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Hilaria Baldwin and Fake Identities

photograph of Alec and Hilaria Baldwin at event

For years, tabloids, newspapers, and even apparently her husband, reported that Hilaria Baldwin was from Spain. The perception of Baldwin’s Spanish identity shattered in late December, when an anonymous Twitter user outed her as a grifter. A frenzy to dig up facts about Baldwin’s past ensued, and she opted for a New York Times interview to clear the air. Baldwin claimed that she never intended to mislead the press or the public about her nationality. However, her occasional accent, previous uncorrected biographies, and statements made on a recent podcast have given many the impression that she did indeed desire to be perceived as a Spain immigrant.

Was Baldwin’s implication that she was Hispanic comparable to trans-racial scandals? Could her impersonation be considered cultural appropriation?

Baldwin’s impersonation as a native Spaniard has been criticized as unethical due to the underlying implication that she is a Hispanic immigrant. Onlookers have compared Baldwin’s Spanish self-identification as comparable to those who self-identify as a different race. Is it fair, for example, to compare Hilaria Baldwin to Rachel Dolezal? While not the first instance, the exposure of the ex-NAACP chapter President, Rachel Dolezal, brought trans-racial topics into the modern consciousness. Some have compared Baldwin’s trans-national identity to Dolezal’s trans-racial identity. To others, Baldwin’s Spanish identity may have played on ethnicity and language but should not be seen as comparable to trans-racial scandals. (Baldwin has clarified that she is white, and many native Spaniards are also white.)

If Baldwin is not claiming to be a different race, why do so many people find her self-proclaimed Spanish identity and allegedly fake accent racially dishonest and unethical? Baldwin’s accented English and Spanish self-identification have effectively mimicked a Hispanic identity, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, denotes “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” Discriminatory attitudes toward Hispanic people have permeated U.S. culture for hundreds of years. Much of this oppression was directed in the form of racism toward indigenous people and Latin Americans who spoke Spanish. Hispanophobia, or the “fear, distrust of, aversion to, hatred of, or discrimination against the Spanish language, Hispanic people, and/or Hispanic culture” is well-documented in the U.S. Though today 65% of Hispanic people in America are white, the notion that Hispanic denotes race is still common. Experts, such as Dr. Jhonni Carr, have contended that Hispanophobia is less about language, and more about “the association of language with race, with socioeconomic status, and a lot of times with cultural values.” One modern example of associating Hispanic identity with race occurred in February 2020, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences mistakenly labeled Spaniard Antonio Banderas as a person of color. It should also be noted that many self-identifying Hispanic people consider their Hispanic background as part of their racial background.

The association of the Hispanic identity with race is commonly pointed to as the reason that Baldwin’s false identity is unethical. The woman who first called out Baldwin for faking her Spanish identity did so through an anonymous twitter account, @leniebriscoe. “Briscoe” said in a recent interview with The Daily Mail that Baldwin’s impersonation was “offensive and wrong.” Baldwin claimed that she was once stereotyped as a nanny to her children after speaking Spanish in a public park. Briscoe argued that this was offensive as that phenomenon “is something that happens to moms of color who actually have an accent.” In essence, many of Baldwin’s critics have a problem with her appropriation of the struggles which come from a Hispanic identity. Baldwin has shown that she can switch between accents depending on her mood. Baldwin’s ability to “opt-out” of a perceived Hispanic accent is an indicator of cultural appropriation since she is able to walk away from a cultural identity when it no longer suits her.

So how should we assess the morality of Baldwin’s Spanish cultural impersonation? It might be good to start by examining her potential profits, as well as the signs of cultural appropriation or dishonesty.

Did Baldwin use her false identity as a Spaniard to profit? Revisiting the comparison to Rachel Dolezal, Baldwin’s gains are hard to pin down. While Dolezal clearly used her false racial identity to pursue social and career opportunities within the NAACP, it is unclear what Baldwin has specifically sought or gained from her cultural identity. As an influencer, Baldwin relied upon her identity to build a community of followers which she could then monetize through advertising. Her self-identification with the Spanish language and culture could have contributed to the followers, popularity, and wealth she has gained, but it is hard to decipher exactly how much her Spanish identity financially and socially enriched her. Actions which are more clearly immoral might include those in which she took opportunities only afforded to her due to her perceived status as a Hispanic immigrant, such as her feature on ¡Hola! Magazine, among others.

