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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

What do #YOU think about this editorial? Do #YOU agree or disagree with the points raised? Share your thoughts with us on our forum HERE or join the discussion below and on social media!

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20 Comments

  1. Strynka

    March 29, 2021 at 03:57

    Obviously it’s a white American man who felt in the obligation to play the white knight who wants to protect poor minorities while spitting his venom on his own race so much he disgusts himself.
    Absolutely NOBODY complains about cultural appropriation in Europe, it’s not a problem with us, keep your shits on your shitty continent and stop trying to import your problems into our countries.
    As a Frenchwoman, I am proud when I see non-French speaking countries singing my language like Austria in 2016, what will it be soon? Estonia in 2018 sang a lyric song in Italian, is it problematic for you? Obviously no.
    As an American, you are not allowed to talk about things that don’t concern you, especially a white American man who feels bad about himself and hates his race. Everyone has the right to watch Eurovision but above all it’s a song contest and a show, it’s not a far-left political metting.
    And above all, how does a white male have the right to open his mouth to talk about cultural appropriation? How does he have the right to design himself as spokesperson for Amerindian, Asian and black communities?
    These people have the right to express themselves if it bothers them except that absolutely no one has opened their mouth except white American LGBT+ people who felt concerned in the fact that an Israeli woman put a Japanese toy in the background of a 3-minute song.
    Please take care of your ass and everyone will be very happy Bye.

  2. ML

    March 29, 2021 at 06:32

    Wow, you can’t wear something if you have a wrong background – that sounds like absolute rubbish. What’s next, we won’t be able to write about a person if we are different from them?

    BTW the dutch sending a song about leprechauns would be an instant hit in Ireland.

  3. KaleP

    March 29, 2021 at 09:41

    Thank you, white American male, for informing us that Chinese people should be offended by an innocuous series of jokes made at the 2014 contest. You obviously didn’t get the Ban-Ki Moon joke at all but that doesn’t stop you from writing about it and telling us that we should be offended by it.

    I know Americans have a hard time understanding this, but the rest of the world doesn’t really want to take lessons on racial awareness from a country that elected its previous president.

    Cultural appropriation is a complete and utter load. It’s guilty white people reducing ethnic minorities down to cultural practices and not treating us as individuals, as if the biggest racial problems in our lives is somebody copying our hairstyle or wearing our clothes.

    I found this article pretty tone-deaf and borderline-offensive. But, I don’t suppose that’ll stop you from thinking exactly the same as you do.

    • Tryagain

      April 1, 2021 at 10:13

      Except the ones whining about cultural appropriation aren’t the ones who voted for Trump. They did elect the current president, the senile King of Woke.

  4. Ying Yue

    March 29, 2021 at 14:01

    Stop trying to export American nonsense to Europe.

    In Europe, we don’t systematically oppress minorities for displaying their cultural features and, therefore, using them is a sign of respect and solidarity.

    I would never be offended for someone getting inspired in my culture to create art. That’s just nonsense and it does not make historical or social sense, since nobody owns culture and we get inspired by others when creating voluntarily and involuntarily.

    Throughout history we see how cultures have been sharing their distinctive features, to the point that some of them have even now embraced those previously foreign characteristics inside their own culture.

    Europe’s culture is rich and mixed. That’s how you see, for example, how Spain, mostly a Catholic country, has certain features that belong to the Arab world since, for many years, there were important Arab minorities in the territory from which the Catholic majority got inspired.

    Therefore, claiming that a culture can be owned by or belong to a certain group it is not just historically and socially wrong, but also dangerous since it leads to misguided radical positions attempting to separate cultures, when, in reality, cultures have and will always mix.

  5. Gilad

    March 29, 2021 at 17:47

    Well, I know that people would lose their mind when they will read this but I would write this anyway.

    If I understood the article correctly, using other cultures in your performance is hurtful, but I believe this is just nothing, people search the reason to be mad, to find racism in every thing. When artists take a culture and put in his performance their nothing to be mad about, the artist just found this culture fitting to the performance, the Japanese culture is their own and no else can touch it otherwise they are racists, no, they are totally fine, we are a global culture and to take a hairstyle as an insult is no more then a reason to be mad about racism when the racism do not exist.

  6. Flo

    March 29, 2021 at 18:54

    I’m French and I couldn’t care less if Australia sent a song using mimes and baguettes.

