Ariana Grande Practiced Cultural Appropriation and I Needed Some Moments to Sit with That

Over the past few months, the discourse surrounding Ariana Grande’s problematic behavior has gotten pretty intense. More and more people online have called her out for blackfishing/latinafishing, referring to how she has darkened her skin to pass as racially ambiguous while still reaping the benefits of her white privilege. This criticism reached a fever pitch when she released “7 rings,” the second single from her upcoming album Thank U, Next, in which she engages in outright cultural appropriation through rapping a verse toward the end of the song. Though more people have called her out on this behavior than ever before, as of midday January 21 she had not responded to this criticism in any meaningful or substantial way. I will not go too much in-depth about the actual critique because Google exists and as a non-black person of color I am not the best person to speak on it, but for a great summary you can read user superultra’s fantastic post about it on this page.

I have to admit: my heart broke a bit when I read the scathing criticism of her on online forums like Popjustice which I may or may not have my own account and have used to procrastinate every task imaginable to humankind. Anyone who reads this blog knows I love Ariana with all my heart. Her music has empowered me in my recovery from abuse and trauma. Her eloquent outspokenness about issues related to feminism and seeking mental health treatment has inspired me in my own activism and how I live my life. Her song “No Tears Left to Cry” helped me heal in my grieving process after the death of my grandmother perhaps more than anything else. Countless friends and acquaintances and mentors and even my former therapist have told me that whenever they hear an Ariana song or any updates about her, they immediately think of me, because I openly obsess over her that freaking much.

tweet about ariana grande appropriating black culture

Important points were made.

My first response to the growing criticism of Ari after the release of “7 rings” outright sucked. I got defensive. I acknowledged that, yes, her tanning allowed her to benefit from looking racially ambiguous while still coming from a privileged background. I also acknowledged that a white woman should just not rap and her rapping in “7 rings” serves as a great misstep. However, my Ari-loving brain tried to come up with excuses for her. Two black women co-wrote the song with her, got credit for it, and she openly promotes their art as well, I thought, before soon coming to terms with how, yes, Ari can work with and promote these women and at the same time appropriate black culture. Though she tans a lot she’s never pretended to be black, she’s always said she’s Italian, I thought, as if the intention aligned in any way with the impact, which it does not, given how so many dark-skinned women of color have equal talent yet have been shut out of the music industry because of colorism and lack of opportunities. When I went on Twitter and read tweets from black women who felt 100% okay with Ari and “7 rings,” I wanted to let myself think, oh ok, so if some people from this community think it’s okay, it can’t be all bad. I had to remind myself that, while these individuals are entitled to their opinion, there are many gay people who support Trump, as well as Asian Americans who have fought against affirmative action. Some people feeling okay about a problematic behavior does not in and of itself make the problematic behavior okay.

7 rings ariana grande appropriating black culture tweet

The power of holding multiple truths at once.

I and other Ariana fans can hold two truths at once, even if they may feel contradictory. Yes, Ariana is a talented, wonderful woman who has provided incisive takedowns of the patriarchy and has role modeled self-love, self-awareness, and help-seeking. At the same time, she has benefited from appropriating black and Asian culture and from darkening her skin, which has made her appear racially ambiguous. These two truths do not cancel one another out, and us Ari fans, especially non-black and non-Latinx fans, have to sit with our discomfort while listening to the criticism, instead of getting defensive. We can honor our sadness and disappointment and grief for Ari – the popstar we may have perceived as pretty nonproblematic – while encouraging her to do better and feeling grateful that more people have engaged in conversations about important topics like cultural appropriation and colorism.

Similar to what Popjustice user superultra wrote in the post I linked above, I hope that Ari grows from this. I hope she apologizes in a way that shows a solid understanding of the issue, lays off the tan, and stops rapping. At the same time, as superultra said, white women in the music industry – Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, Taylor Swift, etc. – have all engaged in cultural appropriation without any apology. Only time will tell if Ari responds to these criticisms with the immense eloquence and thoughtfulness she has exhibited when addressing social issues before, or if she will hide behind her white privilege and her fans and friends who condone this behavior. Either way, I hope we can all learn from these conversations about celebrities’ problematic behaviors. I hope we can apply this critical lens to our own lives and how we ourselves may engage in problematic behaviors, so that if even if the stars we idolize do not change, we do.

ariana grande 7 rings music video picture

Ugh, “7 rings” is problematic and it helps me feel empowered to embody joy through myself and my friends and not men. And she looks great in the MV. Still problematic though.