If we assume that Baldwin did not gain anything from pretending to be a native Spaniard, was her decision to adopt a different cultural identity inherently wrong? Adopting a different cultural identity for personal gain might be considered wrong as both a form of cultural appropriation and an inherently dishonest act. By taking on the accent, language, and culture of native Spaniards, Baldwin arguably committed cultural appropriation. Regardless of her intent, Baldwin might still have had a negative impact on native Spaniards or other Hispanic people by claiming the culture and ethnicity as her own. One Twitter user pointed out that Baldwin’s use of a fake-accent is particularly egregious due to the fact that many Hispanic people are denied opportunities because of their accents, and studies support the contention that accent perception can have a significant influence on social and socioeconomic opportunities.

Even if Baldwin’s adoption of the Spanish identity is not cultural appropriation, it might still be considered dishonest, depending how one defines cultural identity. If Baldwin intended for others to believe she was born in Spain and immigrated to the U.S., she was clearly acting dishonestly. However, if she simply intended to imply that a large part of her cultural background shares a loose association with Spain, her dishonesty becomes less clear. Defining one’s cultural identity is a deeply personal matter, and Baldwin has claimed to have grown up in both American and Spanish cultures. Though some have implied that Baldwin’s only ties to Spanish culture is from vacationing with her family, her father has made clear that Spanish culture has influenced his identity for the better part of 30 years. Growing up with a parent deeply engrossed in the Spanish language and culture likely had an impact on her identity. Additionally, her parents have also lived in Spain for nearly 10 years, casting more doubt onto the assertion that Baldwin’s ties to Spanish culture are clearly dishonest. Ultimately, the case against Baldwin on the grounds of cultural dishonesty alone is difficult to argue. Detractors who criticize Baldwin’s actions face difficulty in morally distinguishing her actions from those of immigrants and expatriates, especially considering her various geographical ties to the region.

Unlike others caught and “canceled” for faking their identities, Baldwin has refused to admit that she is not culturally Spanish, or that she has done anything wrong. After her New York Times interview, Baldwin uploaded a video on Instagram where she earnestly stated, “I’m proud that I speak two languages, and I’m proud that I have two cultures… I’m proud that my family is that way. And I don’t really think that that’s a negative thing.” Despite weeks of media attention, Baldwin clearly does not see, or chooses not to see, why so many see her Spanish impersonation as potentially wrong. It is likely she will exhibit a similar lack of understanding if anyone ever decides to challenge her yoga business.

Do White People Appreciate Hip-Hop Or Do They Appropriate It?

Photograph of an out-of-focus stage and the silhouettes of audience members

Hip-hop’s influence has reached international proportions. Audiences all over the world crowd underneath stages as rappers spit their rhymes. It’s interesting how such a global phenomenon came from the slums of New York City and from the voices of the black community. But with hip-hop’s international reach, it means that the genre caters to all different colors of people. And just how hip-hop influences black lives, it impacts the lives of people who come from different backgrounds. It influences so many facets of society, to the point that its listeners imitate the rappers that they admire. However, race can make imitation and influence from rap artists problematic, especially for its white listeners. It almost seems as if there is a line drawn in rap music and hip-hop distinguishing what is appreciation and what is appropriation in the music genre. However, that line can be blurred.

Per Blativity, white pop stars often go through a “coming of age” phase. In this stage, white music artists collaborate with black artists and producers, incorporating hip-hop and R&B sounds into their music. This stage is also the artist’s “rebellious phase,” where they push the boundaries of their music, creating edgier sounds and messages that stray from their previous clean cut persona. To these white artists, black music represents maturity in their music. But once this phase is over, white artists suddenly reject the black music that they so readily accepted and revert back to their previous clean cut sound.

