The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the escYOUnited team as a whole or the EBU.
Earlier in March, we saw the release of the Belarussian entry, and the controversy it created as a pro-Lukashenko song. Instantly, the Eurovision community took to Twitter, Facebook, and email to contact the EBU and demand that the song be disqualified due to its political nature. Many signed petitions to prove their point, and the EBU listened.
The entry was not allowed to participate, with Belarus eventually being blocked from participating after a second entry was disallowed, and many individuals who were unaware learned more about the current political situation in Belarus. Some positive change came from this united resistance within the community. In fact, it was probably the most united the fandom has been since everyone reacted to the 2020 contest being cancelled.
Statement from the EBU regarding Belarus’ Eurovision Song Contest 2021 entry. pic.twitter.com/q25Eh80Plx
— Eurovision Song Contest (@Eurovision) March 11, 2021
And their reactions to the issues in Belarus are warranted and important, I want to make that very clear. But what is interesting to me is how certain issues gather massive support by the fans, while other issues will be marked as “not important” to discuss or acknowledge within the community. Over the past months following the Black Lives Matter movement and the summer of global protests, instances of racism, microaggressions, and cultural appropriation within Eurovision or the community have been put publicly on display, but yet are swept under the rug. And as someone who does Diversity and Inclusion work, watching all of this unfold has frustrated me.
The conversations I will be having are going to be tough, and they are not topics I can cover within one article alone. These conversations will be happening across numerous articles, with the hope of educating the fandom of the history of these issues might put an end to their prevalence in the community. Please be comfortable with being uncomfortable with me.
One thing that is extremely important to clarify before I continue is that I’m not stating that the fans are racists. What I believe is happening in the fandom is that implicit bias and white fragility is starting to dictate how we react to certain social issues within our community. More importantly, they are also influencing how we treat the Eurovision artists and each other. I will bring in tweets from the past nine months for examples, but this is not a call to launch hate or shame at them. Learn from their mistakes, just as they have.
Now I threw out some terms which may be new for some readers, so I want to make sure you know what I mean. Implicit bias is a psychological term defined as moments when, despite best intentions, racial stereotypes creep into our unconscious thoughts and inform our actions. White fragility is a term that is commonly used to describe the reaction of white-identifying people, especially their discomfort and defensiveness when faced with issues of racial inequality and injustice. Some may also refer to this fragility as status quo maintenance – preferring that things stay the way they are because that’s what is comfortable to them. Because “whiteness” is a social structure that does not mean the same thing across the globe, I will be referring to it as majority fragility for the remainder of this editorial. Implicit bias will be referenced in the next article about microaggressions.
What is cultural appropriation?
Over the last 9 months I have seen numerous occurrences of majority fragility – mainly around the popular Belarussian artist Kazna and her song “Braids”. The song has been tremendously popular in the Eurovision circle despite its major flaw – the song is centered around the cultural appropriation of Black hair. Now I don’t have time to get into the history of Black hair being used by non-Black individuals as a trend, but what matters here is the response. Numerous people spoke out (mainly Black Eurovision fans mind you) about this issue with this entry, and no one listened.
Those who did listen labelled these individuals as aggressive, hostile, or bullies because they raised issues with the song, utilizing the problematic stereotype and trope of the angry Black person against those who were upset. Those who didn’t engage also practiced fragility, deeming the issue to be either not important, not relevant, or too uncomfortable for them to engage with.
This begs the question – what IS cultural appropriation? The definition is complex upon first read, but it relates to the adoption of an element or elements from a culture or people (traditional dress, artifacts, dance, religious symbols, food, etc) by the dominant culture in such a way that perpetuates stereotypes, removes significant meaning, or removes original credit. It means taking something of value for yourself without understanding the history and significance that surrounds what you took. Wearing a tribal or indigenous headdress for example would be cultural appropriation. The video above is also a great place to start your learning!
I’m saying this respectfully: You’re white. So when black people are saying it’s offensive and hurtful, listen to them. It’s not up to you to decide whether it is or isn’t an issue, and it’s definitely not up to you to decide if it’s hurtful or not.
— Jaimy | 🇮🇹 (@tweetsbyjaimy) January 30, 2021
Defense of cultural appropriation
To make this issue worse, many Eurovision fans and Kazna herself went on to discuss that this was just a hairstyle, and that fans were overreacting to a bunch of nothing. Even worse, non-Black fans were telling Black fans what was or wasn’t offensive when Black culture was being appropriated. This is where the majority fragility and implicit bias began to manifest. Now to take a step back, I can understand how this might be a new experience for some fans, and how it could create a lot of discomfort. If you would like to read more about the history of Black hair being appropriated, I highly encourage you to check out this article by PopSugar on the matter. Or you might check out the documentary below on the issue, specifically around the 12:11 mark.
Now despite all of these conversations about why this entry is offensive and problematic, many in the fandom continued to “stan” it for Belarus. In fact, up until the song reveal, many thought she was the obvious choice and they would have their Eurovision winner. Again, ignoring the conversation that was had less than 3 weeks earlier. And then, once the Belarussian song was disqualified, many snuck into the comments to propose the equally controversial song to replace the disqualified entry.
