FULL INTERVIEW WITH BULLETT OVER RACIAL APPROPRIATION
BULLETT:I'm curious as to whether you'd agree that "Blackness is in fashion right now." If so, how/why do you think that's going on?
JULIANA:I think blackness (as long as that concept has existed) has always been in fashion. I think the ways in which blackness is addressed and used as the basis for creative visions of the world mutate over time. I think for a long time, in terms of appropriation, white men were allowed to take on black masculinity, which is where the concept of a 'wigger' comes from. I think that specific vision of white appropriate of blackness happened hand-in-hand with the popular dissemination of hip-hop to white America and the Western world at large. Although there were moments of white women incorporating elements of black style inter their looks (Bo Derek), it wasn't in the same way. There was no appropriation of larger ideas of dress, attitude, speech etc. I think as we enter the 2nd and 3rd+ generations of white kids globally who have ideas of what it means to be white and align oneself with black culture, we've gotten to a unique moment where white women, white gay men, and other races are playing with blackness; its notions of coolness, hardness, urban-ness and specific forms of hyper-sexuality. The internet has abstracted black cultural production from black people and we're experiencing, I think, the product of that separation. Racism doesn't exist less, but the merger of black cultural expression with any idea of authenticity or entitlementment-to- has faded as the internet archives and makes accessible any and every fetish desire, including the desire for or admiration of another culture.
BULLETT:Next, what do you think is lost and what is possibility gained with an increased visibility of racial/ethnic/subcultural/street dress in high fashion and pop culture?
JULIANA:I think whats lost is history. Although I find a lot of what is being widely deemed "appropriation" distasteful, I generally don't have value judgements or ideas of what anyone should or should not be allowed to do, take, wer, etc. What I find disappointing is when the reference of specific black cultural styles, looks or dispositions is done without any understanding of the fact that its tied to real people with real histories. I think there's a playful and witty way of taking elements of black culture(s), but to do so intelligently requires a basic awareness that just because an image was pulled from tumblr, pinterest, google images or a screencap from a youtube video doesn't mean that it exists in a vacuum of context or history and that the distribution of images impacts individual and collective ways of thinking about and operating in the world. If you choose to disregard that, so be it, but lets acknowledge the dynamics that are going on. The now-infamous steven meisel shoot has a long and complex history, ranging from conceptions of jigaboos in the south to the movie B.A.P.S. to the character Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson on MadTV. So, on a purely aesthetic level Im excited by the fact that different aspects of blackness are being placed in dialogue with other traditions and canons and I think the result is fostering a creative explosion in visual culture, what is unfortunately being lost in most of it is a sense of intelligence and appreciation for history context and the link between aesthetics and political reality.
BULLETT:Do you believe that anyone should be able to wear anything? Inside of fashion? Outside of fashion? Or should we be cautious and educated in our appropriation of other cultures' dress?
JULIANA:I think those are two different questions. I believe anyone should be allowed to do what they want. If a white person wants to show up to a party in blackface, go HAM. But, dont' be surprised when you get the response that ensues. I think a lot of what goes on in terms of the more problematic appropriation of black culture is that its, at base, a joke, desire for attention, way to rustle feathers or expression of some deep seeded racial resentment that you couldn't let rest at racist comments on Youtube videos. I think we should all strive to be educated and maybe if that was emphasized more, we wouldn't find ourselves trapped in cyclical conversations that ricochet between angry accusation and dismissively ignorant arrogance. I've also taken on the policy of rolling my eyes and moving on when I encounter basic, reductive racist appropriation. The power of so much of what is being categorized and attacked as appropriation is that it was meant to get the response that it does. There are a long list of caustic performers, musicians, artists and public figures who act with the intent of getting zealous responses from those who one would assume were in the 'right' (advocates for black people in this case). I choose to focus on the dynamic work I see being done and on the few white people (assuming they're the subject at all) engaging or using as a source of inspiration black culture in informed ways.
BULLETT:Most importantly though, I'm looking for calls to action, possible solutions. What would you like to see change? What can change? And how you think that change can/needs to be carried out?
JULIANA:READ. If you like black culture so much, try to understand it - it will make everything you do cooler and smarter. otherwise ... I guess you're just a wigger.