How today’s celebrities enforce the culture vulture agenda

Illustration by Olivia Madrzyk | The Signal

The term “culture vulture” has been a popular subject of debate within the Black community. Most black activists define being a culture vulture as when an individual outside of the Black community finds interest or fascination in parts of Black culture and tries to make it their own.

Being a culture vulture and appropriating culture are synonymous concepts that date back into the 19th century. In its earliest form, being a culture vulture often meant that white people would dress up in blackface or perform racist vaudeville routines. Acts such as these have forever impacted the Black community as a whole.

This controversy sparked outrage in some of the most well-known Black and African American historical figures, such as Frederick Douglass. After witnessing a blackface performance, he penned his opinion in the North Star newspaper. 

“The filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied to them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens,” Douglass said.

For non-Black people, it is easy to paint your face a darker color and wear a Black hairstyle and still get away with it. They make someone else’s complexion, figure and hairstyle a trend, while white people force Black people to live with the consequences.

On social media, this may seem like simple admiration of Black people and the culture, but in reality, it exploits and mocks the culture for their own social or financial benefit. These acts of appropriation occur in media, music and today’s fashion.

In an interview between mixed martial artist Tyron Woodley and famous Youtuber Jake Paul, the subject of culture vultures came up between the pair. Jake Paul was stunned when Woodley accused him of cultural appropriation. Despite creating videos for online viewers, Woodley’s accusations are a part of a deeper conversation. 

“How many people in your neighborhood dress like that, and how many people wear bust-down Cuban Links,” Woodley said. “How many rap videos have you watched? That’s culture, that’s what I am, I lived it. They’re rapping about my lifestyle, and you’re trying to vultch from us.”

Countless celebrities are vultures to the Black community, and society consistently gives them a pass for their actions simply because they are white and powerful. Wearing someone else’s culture is a privilege that society often sweeps under the rug.

Another celebrity who is guilty of benefiting from Black culture while not being Black is actress Nora Lum who goes by Awkwafina. She often plays roles in films as the urban, comedic relief using AAVE (African American Vernacular English) or “blaccent.” 

Whether Awkwafina or other celebrities realize it or not, stealing from the Black experience and culture to make themselves look better is only hurting the Black community. White society often forces black people to appear differently in professional settings for the sake of the job, while others get to turn their “blackness” off at the end of the day.

Although times have changed, many people could benefit from researching how their actions affect other people and cultures. With a simple conversation and a little education about Black culture, many people will be able to decide whether or not they are appreciating or stealing someone else’s culture.