Bruno Mars Is Not The Face Of Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is a system...not a person.

Black Twitter, have a seat—we need to have a serious conversation.

On Friday (March 9), Bruno Mars was placed on the internet’s Most Wanted list after YouTuber Sensei Aishitemasu declared him guilty of cultural appropriation in a heated discussion on The Grapevine. A tweet presenting her views from the heated “Is Bruno Mars A Cultural Appropriator?” debate swept through the Twitterverse like wildfire, showing the conversationalists ping-ponging their pro-Bruno and anti-Bruno arguments across the table.   

Aishitemasu’s points were stringent: Bruno Mars is a racially ambiguous, genre-pirating, sound-extrapolating, un-inventive culture vulture. And the reason the Recording Academy showered him in gramophones at the 2018 Grammy Awards, including his Album of the Year victory, is because music consumerism in this day and age only applauds, appreciates and awards Black music from non-Black bodies.

But while her points were sharp, not all of them were solid.  

While dissecting her statements, which a hefty amount of hotep Twitter agreed with judging by the 14,000 likes and 5,000 retweets it garnered in under 24 hours (numbers that have also tripled in only four days), something about the passion of her objection to Bruno’s adoration was strangely familiar to me. It’s the same agitation that boils inside when Kim Kardashian made her “Bo Derek braids” debut with a head full of cornrows originative to African culture –– the same braids Black girls are shamed, shunned and even kicked out of school for. Or when the world jammed out to “Fancy” by Australia’s Iggy Azalea, the former Grand Hustle Records signee who gave herself a desperate try at hip-hop and abused her platform by calling herself a “runaway slave master” on a track titled “D.R.U.G.S.” This among other cultural fouls.

I know that feeling of indignation. It’s the pride and rightful prejudice of R&B soulstress Solange’s “F.U.B.U.”:

“For us, this sh** is for us/ Don’t try to come for us…Get so much from us/ Then forget us.”

But while Iggy, the Kardashian-Jenner family and other proponents of cultural appropriation selfishly eat from the fruits of Black labor, culture and origins and forget the color of the hands that feed them, Bruno never has.

“When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag. I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I'll never forget. Most importantly, they were the superstars that set the bar for me and showed me what it takes to sing a song that can get the whole world dancing, or give a performance that people will talk about forever. Watching them made me feel like I had to be as great as they were in order to even stand a chance in this music business. You gotta sing as if Jodeci is performing after you and dance as if Bobby Brown is coming up next.”—Bruno Mars, Latina Magazine (2017)

In addition to Bruno’s interminable homage to Black culture, he’s never Black-faced his identity as a Puerto Rican citizen with “racial ambiguity” nor his entertainment moniker, Mars, either.

“I never once said I changed my last name to hide the fact that I’m Puerto Rican. Why would I f**king say that? Who are you fooling? And why would anyone say that? That’s so insulting to me, to my family. That’s ridiculous. My last name is Hernandez. My father’s name is Pedrito Hernandez, and he’s a Puerto Rican pimp. There’s no denying that. My dad nicknamed me Bruno since I was 2 years old. The real story is: I was going to go by ‘Bruno,’ one name. Mars just kind of came joking around because that sounds bigger than life. That was it, simple as that. I see people that don’t know what I am, and it’s so weird that it gets them upset.” —Bruno Mars, Latina Magazine (2017)

As righteous defenders, pioneers, and inheritors of Black culture, Aishitemasu included, we’re damn right to be angry at those who abuse it. We should rage, and rant and reject — but we shouldn’t be wrong. Aishitemasu’s problem is with the powers that be — proverbially known as “the system” — which allow the Kardashians, and Azaleas, and Post Malones to thrive. Not Bruno.

The fair skin and silky hair of a Puerto Rican and Filipino man does not equate to his so-called preservation of “racial ambiguity” either. It’s a wrong steer in the direction of colorism and driven by compositions of white supremacy. Faulting a person of color for your inability to pick apart their ethnic makeup from physical attributes or not appearing to be “enough” of a particular race is not only bigoted, but an extension of the very segrationism our ancestors of all shades resisted.

A beef with Bruno doesn’t force accountability on systems like the Recording Academy, which has improved upon diversity, but still shamefully falls short every year.

A beef with Bruno doesn’t inform white fans of hip-hop and Black culture of how damaging their lack of respect for Black creatives is and, how instead, recognition for Black regurgitators erases our heritage.

A beef with Bruno doesn’t demonstrate what we’ve asked white privilege cardholders and non-Black individuals who benefit from Black culture to do all along: acknowledge and accredit it, which Bruno selflessly does.

And most important, exacting our anger at Bruno is not just erroneous, but only good for what it was worth on an early Friday morning in 280-characters: A Twitter debate.

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