  7. E.H.

    March 29, 2021 at 21:34

    I’m German and I wouldn’t give a damn if a Vietnamese group appeared in dirndls and lederhosen. “Cultural appropriation” is an idiotic concept. And for your information, women of ALL nationalities, races and cultures have braided their hair, similarly, women from all over have worn hoop earrings.

  8. DG

    March 29, 2021 at 21:46

    Way to go reducing Ireland to shamrocks and leprechauns, or identifying France with baguettes and mime. What a simplistic view you have of the world….but should we expect anything less from a white male American SJW who views life through the lens of ignorance.

    • XY

      March 30, 2021 at 01:39

      In fairness, his argument was that Irish or French people would not like their culture being reduced to those stereotypes. Of course, they wouldn’t care, but he seems determined to crush any sense of fun out of the Eurovision and “educate” us all on just how dour, humourless and devoid of sense or merit “culture” should be.

      • DG

        March 30, 2021 at 07:58

        Perhaps, but it’s more likely that his use of these stereotypes to support his argument just reveals more about him and his limited views of other cultures. How funny that a competition that has been running for over sixty years is facing a takedown by some kid who has been ”actively watching… (it)….since 2014”

  9. Bjorn's secondhand embarrassment

    March 29, 2021 at 21:53

    By your logic, Abba, a Scandinavian band, should not have sang about Waterloo (in Belgium), or referenced Napoleon (France via Corsica) in their winning song at the 1974 Eurovision. But then a Gen Z American who has probably only watched the past 4 or 5 competitions isn’t aware of the competitions history or legacy in bringing Europe together for one night each year. SMH

  10. Mikael

    March 30, 2021 at 17:41

    Wow. Let’s look for trouble shall we?

    Don’t let him watch the German entry from 1962 or the Dutch entry from 1966. Or the Yugoslavian entry from 1991. Ok the video of the last one actually was a bit offensive…..

    • Tryagain

      April 1, 2021 at 10:16

      “Or the Yugoslavian entry from 1991”

      Lol!

  11. PureEvil

    March 30, 2021 at 19:23

    I have been reading various op-eds about cultural appropriation for a better part of a decade by now. No shortage of them, in fact. Certainly seems to have been a trendy topic in certain circles for a long while, and it’s clear that it has reached mainstream visibility in Anglosphere’s press and social media during that time.

    At first, the idea baffled me – the three basic ways of societal exchange are appropriation, imperialism and segregation. Their names may all sound somewhat negative, but taking, giving and abstaining, as well as various combinations thereof, all happen naturally just through coexistence. And frankly, the former is by far the most benign of them, as it is voluntary on part of one group while not permanently taking anything from the other one, as well as avoiding stagnation.

    What is often described as appreciation shares a lot more with the other two. Firstly, it forbids the outsiders from access to aspects deemed exclusive in general – segregation. Secondly, it allows partial engagement solely on terms set by the original group in particular – imperialism. Additionally, an unspoken, nebulous system of prioritization of certain cultures over the others would have to be put in place. At some point it dawned on me, that this is exactly what the proponents want to impose, whether consciously or not.

    Let me be clear. “Educating” about the righteousness of cultural appropriation is in fact an act of cultural imperialism. Enforcing a certain brand of ideological purity. Not even going to get into the audacity of how some people try to claim ancestral ownership over particular hairstyles or cat figurines. I am still entirely opposed to the very concept itself and I find it it terrifying that people try to sneak it into European cultural discourse. Our symbols and traditions are not unique or sacred – and neither are anyone else’s. We should suffer no double standards. Do better.

  12. Knut Nymoen

    March 31, 2021 at 10:26

    I use to read these editorials as a long time member of this site. I’ve been a Eurovision fan long before there was anyhing called the www. I am very happy to see that several people have reacted to this editorial. I dont find this long editorial very appropriate for this site, mainly as I find it very one-sided and tendentious and politically charged. But the worst thing is that the author comes across as someone thinking he is morally superior to lots of other fans.

    I quote directly from the article: “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. ”

    And then you go: “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”.

    So obviously the author feels the need to educate the fandom, and for us to learn from the mistakes of others. He is even stating that he will do so through “numerous articles”. Why so? I can only speculate, but it seems he finds the general reader to be rather ignorant and that we all need a really thorough lecture on this topic. One could also speculate whether the author is actually accusing the fandom of racism… but luckily he did himself write that he is “not stating that the fans are racists”. He askes us: “Please be comfortable with being uncomfortable with me”. I interpret this as if the author expects me to feel uncomfortable being confronted with my own prejudices?? How else could I interpret this?

