The Banana: An Example of Cultural Appropriation

So I am currently reading a lot of historical works that discuss the emergence of the banana industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when it occurred to me that the humble banana is an example of cultural appropriation. Yesterday April 16th, young actress Amandla Stenberg, the girl who played Rue in the first Hunger Games movie, released a video where she explained this phrase that black people such as myself are always complaining about. So reading my material this morning on Bananas, I realized the similarities as like Hip Hop, the banana was coopted and mass produced with black West Indians, who provided the majority of the labor, getting the short end of the stick. Now the banana along with the plantain have long been dietary staples for enslaved Africans around the Caribbean basin. In his book Banana Cultures, historian John Soluri goes in depth on how the banana started out as something white Americans and white planters in the Caribbean despised. They viewed the banana as a “nigger crop” (35). This is similar to how African inspired music was always ostracized at firsts (blues, jazz, R&B, Reggae, Bachata, Tango, Hip Hop, etc.) but eventually these musical expressions were included into either national identities or just the mainstream popular culture. The same happened with the Banana. Soluri points out that after the banana revolution got started, white Americans couldn’t get enough of the fruit. Cookbook recipes were dedicated to what to do with the new exotic commodity. He even cites a cooking magazine that chastised West Indians/Central Americans for not cultivating the best kind for the consumption of foreigners (39) *insert eye roll and sigh*. Mind you, a lot of the workers on the large plantations across the Caribbean basin were black or Hispanic and were subjected to all the ills of empire and industrial enterprise such as low wages, disease, poor housing etc. Small time farmers didn’t fair better as the precious crops that they spent all their time cultivating which some walked with for miles to the docks, were either rejected by United Fruit inspectors and/or they received a paltry payment in comparison to the massive profits that were made by the company.  The saying goes there is nothing new under the sun but the lowly banana that many people wouldn’t think twice about represents a history of exploitation and empire similarly to sugar, coffee, cotton, and tobacco. It’s interesting how cultural appropriation operates on different levels whether it be with food, music, hairstyles, or clothing but what is more interesting is how at the end of the day it is all about the dominate white culture columbusing things that black people and people of color already knew about.

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