The prisoner’s dilemma

By Tony Walsh


Recently, I was listening to Kendrick Lamar’s surprise album, untitled unmastered. and it reminded me of what a great project his 2015 Grammy award-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly was. If you haven’t gotten the chance to experience either projects, go give them a listen. But, not until you read this, of course.


As I was listening to To Pimp a Butterfly, which essentially is a thesis on the struggle but also power that comes with being a black person in America, I realized, no matter how much I tried, I would never be able to perfectly understand the struggle and overall perspective that comes from being a black person in America as am I a white American.


It was a complex idea to come to terms with because I love black culture so much and have been directly a part of it through my friends, music, and movies from a very young age. From this realization, a question came to me: do white people belong in cultures outside of their own?

To Pimp A Butterfly

This is a question I don’t have the answer to so I decided to write about it. It is also a complex question because on one side of the argument, it is easy to say: “white people appropriate cultures without respecting every aspect of the culture they revere so dearly so there is no need for them to be a part of it.”


This is a valid argument and for examples, see: Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, or Miley Cyrus (there are so many examples of Miley Cyrus I couldn’t pick just one).


It’s interesting to see these artists flaunt a particular culture so proudly in their videos that have millions of views, yet never say anything directly about the culture or the struggles the people of that culture face.

Taylor Swift.jpg


Their attempts at showcasing the intricacies and aspects they like of certain cultures are easy to do, but it’s even easier to forget to pay direct respects to the people who brought about such diverse and interesting cultures.


So is this a larger problem? Or are these artists and white, sorority girls with cornrows on a third of their head merely outliers of a group that really appreciate other cultures and want to learn more about them? I like to see the glass half full so I’m going to assume that those examples are just outliers of a bigger population who have respect and interest for other cultures.


But, that still doesn’t answer my original question of whether white people belong in cultures outside of their own.


Even if you ultimately exclude people who appropriate cultures, what you have left is people who genuinely appreciate and revere a culture but, are still outsiders from it. So, do they belong?


Can they speak as a part of the culture or are they merely guests at a party they don’t fully belong at?


This is, ultimately, my question and while I do think cultural appropriation is an evident problem that persists, there are people outside of cultures that truly appreciate what it stands for and what it can do for the world. But, do we belong?

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