One really annoying stereotype that non-Canadians have about Canadians is that “Canadian” means “white”, and Classified’s video ends up perpetuating this stereotype. Understandably, Classified is representing his home province Nova Scotia, when most Canadian rappers are from Toronto or Vancouver. However, for someone living in Toronto and accustomed to racial diversity, the framing of Classified’s video as a neo-national-anthem looks like an erasure of Canadians of colour.
The irony of using hip hop to erase people of colour leads to the issue of cultural appropriation. Atlasien provides a useful definition of cultural appropriation:
I think it’s much better to define cultural appropriation based on the people it affects. Does it hurt them in some way? If so, it’s probably cultural appropriation. If not, it’s probably just cultural borrowing or cultural drift.
There’s never going to be a 100% sure way of deciding that something is cultural appropriation, because the people being stolen from/borrowed from aren’t always going to agree. But you can make decisions informed by their arguments and weight of numbers.
There was a good conversation about this a while back at Rachel’s Tavern… someone who didn’t believe in cultural appropriation came up with the example “what about cooking Italian food if you’re not Italian?” The counterargument was that there’s nothing wrong with cooking Italian food if you’re not Italian… but if you go to Italy and start lecturing Italians that their way of cooking food is inferior to your more authentic Italian cooking style, then yes, you’ve crossed the line and turned into a rude and obnoxious cultural appropriator.
If you use this standard for global hip-hop, you could ask a series of questions… how is it hurting the group of people from the originating culture? How are these people being damaged or insulted or disrespected or taken away from, and to what extent? Are the people who view it as appropriation versus borrowing a minority opinion, or a majority opinion? And what is the level of power disparity between the originating culture and the appropriating/borrowing culture… the power disparity that determines the relative attention being paid to people who complain?
Historically, black Canadian rappers have worked hard against the American hip hop industry’s stereotypes about Canadians, as well as Canada’s reluctance against allowing an urban music station in Toronto. (Toronto urban music fans coped by fine-tuning our radios to pick up the signal from Buffalo.) Black Canadian rappers collaborated in 1998 to release the seminal all-star track Northern Touch, which transformed Canadian hip hop. Yet the historical contributions of Canadians of colour that paved the way for Classified’s success are forgotten in a rap video about Canadian identity.