Kazna arriving to the headquarters of the BRTC to offer her song Braids to the constestpic.twitter.com/0gEad9CYia
— Fer 🎡🎵 (@FerNicV) March 11, 2021
Eurovision’s history with appropriation
This is not the first time we have seen issues of cultural appropriation at Eurovision. At the 2012 contest in Baku, the Dutch representative Joan Franka decided to wear an indigeous headdress in both her performance at Nationaal Songfestival, in the music video, in the single artwork, AND in her Eurovision performance. In an interview with Wiwibloggs, Joan admitted that she does not have indigenous roots, and is actually part Turkish and Dutch.
In the same interview she mentioned that the outfit relates back to her childhood memories and is a projection of that memory, this context was extremely unknown to any casual Eurovision viewer – and came across as wearing indigenous clothing as a costume. She went on to state “I have respect for the Native American culture and would never wear something to offend anyone” yet wore an appropriated version of their culture as a non-indigenous person.
Because of this, Joan’s staging becomes a conversation of intent versus impact. Joan did not intend harm by wearing a sacred indigenous headdress, but the impact was her culturally appropriating their culture, turning a sacred symbol into a costume, and profiting off of it as well. If you’d like some continued reading on the impact that appropriating indigenous headdresses has on indigenous individuals, I would connect you should check out this article by Mic.com.
But that’s not all. In 2014, China joined the list of international countries broadcasting the contest locally despite the time difference. During the broadcast, hosts Nikolaj Koppel, Pilou Asbæk and Lise Rønne perform the “12 Point Song” which is a musical comedy around the number 12. All seems fine until one of the hosts begins to share “facts” about Chinese culture ranging from their playing of table tennis, love of deep fried and stir fried food, and opium. All over-simplifications of Chinese culture from the dominant perspective.
But things take a massive turn when he shows up again at 2:36, pushing into frame wearing a Non-authentic Chinese garment. This is where the true cultural appropriation enters the skit. The Danish broadcaster (and in turn the EBU), in their attempt to “welcome” China to the contest appropriated elements of their culture for entertainment, removing their historical significance, AND confusing South Korean politician Ban Ki-Moon to be Chinese. This again fits the same bill as Joan’s use of the headdress. They utilized China’s entry to the broadcast pool to poke “fun” at Chinese culture, presenting a non-Chinese perspective on what Chinese culture is, all while profiting off it’s use.
WHY is no one talking about the cultural appropriation in Netta’s performance? That was not cool at all. #eurovision
— Ella (☆_☆)🌍🏳️🌈 (@Ellahhelena) May 13, 2018
Cultural appropriation has also shown up in recent years at the contest. Eurovision winner Netta was accused of appropriating Japanese culture by using maneki-neko’s (Waving Cats) in the background of the stage, and by wearing an untraditional take on a Kimono. Something that has never sat quite well with me about this is when asked about her chance at Eurovision Netta responded “my unique look is a crazy advantage”. However, her unique look was actually not even hers to begin with.
When this was brought up, many fans defended Netta for practicing “cultural appreciation” not appropriation because she is a fan of the Japanese culture. While this may be true, Netta used the Japanese culture for her own personal interest, She took something from a culture that she appreciates and without honoring it’s historical and cultural significance used it for her personal gain. And like Joan and DR, she did it – whether intentionally or not – for her own profit.
Eurovision 2020 favorite Efendi is also on this list with her modern take on Egyptian culture. Though highly inspired by a mixture of Egyptian and Azerbaijani culture, her music video features a hidden element of appropriation. At 2:05 Efendi is surrounded by 8 women in bandaged outfits, which would be an appropriation of the sacred practice of mummification used to send the dead to the afterlife. In comparison to others, her appropriation practice is tiny but it is still there.
And I didn’t even touch the appropriation present in Germany’s 1979 song “Dschinghis Khan“.
So what? What’s the point?
Many Eurovision fans believe cultural appropriation is an “American” issue, as if minoritized groups or cultures only exist in the United States – that it’s not an issue in Europe or Eurovision. However, according to the examples I’ve given above, there is a history of it within the contest. Take a moment to reflect how you would feel if a traditional element of your country was used by another country without context, significance, or proper connection to the country’s history.
Think about how you would react as an Irish Eurovision fan if the Netherlands sent a song to Eurovision with Leprechauns and shamrocks. Reflect on how you would feel as a French Eurovision fan in Australia sent a song using mimes and baguettes. You would likely be upset about this incorrect representation of your culture.
If you engaged in that reflection you might now understand why cultural appropriation is bad. Using someone else’s culture – especially in such a way that you profit off of a minority group or culture, is wrong and has no place in Eurovision.
We as fans need to do a better job at calling out these instances with the same intensity that we called out Belarus’s offensive song. If we truly wish to Open Up, Celebrate Diversity, and Build Bridges, then we also need to Come Together, get All Aboard, and you need to Join Us when you see appropriation happening. And when someone calls these things out, support them, rather then inserting your opinion on why it is or isn’t offensive. Don’t let that majority fragility stop you from being uncomfortable, learning, and growing.
Only then can we call Eurovision a place for everyone.
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