Don't Explain, a collaborative effort between blues revivalists Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, hit stores yesterday. It features a range of traditional blues, soul and even gospel classics first made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Of course, the intention is homage, but the artists are facing criticisms about cultural appropriation.
The opening track, "Sinner's Prayer" (lyrics) was recorded by both Lowell Fulson and Ray Charles in the 1950s. Here's their version:
Appropriation is often done in the name of a supposedly greater cause. Those in power tell us that we should wait our turn. They are working on extending a helping hand, it's OK for them to speak for us, because they need to speak for us to help us achieve liberation. Even speaking up about appropriation, whether in the form of cultural or ideological, is shouted down.
I brought up the old disability rights movement adage 'nothing about us without us' in a recent post. And the same should hold true for feminism. Instead of speaking for people, we should be centring the voices of the people currently relegated to the fringes. When the mouse speaks up to inform the elephant that her tail is being stepped on, it is the responsibility of the elephant to lift her foot. The onus is not on the mouse to wait for the elephant to move, to cut off her own tail to escape, to attempt to dig herself out.