are taught not to recognise”. White privilege is a legacy and root to racism with an ability to influence systemic decisions in an often unbeknownst nature (Collins 2018). Quite frequently, white privilege brings airs of entitlement that is subliminal to the individual; this is due to what McIntosh explains as whites being taught to think of their lives as average, yet ideal resulting in racial bias and entitlement. It is this notion of white privilege that lies at the core of cultural appropriation in music, most prominently in genres with African American origins such as rap and hip-hop. Artist, Iggy Azalea is a prominent focal point of offensive and unapologetic white privilege in her culturally appropriated rap music. This is paralleled against other white artists such as Katy Perry, who has demonstrated acknowledgement of offensive sentiments in her culturally appropriated music. Emphasising the salience of Iggy Azalea as an example of white hegemony.
Rap and hip-hop originates from urban African American experiences, predominantly in the 1960’s. The vernacular of African American English (AAE) is laced throughout the lyrical properties of the genre, to express inherent identities (Eberhardt et. al). Iggy Azalea is a white Australian rapper, singer and songwriter who emerged onto the musical scene in 2011, with an overzealous incorporation of AAE in her compositions. It is argued by Eberhardt et. al. that Iggy Azalea’s success is a combination of African American cultural appropriation and privilege that is associated with being white. In Azalea’s case, there is extensive use of general AAE vernacular features such as multiple negation “I don’t want none” and the preterite ‘ain’t’ “I ain’t even graduate”. There is extensive evidence of the African American lexicon in Azalea’s lyrics, relying heavily on AAE slang to hold up her renditions of the rap genre. This is exemplified through her use of the AAE inherent word “thick”, describing a curvaceous female; “Damn she is too thick” (Azalea – New Bitch).
Azalea’s use of this language draws attention to the issue of white privilege in music. The word “thick” is used to grant prerogative to a body type not commonly idolised and desired in mainstream media, and relating to African American women (Eberhardt et. al). Thick is AAE vernacular that sexualises a woman’s rear with implied desirability. Iggy Azalea uses this word in the same context to place desirability on herself, which is an offensive expression to adopt as a white female. Black women use “thick” to empower themselves from a position of historical oppression, undesirability and seldom representation in the media. Azalea’s adoption of this term displays her air of ignorance to the African American experience, and in turn becomes a focal point of white privilege by doing so. This is evident in an interview for the British times ‘what was the biggest obstacle to becoming rap’s next big thing: being white, being female or from Australia?’, Azalea responds ‘Being from Australia, by far…Everybody loves a pretty white girl. This clearly demonstrates her stance on white rap but cannot analyse what whiteness mean in the rap world, missing crucial opportunity to engage in dialogue about race in the U.S (Ware).
One of the most extreme examples of Iggy Azalea’s blatant disregard for the African American experience and racial tensions in the U.S is in her lyrics “When it really starts I’m a runaway slave master” (Azalea – D.R.U.G.S). This horrific reference to the salve trade brought waves of criticism, and brought serious attention to her place in the hip-hop industry. Let this instance stand for all other cases of insensitivity toward African African culture, Azalea failed to reconcile or show any form of concern for the effect of her actions. Her lack of understanding for the permanent scar the slave trade has left on the country emphasises her “Figurative Blackface”; a means of simulating black culture (Finegan) as a stage aesthetic to contribute to her success. Eberhart et. al states “Everybody wants to be back until it’s time to be black’, this encapsulates the essence of white privilege and Iggy Azalea. When 18 year old African American Michale Brown was shot by a white police officer, high profile musicians including Azalea, who incorporate “Figurative blackface” into their image we’re silent throughout the protest. When a brutal reality in the African American experience emerges “whites shed such behaviours when it suits them… Whites do not suffer the oppression of systemic racism in the U.S., but rather benefit from its … structures” (Smitherman).
Katy Perry is a white, American, singer-songwriter and has been caught in the cultural appropriation cross fire in regards to outfit choices associated with her stage aesthetic. Her music video “This how we do”, received backlash for the use of cornrows in her hair, inherent to African American culture. During the 19th century following the abolition of slavery in the U.S, African American women felt the pressure to adjust themselves cosmetically to fit into the mainstream cosmetic ideals, ‘Black people felt compelled to smoothen their hair … camouflage almost,” (Lynch). In the 60’s, the afro became a symbol of rebellion and black pride “an assertion of black identity” (Jahangir). Perry, in a polarising fashion to Azalea accepted her insensitivity and potential effect on the Black community in a public apology and reconciliation “I was told about the power of Black women’s hair, and how beautiful it is, and the struggle. And I listened, and I heard, and I didn’t know. And I will never understand some of those things because of who I am. But I can educate myself, and that’s what I’m trying to do along the way,”. This shows Perry disabling her historical white hegemony to show respect for integrity and depth of other cultures.
Perry was accused of repeat offending when in 2013, she performed “Unconditionally” dressed as a Japanese Geisha. She borrowed Japanese culture to express an aesthetic of submissive love (Oh). Perry is quoted as saying, “I was thinking about unconditional love, and I was thinking: Geishas are basically, like, the masters of loving unconditionally”. The costume was a hybridisation of the traditional Geisha kimono, with Perry’s sporting thigh high slits on both sides, an extremely synched obi, and a cut out above her breast to accentuate her breasts. Oh suggests the image is reminiscent of Suzie Wong, a submissive prostitute. The hybridised costume was not only insensitive, she as a white woman looked ‘unnatural’ in it, bordering on a parody (Oh). In response to this backlash Perry repented “I will never understand some of those things because of who I am. But I can educate myself, and that’s what I’m trying to do along the way.” While Perry thought she was appreciating Japanese culture, her lack of understanding for the origins of her chosen performance theme spilled into white privilege. She acknowledged this is response to a BuzzFeed reporter questioning whether she understood the implications of her actions and peoples anger, “Yes, I have lots of white privilege” (Perry).