Africans Matter Too! (Open letter to French Montana)

At the Grammy’s in 2016, Kendrick Lamar posted a picture of the African Continent with bold letters in its middle that read ‘Compton’. The whole world watched in awe as the live audience rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation.

A few weeks ago, French Montana released the music video for “Unforgettable”, his latest song. The video shows some of the children of Uganda dancing joyfully to the song. In fact, when you watch it, you can’t help but wear a smile on your face. The video has over 15 million views and has been raved about all over the internet.

But what do these two events have in common?

Both events are a deeper depiction of cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation. Kendrick Lamar and French Montana have taken the concept or idea they have of Africa and represented in a way that neglects the same African people they claim to be representing.

Let me explain.

Now some people may say that there is nothing wrong with French Montana’s and Kendrick Lamar’s appropriation of Africa in their art. In fact, even African’s themselves may state how great both acts were at depicting Africa.

But let’s take a deeper look.

Of late, there have been numerous debates between Africans and the rest of the world on the subject of cultural appropriation. Some Africans have gone as far as condemning people who wear African clothing without being able to prove their knowledge of the history and traditions behind what they’re wearing. Some Africans have even ranted on social media about how other races should not be allowed to wear African clothing.

Now I would not go as far as saying that nobody should borrow or appropriate from another culture. That would be absurd and only clarify the lines that divide us by race, culture, ethnicity etc. in a world that is seeking equality.

Instead, I believe the contrary. We should all be allowed to appropriate different cultures that are not our own. We should all be able to use and identify with the art of cultures that are foreign to us. But only to a certain extent and within certain parameters.

So, where do we draw the line? How does one tell whether they are stepping over the boundaries of cultural appropriation or borrowing too much from a certain culture?

It’s hard to say. But for me, it all boils down to one simple question;

Are you representing the culture you’re appropriating in a way that that culture would be proud of?

This is the sole question that can quell the issue of cultural appropriation.

And this is the same question I would ask to the likes of Kendrick Lamar and French Montana. When they depict elements of African culture in their art, are the representing Africans the way that they want to be represented?

Let’s consider Kendrick Lamar’s labeling of the African continent as ‘Compton’ in 2016, and ask ourselves the same questions. Firstly, is this a worthy representation of Africa? Is the Africa he depicted the same Africa that we, as Africans, want to show the rest of the world.

NO. It isn’t.

And I trust I speak for other Africans when I say this.

What Kendrick Lamar showed us at the Grammy’s in 2016 was the Africa that we African’s don’t like to see. It was the barren borderless land of fable, the indigent subject of stereotype, the mythical Africa, the poverty-stricken block of 54 countries that form one… “country”.

So, despite how well-intended Kendrick Lamar was, his audience is still likely to have the same misconceptions of Africa and African culture from watching his performance.

This is cultural appropriation at its worst.

When French Montana portrayed the kids of Uganda dancing happily to his new music video, I felt proud. I liked that the kids were depicted in a positive light. The joy on their faces was so contagious.

But when I heard the lyrics of the song… everything changed.

“I’m gunna catch the rhythm while she push up against me…. A f%&ing good time never hurt nobody If you loved the girl then I’m so, so sorry I got to give it to her like we in a marriage… No, no I won’t tell nobody…. Tryna do what lovers do…”

These are the lyrics of the song.

Evidently, the song promotes lust, promiscuity, and sex. Yet, there are little African children dancing to the song in the video. Where is the correlation?

The truth is the kids probably have no idea what they are dancing to. In their minds, they see the video as good publicity, perhaps a chance for them to share their art with the world. But what if they knew what the song was representing? Would they still dance? Is this how they would want to be represented?

NO. It isn’t.

The truth is, the video is not about representing the kids. It is about using them to further a mainstream agenda. Using them to get more views and more likes, and more money. That’s the only reason the kids are in the video. In fact, it is obvious that the song was not written for them. They are merely tools that French Montana uses to promote his music.

What French Montana and Kendrick Lamar depicted in their art was probably not intended to be malicious in any way. But I believe their acts are evidence of a deeper and more displeasing truth about the appropriation of African culture.

Today, despite how the world is becoming more cognizant and inviting of African culture, at times we are misused, misappropriated and badly misrepresented. In recent times, as evidenced by artists like French Montana, Kendrick Lamar and even Beyoncé, throwing ‘Africa’ on western art has become somewhat ‘retro’ or ‘cool’ and ‘unique’. And honestly, I have no issue with this. I personally don’t mind if African culture is appropriated by the western world.

All I ask is that when you appropriate our culture, show us the way we like to be seen. Represent Africans the way that we want to be represented, and not solely how you prefer to see us. Stop Misrepresenting Us! African’s Matter too!

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