    Much has already been said by others here, some things I agree with, others not.

    The term the author is discussing, “cultural appropriation”, is still being discussed by different professionals. It has also been criticized. A very quick search on google comes up with some of the critics. Maybe wikipedia isn’t the site to find deepgoing information but I will quote it here anyway: “John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University, criticized the concept in 2014, arguing that cultural borrowing and cross-fertilization is a generally positive thing and is something which is usually done out of admiration, and with no intent to harm, the cultures being imitated; he also argued that the specific term “appropriation”, which can mean theft, is misleading when applied to something like culture that is not seen by all as a limited resource.”

    I guess many of the other people that has also reacted to the editorial will nod to what McWhorter writes.

    I could of course give you quite a few (personal) examples of why I dont like the term “cultural appropriation” and the use of it – but I wont. I just hope that the author in the future will think a bit more about the topics he chooses for his editorials and how he presents them.

    The author claims that the fandom is biased. Yes, we all are biased in many ways… in most ways actually. But the author obviosly has his own biasis that are not up for discussion.

  13. oximated

    April 2, 2021 at 00:11

    I’m sympathetic to the general gist of this article, but that last section undermines it; you’re asking us – a relatively privileged, western audience* – how we feel when we watch “Liubi, Liubi, I Love You” (Romania 2007), and you’re not going to get much out of that save for “Yay, we stan a multilingual bop”. The “How would you feel” argument is weak because it ignores the amount of power that a culture has. I’m Scottish, so The Simpsons is a handy example: I always found Groundskeeper Willie hilarious, and if somebody complained about his voice actor not being Scottish or made a documentary about how his character perpetuates stereotypes, everybody here would think they were rather unhinged. But with Carl, Dr. Hibbert, and Apu, those complaints were *absolutely justified*. As characters, they’re all far more sympathetic than Groundskeeper Willie, but they represent groups who are far more likely to be harmed by the show’s carelessness than white Scottish people are.

    We’re all products of our environment, and that affects how we understand these power relations. Someone in the UK is more likely to understand the problem with Apu than they are to understand the problem with Speedy Gonzalez – they’re statistically unlikely to know or be part of a community that is harmed by Mexican stereotypes, so they don’t see the power relations and it’s all just fun and games. And other countries will have their own variations on this, and that’s how Joan Franka ends up in a sacred indigenous headdress… Which she absolutely should have been called out on! I’m not arguing against doing that at all, it’s useful precisely because people can stumble into these things without knowing they’re harmful.

    I just think it’s important to take the power relations between cultures into account, and I’m not sure the article manages to do this outside of what seems like quite a US-centric lens. Does Netta adopting Japanese aesthetic elements carries as much ideological baggage as a white American would if they did the same? Anyway, I know it was written with the best of intentions, so thank you for that.

    One thing I’d be curious to read: Should this be applied to music? I’m thinking in particular about all of the gospel elements that are popping up this year – is this appropriation, or has it been absorbed into a shared musical vocabulary?

    *I know this is qute an assumption! But I figured that if we can devote this much time to analysing ESC entries, in English, on the internet, then it’s probably true.

  14. Arild Olsen

    April 2, 2021 at 16:47

    What a load of rubbish!

    Cultural appropriation is no more than political correctness gone completely mad. And this of course comes from an ignorant American who knows nothing about Europe.
    As for Joan Franka and her amazing headgear- this was in 2012. Was it such problem at the time -then where was the author? Still in diapers?
    Might I add that playing indian and villain was a staple of childhood games – at least for us who grew up in the 70/80/90’s….and there was absolutely nothing racist about that. The BIG problem are people like the author here who sees racism where there is NONE.

  15. Suzie

    April 2, 2021 at 23:25

    The irony is not lost on me that this is basically the case of an arrogant American going into the space of people in another part of the world and lecturing them about how to respect other people’s cultures in a longstanding event that he’s only just discovered.

  16. Paula

    April 4, 2021 at 09:46

    “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.”

    I’d feel very happy with it. I’ve felt very happy with it everytime it happens. Such concept makes no sense here… and I hope it will never make.

    Such an idea can only come from someone who is convinced that a “culture” is something “static”. Well, it is not. Simple as that.

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