What are your thoughts and feelings about the Ariana situation, cultural appropriation, colorism, etc.? Would love to hear. And what oppressive things are you trying to unlearn? I know awhile ago I used to use AAVE a lot (e.g., yas, slay) and then got called on it and have stopped. Now I’m working on unlearning some classist elitism (e.g., assuming guys on dating apps who went to “prestigious” schools are more attractive when what school you go to often just reflects privilege, like your parents’ wealth). I have a bunch of other things I’m working on too.

The spring semester starts next week so who knows if I’ll be able to keep posting about once a week or every other week, but I hope I can keep writing here in some capacity. Sending everyone love and strength!

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9 Comments

Filed under Personal, Pop, Society

9 responses to “Ariana Grande Practiced Cultural Appropriation and I Needed Some Moments to Sit with That

  1. Not all white people are as light as others seem to presume. Back to discussing what are the boundaries of whiteness. It’s not about colour.

    • Thank you for commenting Ashana, I agree that not all white people are as light as others seem to presume. Would love to hear more about your thoughts on how it’s not about colour.

      • Race is about a presumption of shared experience–and some of it really is shared. Some of it we just want to think is shared. I believe people are terribly uncomfortable with people who are not physically easy to classify, because it casts doubt on the idea that we can see who might have those experiences and who hasn’t. It also underscores that those experiences aren’t inevitable. People who look like us may not be our allies. Someone who looks different may not be our enemy. Suddenly the world feels a lot more unpredictable. I am not sure the outcry about Ariana is much different than the hue and cry over legalising mixed race marriages. (Then how will we classify their children? The horror!) But the reality is I’ve met Black people lighter than I remember my white sister being when we were growing up in sunny California and Latinos who look more Anglo than me.

  2. At the risk of being banished from your blog, I must confess I don’t follow Ariana Grande’s music. *ducks* I do know you revere her when I started to read a few of your entries.

    Cultural appropriation is such a tricky, complex issue. There are Asian artists that rap (in English and also in Chinese). Is that ok? If a Caucasian chef opens a Chinese restaurant would that be considered cultural appropriation? Maybe if the restaurant was just tacky with gaudy lanterns and poorly cooked Chinese food. But if the chef was properly trained and knew his cooking and wanted to honor it and perhaps even add his own interpretation – I’d probably be fine with that.

    There are also non Chinese that speak better Chinese than I do. My level is about nursery school. My bf just rolls his eyes when I try to utter a few words. The waiters at Chinese restaurants hold their breath when I order. I can’t read the specials that are written in Chinese. I think I’m way off topic now.

    p.s. I also had to Google AAVE. I learn something new everyday.

    • Aw haha it’s totally okay that you don’t follow Ari’s music, I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing that even though it felt risky. (:

      Cultural appropriation is such a tricky, complex issue and I definitely don’t have all the answers. Your example is thought-provoking and I like how you’ve processed through it. I feel like there are other questions here too: did the white chef have resources, privilege, and power that allowed him to open the restaurant that an actually Chinese person did not have because of being a person of color? Does the white chef who opens the restaurant genuinely acknowledge and pay homage to the culture in which he’s using to create his food, and if so, how? It’s complex and a conversation we should keep having.

      Glad you googled AAVE and are open to learning. I’ve come to look forward to reading and responding to your comments on my blog. (:

  3. I don’t follow Ariana Grande to know what’s going on, but I have heard of the song No Tears Left To Cry. The tanning and rapping does seem like it’s a case of cultural appropriation. Agree with you some might not see an issue with this, and some will. It would encouraging to see Ariana acknowledge the various cultures at play surrounding what’s going on. All this sort of remind me of the time when Gwen Stefano released her albums and songs centred around all things Harajuki-themed, and many argued she was exploiting Japan for success. I was in Asia at that time, and no one seemed to have an issue with that.

    • Thanks Mabel for your time in reading and commenting. Yep, I wish Ari would acknowledge it and apologize, and unfortunately she has not. This does ring familiar with Gwen Stefani, which was pretty bad because she treated her Asian dancers pretty horribly from what I’ve heard, and even if people did not have an issue with it in Asia it seems like others did, which still matters – similar to what’s happening now with how black and Asian voices have called Ariana out. Thanks again for engaging in the conversation about this issue.

  4. Thanks for writing this. I thought of you while this was going down cause i know you’re a big ariana fan.

  5. priyashreya262

    ♥️

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