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Popular Culture Doesn’t Adapt Black Culture, It Exploits It

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The high five is a gesture used to convey excitement that can unite two people in a burst of energy. It’s an action that is integral to modern times, yet its origin is not as ancient as one might believe. The most commonly cited “first” recorded high five was during a 1977 Major League Baseball game. The connection between the high five and baseball, a sport deeply ingrained in American culture, highlights the extent to which this gesture has become a fundamental tradition. 

Its true origins date back to pre-World War II when the low five was a greeting in African American communities. This greeting entered white hipster subculture in the ‘40s, and made its way to mainstream culture through the aforementioned baseball game. The history of the high five exemplifies how American popular culture is deeply rooted in Black culture. From how we speak, to the music we listen to and the clothes we wear, many of the defining elements of American culture come from Black communities and creators.

Modern slang is dominated by phrases originating in African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Phrases such as “spill the tea,” “savage” and “woke” are all commonly used terms, and they all serve as examples of how AAVE has entered mainstream culture. Historically, Black Americans have had to code-switch as a tactic for survival, as AAVE has commonly been viewed as an improper form of English. The stigma around the dialect has generated prejudice and violence against the Black community. Now that internet slang has appropriated AAVE, it is seen as a trendy way to talk. The widespread misuse of AAVE has erased Black culture. The complex history that is rooted in struggles of social and economic injustice has been ignored, perpetuating cultural exploitation of the Black community. 

The integration of AAVE into modern slang can be attributed to the rise of hip-hop in mainstream music. Rap is a platform for Black voices and stories, and it has served as a safe space for marginalized communities. As the genre has gained mainstream popularity, AAVE entered popular culture as well. But hip-hop is not the only genre rooted in Black culture. Jazz and the blues were created to express the struggle around segregation and discrimination. Jazz was produced as a means of coping with the oppressor, who has now appropriated the genre and stripped it from its origins. A commercialization of Black culture is happening with little to no benefit to Black creators. While Black communities face prejudice, others benefit from the exploitation of their culture. 

Throughout history, Black vernacular and rhythms have shaped popular music. Despite the influential contributions Black artists have made to modern music, their work has been exploited. Around the U.S., racialized business practices deny Black creators rightful credit and royalties. This lack of economic and societal recognition demonstrates the systematic racism that is ingrained in this industry. It shows how this erasure and exploitation has its foundations in the origin of the U.S. through colonialism and slavery. Black contributions to society continue to be undervalued and under recognized.  

Hip-hop and rap have also contributed to the increased popularity of streetwear in modern fashion. Trends such as oversized clothing, sneaker culture and bucket hats all originate from Black communities. The styles have entered into high-end fashion, with brands such as Louis Vuitton taking inspiration from streetwear elements in their designs. The fashion industry’s global revenue is estimated to be between $1.7 trillion and $2.5 trillion. Black artistry is being erased, and these brands are profiting off of the creative minds of Black communities. Fashion is yet another industry where Black creativity is being exploited without proper credit and compensation. This is another reflection of how systematic racism perpetuates unequal power dynamics and barriers to opportunities for marginalized communities. 

When the creations of Black artists enter the mainstream, their cultural significance and history are disregarded. The roots of many Black culture’s traditions and creations are as a response to the suffering and oppression they have experienced at the hands of white people, who now adopt Black cultural trends without recognizing their creators. By erasing these roots, it perpetuates marginalization and suppression. As popular culture continues to take elements from Black culture, it is essential for everyone to respect their origins and actively work towards dismantling the systematic racism ingrained in American society.

Sriskandha Kandimalla is an Opinion Intern for the winter 2023 quarter. She can be reached at