LONDON — Appropriation or appreciation?
Critics called an outfit choice by the “Hello” chanteuse, Adele, cultural appropriation Tuesday, saying that in the current political environment of Black Lives Matter, the British singer’s decision was “tone deaf.”
Others, meanwhile, have come to Adele’s defense, arguing that she was showing appreciation for Black culture and should “forget the haters.”
The award-winning artist, who has lost a dramatic amount of weight in recent months, showed off an outfit wearing a Jamaican flag-printed bra, with her blonde hair twisted into Bantu knots — a traditional African hairstyle — on her Instagram page late Sunday.
“Happy what would be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London,” the singer wrote in reference to the event that celebrates Britain’s Afro Caribbean community in the capital each summer, canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Adele’s post racked up more than five million “likes” online and sparked front-page headlines in British tabloids Tuesday.
“It’s just a step too far … You’re trying too hard, sis,” Rheana Petgrave, 25, a creative professional in London with Jamaican roots, said.
“Carnival is such a special thing … It’s one of our informal ties back to the island,” said Petgrave, also known as “Yardie Hijabi,” who told NBC News she found the photo “offensive” and that Adele should have used her platform more wisely.
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Anthony Taylor, 29, a drag performer from Chicago known as “The Vixen,” agrees that Adele’s post was problematic.
“It’s tone deaf to say the least,” Taylor said.
“These occasions where non-Black people choose to wear things or mimic a culture that has been mocked in so many ways throughout history, dismisses the value of our pasts.”
Black Americans wearing Bantu knots is often an “attempt to reconnect to a heritage that was stolen from us by white people,” he said, adding, “to then see white people wearing that heritage feels very insulting.”
“We are still to this day shamed for our hairstyles and our features,” he added.
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Adele and her record company did not respond to requests for comment.
The debate has sparked further discussion on what Black culture means in Britain, the United States and countries in Africa.
In Lagos, Nigeria, Franklyne Ikediasor, 33, a marketing manager said the conversation was being driven by Black Americans who were appearing as “gatekeepers” of Black culture, which resulted in some pushback online.
“Because of how imperial America is … you end up exporting American political issues across the world,” he said. Adding that there was sometimes a “disconnect” between Black people in Africa and elsewhere, but agreed he felt “disappointed” by the singer’s post.
“Adele is everyone’s darling, I have her album,” he said.
“It feeds into a larger conversation, as a white person you want to participate in Blackness but not bear the brunt of Blackness,” he added.
The post comes at a time when identity and race are at the forefront of public discourse after police killings of Black Americans this summer triggered Black Lives Matter protests on both sides of the Atlantic.
Many Black celebrities including the model Naomi Campbell and the actress Zoe Saldana supported Adele, underscoring that she was showing appreciation for Black culture.
Adele herself appeared to laugh off the attention, posting Tuesday in Jamaican patois: “Wah Gwaan! Yow gyal, yuh look good enuh,” in the comments section of another musical post.
British lawmaker David Lammy, who represents Tottenham, the diverse area of London in which Adele grew up, also dismissed the criticisms.
“This humbug totally misses the spirit of Notting Hill Carnival,” he wrote on Twitter. “Adele was born and raised in Tottenham. She gets it more than most. Thank you, Adele. Forget the Haters.”