Expolitation & Appropriation: How I Make Theory Walk

Spring semester 2017 I took a course called Literature and Cultural Studies. Our last day of class (today) we were asked to bring in a "speech" summarizing our thoughts about the content and learning that happened over the course of the semester. This course helped to reshape my thinking and how I interact with the world around me. This is a revised version of my "speech" on how I incorporate the different theories into my life.

Before taking this course, I always paired theory with science, and science with intellectuals. Before this course, theory’s only purpose was to deliver to me an overly complicated jargon-filled explanation that confused me rather than simplifying the idea at hand. Before this course, I never thought of theory as something practical or something that could be applied to literature or social situations.

When exploring different theories in class like; deconstruction, liberal humanism and critical race theory, I started to experience a sense of enlightenment. These theories were things that I have practiced and witnessed in life without even knowing. With a change of spirit towards how I viewed theory, my outlook on life also changed.

After this course, I find that my sense of truth has been forever changed. When I read books, watch movies or look at advertisements, I deconstruct the tone and ask myself if there is a hidden message that I am not aware of. I now realize that anything in life can be viewed as problematic if put into the right context with supporting facts.

Although the way I think and perceive things will forever be fucked up (in a good way) I appreciate the beauty of literary theory. Being stuck in a state of ignorance or stagnant growth does not challenge the mind nor does it create space for critical and analytical thinking.

In which case, when revisiting the reading Intellectuals and Power, a transcribed conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, I realized that I started to think critically and analyze what they were saying instead of accepting their words at face value.

Foucault said something interesting regarding exploitation during his discussion with Deleuze. He said “After all, we had to wait until the 19th century before we began to understand the nature of exploitation.”

This immediately redirected my attention to the word exploitation. I began to look at this comment through critical race theory. With the use of the word exploitation and the reference to the 19th century I naturally thought of Sarah Baartman.

In the early 19th century Sarah Baartman was an African woman who had an encounter with European colonialists. Her encounter with colonials resulted in being transported to London where her unusual coloring and large butt were intriguing. After being reduced to a scientific anomaly Baartman spent her life on display. She was put up as an attraction, something for people to look at, something to be bewildered by. She was not human.

Thinking back to the word exploitation led me to the word appropriation. We are currently in the 21st century where people are still obsessed with the features of black women. They want to act black and look black but they don’t want to be black.

We see this so often, especially within social media. People who want a big butt or big lips; something that is not natural to them. Inspite of that they still strive to attain these features. Then the appropriation comes when culture is being copied, being mass produced and misused.

The blatant disregard of black women's beauty and the appropriation of their culture has been so normalized to the point that speaking out against such acts will make you appear as someone who is counter cultural. Ironic, isn’t it? Someone speaking out to someone else about how not to appropriate another culture is deemed as a person who is “overreacting” or the “angry person of color”.

I make theory walk when I counter ignorance with knowledge.

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