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One More Time For The 'Kasi Mlungu' Types Of The World: Stop Appropriating Our Cultures

We will carry on talking about this until people like her stop.

15/02/2017 19:14 SAST | Updated 16/02/2017 10:20 SAST
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Kasi Mlungu.

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Today on Twitter, a woman named Anita Ronge trended. Ronge was on Eusebius McKaiser's Radio 702 talk show to discuss cultural appropriation. It was the second time in two weeks that Ronge, who is a house music DJ known as The DutchAz, was trending — and it was for all the wrong reasons. She goes by the name "Kasi Mlungu" — a name she says she was given by black people. "Mlungu" refers to a white person and "kasi" is a slang term for township.

The problem people have with Ronge is that she denies having privilege, she wears traditional African wear in her photoshoots and rocks cornrows too. It's cultural appropriation and Ronge refuses to acknowledge this.

On the show Ronge said she does not have white privilege because she has worked hard to be where she is. She also said because white people reject her, this also negates any "perceived" privilege.

We started a conversation on Twitter to address her statements so let's go through each one individually to break down the issues.

1. Ronge says she just appreciates rather than appropriates African culture.

Appreciation is simple. It's love and admiration of something but it is not an adoption and profiting or gaining from that thing. Respect should be given to those whose culture you're adopting and there must be a desire to understand said people. There's also the fact that appropriation — like privilege — is about a power dynamic between the dominant group over the dominated group, as is tackled in this article by Everyday Feminism, explaining the difference between appropriation and cultural exchange. Based on the statements two, three and four made by Ronge, we're not sure she shows a genuine desire to understand black people.

2. She claims she doesn't see colour and all of us have the same blood running through our veins.

Yes. All blood is red. But in a world where race is a construct that has afforded some people superiority and rendered others inferior, saying we don't see race is denying colonialism, slavery, apartheid and so on and so forth. Structural racism still exists and we will not move on from that just because she dresses up as black when it suits her. Also if she doesn't see colour then why call herself "mlungu"? Mlungu means white no? Khanyi T quickly pointed that out.

3. Ronge says she is not privileged because she worked hard to be where she is.

White people are privileged, even poor white people are. Whether you've worked hard or not does not negate that. Why? Because how you navigate the world and how the world sees you is not in any way comparable to how black people are viewed. Because of the privilege your ancestors' stolen wealth affords you generations later. Black people constantly have to prove themselves in a society that sees white as the standard and black as a deviation from that. To quote Olivia Pope's father Eli from the popular show "The Fixer": "You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have!" This is not made up. It's history and our present. Lunette Elle Warren summed this up in six tweets.

4. She says black women straighten their hair and wear weaves which is a form of appreciating Western culture and it's allowed.

Ok, so first of all weaving our hair, while often done because it looks good, is also protective styling. Our afros get brittle if they are not moisturised well enough. In winter, black women often opt for protective styling like braids and weaves as this assists in keeping the hair moisturised and making sure it is not exposed to the harsh winter conditions that dry out our hair. Weaves come in various textures, some kinky and some straight. White women do not own straight hair, if they did, permanent hair straightening would not be such a big part of the cosmetic world.

Also, this statement assumes that black people went looking for Western concepts of beauty and thus adopted them. This is not a thing. Colonisation across the world made it pretty difficult for oppressed people to stick to their own practices, clothing and beauty ideals. Africans did not adopt Western norms — they were forced on us.

Plenty has been written on cultural appropriation, just search it on Google and you'll find it all. We could have avoided this conversation out of fear of giving Ronge a platform. To do so however, would be ignoring that many people still think the way that she does. One more article and a conversation on Twitter, where we clearly took a position on this issue, may not change that but it drives a conversation and perhaps a couple of people will think twice about adopting the cultures of others and profiting from them.