White Girls

In the first KYD No. 18 teaser, Caroline Hamilton looks at issues of cultural representation in art against the backdrop of Hilton Als’ new book, White Girls.

‘To say, as many critics have, that whites steal from blacks who originate important work in music or fashion is beside the point,’ writes the American critic Hilton Als in his recent book White Girls.

Als is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has a declared self-interest in the cultural theft that marks the everyday art of living for many individuals. A gay, black man working at one of the most prestigious publications in the world, Als has a sense of what it means to use culture for personal advantage. The premise behind his ideas is disarming and difficult: to complain about stealing from another culture is too simple. Cultural appropriation must be acknowledged as a socially useful, if politically problematic, way of reorganising one’s position in society.

According to Als, a musician like Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem) can be understood as more than just a white boy appropriating black music. ‘Unlike many of the whites he grew up with, Mathers never claimed whiteness and its privileges as his birthright because he didn’t feel white and privileged,’ Als observes. He is not denying Mathers’ whiteness, just saying that his status as white needs to be understood in terms of other considerations such as class and economics; his awareness of being on the outside looking in. Als pushes this further by suggesting that for an artist like Eminem, the drive to create comes from a need not merely to look in from the outside, but also to touch, to sample, to take. Shared by many artists this impulse, Als says, comes from ‘a sense that delving into “otherness” allows them to articulate their own feelings of difference more readily.’

Want to read the rest? Pre-order a print copy of Issue 18, available online 21st July!

ACO logo