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Madonna, Stop Exploiting Our Culture. Signed, a Proud and Angry Black Woman

Now, I didn’t watch the VMA’s—but I did see the photo of Madonna donned in what appears to be a mixture of Imazighen (Berber) jewelry and an especially prominent headpiece that seems to derive specifically from the Ait Baamrane tribe, a group famous for their consistent battles of resistance against colonizers. As I hold a bachelor’s degree in fashion and am of Imazighen decent, the image has haunted me since. Trust me when I say I believe in the power of a good fit; but I also do my research and try to consider how others might feel if I wish to incorporate attire from cultures that are not my own. This look, though, was not only terribly put together, but offensive.

It’s one thing to embrace a culture and educate the masses, and quite another to try and stunt at an award show after spending your 60th birthday in Morocco. Why did she make no verbal statement at the show referencing the significance of what she wore? When it comes down to it, in order to spread awareness you must be self-aware, which Madonna seems to know nothing about.

TBH, I can’t believe there was a point in time where I was blinded enough by the appeal of mainstream fashion to have considered Madonna a fashion icon *dramatic pause*.

Let’s not forget this is only ONE of Madonna’s many problematic attempts at profiting off Black and Brown culture. From her early days of snatching the face of voguing from QPOC, to her grabbing her crotch like Micheal Jackson, Madonna, like many other YT artists, has never ceased to amaze Black and Brown folx in her willingness to steal that which we hold most dear: our culture.

“I’m not appropriating anything. I’m inspired, and I’m referencing other cultures. That is my right as an artist. They said Elvis Presley stole African-American culture. That’s our job as artists, to turn the world upside down and make everyone feel bewildered and have to rethink everything.” —Madonna, Huffington Post Interview, 2017

Since when did being an artist justify plagiarism? (And, by the way, how can YTs honestly claim to have invented Rock N’ Roll.) The entitlement so many YT people, including Madonna, hold over other cultures is appalling. As an artist who has built an entire empire profiting off her “right” to plagiarism and theft, it’s Madonna’s responsibility to use her platform to hold space for those who are underrepresented, inspire others who have the same privilege to do the same, and last but not least, stay in her lane. As the years go by, the Black and Brown community continuously grows tried and tired of the sloppy efforts made by YT artists and their even sloppier PR teams.

All of this, and the original question remains the same: When will YT people learn what’s for us is NOT for them? This is not a question posed for only Black culture but for every culture that’s been colonized by the hands of YT people.

And for all of those trolls in my mentions advocating that Madonna is spreading “cultural enrichment,” please do us all a favor and reflect on this: WHO EXACTLY ASKED HER TO DO THAT?

There’s a reason there are entire societies that have been hiding away in secrecy for centuries: they don’t want to be found because they’re doing just fine on their own. The YT savior complex is real y’all, but I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not “enriching” anyone.

To make matters worse, it seems that this interest in other cultures vanishes when we actually need the support. But what do I know? Those Facebook filters seem to be helping just fine *all shade, all tea*.

So, to reiterate, my people and I are not a trend, and we do not respect or support Madonna’s behavior, or the behavior of anyone leeching our culture. But please continue parading around in our clothing, mocking our dialect and cornrowing your hair but watch out; because there’s one thing that I am quite positive of and it’s that my ancestors see you and they for damn sure are not amused.

To hear more from Keiko El, join her community on Instagram @theafrowitch, or check out her vintage shop @knooksvintage.