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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

Inviting Cultural Appropriation on Our Campus

To put it bluntly, Felly is the epitome of cultural appropriation and white privilege. He takes the culture, the language, the style and the stereotypical criminality of black culture and uses it for aesthetic purposes. His music continues on the tradition of musical blackface, in which white musicians culturally appropriate African American Vernacular English (AAVE) for their own personal gain despite not being connected to the culture. Felly, those who were responsible for bringing him here and those planning to attend his concert are unaware of the systematic racism black people face, and how even seemingly innocuous or insignificant actions, like going to a concert, reinforce discrimination.

For example, in addition to appropriating AAVE, Felly appropriates Rastafarianism. Felly flashes the Rastafarian flag in his video “Gorilla,” which is also featured in the link to his album, and he uses lines like “My inner being Rastafarian.” According to scholars, the definition of Rastafarianism is “an afro-centric religious and social movement based in the Caribbean island of Jamaica. It stems from the roots of Rastafari in rising against the post-colonial oppression of poor blacks.” It is intrinsically tied to blackness and a sense of place, and the obstacles and violence black people face as a result of white supremacy. It is not smoking weed, waving around a flag or listening to Bob Marley. Rastafarianism is black. It is exclusive, radical, politically charged and has been appropriated almost to the point of incoherency by white people who, despite what they say, seem to have no understanding of how the labels and practices they plagiarize actually work.

The thing is, because Felly, and other white people, have privilege because of their race, they don’t really need to understand how black culture or systematic racism works. For example, while black people and white people smoke marijuana at the same rate, black people are four times more likely to be arrested for it. Black people are also more likely to be incarcerated, and for a longer amount of time. And those black people are the lucky ones; the unlucky ones being Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and too many others. Luck isn’t the right word though, since the exploitation and murder of black people serves to support white supremacy. But white people aren’t interested in appropriating that side of black culture – the pain, uncertainty and fear.

Felly doesn’t seem especially interested in interacting with actual black people either. There are few black people in his videos, and a quick scroll of his SoundCloud page reveals pictures of him hanging out with his white friends and singing to a majority white crowd. People of color generally, and black people specifically, are difficult to find in his media, and searching for them almost feels like playing “Where’s Waldo.”

Or maybe it’s because his hometown of Trumbull, Connecticut is 94 percent white and 2 percent black, and he couldn’t find any black people to associate with. But more likely it’s because black people aren’t “cool”; black culture is “cool.” Black sound is “cool.” Being a criminal, which in this country is synonymous with being black, is “cool.” The human beings who produced these things, who live these lives and who die because they can’t escape the same things Felly so superficially embraces? Not so much.

Considering Middlebury College’s own history with appropriation, it’s no surprise that Felly was chosen as our visiting artist. Diversity is more than just a word; it’s recognizing the cultural backgrounds of all of our community members and being cognizant of those when making decisions that affect our campus. People don’t recognize that what’s fun for them can be incredibly harmful to students of color. Some individuals cannot remove the features appropriated for entertainment value once confronted with a racist reality. The bulk of the community wide conversations, like the ones before and after Thanksgiving Break concerning issues of inclusivity and appropriation, didn’t occur until after Felly was booked, but hopefully in the future people will be more aware of the implications of bringing certain artists to campus.​


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