Miley Cyrus is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The pop artist was known for her clean cut persona and music to match. She was the star of a popular Disney Channel television program Hannah Montana, a show about a teenager who lived a double life as a rockstar. A lot of the music that Cyrus made as Hannah Montana transitioned into mainstream music. As Miley Cyrus matured though, so did her music, and this maturation manifested into her 2013 hit single “23,” a track made by hip hop producer Mike Will Made It and featured rappers Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. In her verse, Cyrus raps “Drinking out the bottle, I got no respect, Looking like a model, who just got a check, I back it up, cause I don’t give a fuck.” In the same year, Cyrus dropped an album, Bangerz, that featured more rappers such as Nelly, French Montana, and Big Sean.

Was Cyrus’s change cultural appropriation, though? One could simply say that she was making a change in her music. Perhaps an interview that Cyrus had with Billboard a few years after Bangerz came out can navigate the appreciation versus appropriation of Cyrus’s music. During the interview, Cyrus said that she stepped out of the hip-hop scene because of its vulgarity. She began to dislike the materialistic nature of hip-hop and its graphic sexual descriptions. Maybe it’s this line that deems Cyrus guilty of appropriating hip-hop. After the music genre brought her so much success, she condemns it and started making light hearted music again. On one hand, Cyrus’s stance on hip-hop is understandable. It can be vulgar and violent, and derogatory towards women. But at the same time, why does Cyrus feel negatively about that part of hip-hop when she was facilitating its negative messages before?

Miley Cyrus isn’t the only one who could be guilty of cultural appropriation, though. Her fans and fans of hip-hop in general blur the line between appropriation and appreciation as well. Hip-hop’s reach has extended to various facets of life, from usage of slang to fashion.

In terms of fashion, many hip-hop artists wear durags. Commonly worn by black men, durags are pieces of cloth used to hold one’s hair style in place and achieve waves, a style pattern that appears in one’s head after wearing a durag for a lengthy amount of time. Durags are not only used for their function though. They became a fashion statement once rappers started wearing them out in public. The long use of durags by black people has made it become a symbol of a part of the black community.  If white people wear durags, is it cultural appropriation? It might just depend on their reasoning and/or the circumstances. Perhaps, if a white person is intentionally trying to make a fashion statement by wearing a durag because they were inspired by their famous rapper, that situation might be considered cultural appropriation. But what if a white person actually wants waves in their hair? Or they want to dress up as their famous rapper without the blackface? Maybe durags are associated with the black community so much that the image of a white person with one on just seems odd. But then again, famous white rapper Eminem was known to wear a durag during the zenith of his career. So if Eminem wears a durag, does that mean that other white people can too? At the same time though, Eminem was the protege of Dr. Dre, a member of the famous rap group N.W.A and a huge shaper in the state of hip-hop today. Conceivably, getting Dr. Dre’s seal of approval gave Eminem a kind of agency that other white people don’t possess.  

Appropriation versus appreciation in terms of fashion and hip-hop is a more difficult topic to decipher. A more obvious example is usage of the n-word by white audiences. It is a word that is so commonly used in hip-hop, that people listening to it, regardless of race, tend to sing along to the rap lyrics and include the n-word. On one hand, white people rapping the n-word could be seen as appreciation because they are just singing the lyrics to the song and they are not directing the word towards anyone. On the other hand, the n-word has such a long, hateful, and offensive history that still persists today. And regardless of it being in a song, it should not be used by a white person in any context because it was used and is still used as a derogatory term towards black people. It also wouldn’t be hard to a white person to pause or catch themselves while rapping the lyrics to a song that they like. In addition, some white people do take advantage of rapping the n-word, making their black counterparts uncomfortable. For example, a student at Harvard University recounted a time when he was at a party and during Kanye West’s song, “Gold Digger,” two white students looked him in the eye and rapped along with West, yelling “She ain’t messin’ with no broke niggas.” The white students put emphasis on the last word. It almost seemed as if the white students were provoking their black counterpart. If so, the issue transcends the discussion of appropriation versus appreciation and becomes an issue of racism.

Appropriation is when someone else takes something for their own use. Maybe the whole issue with appropriation in terms of hip-hop is that hip-hop came from black culture. When white people imitate it, to many, it seems as if they are simply taking a part of black culture and using it when it’s convenient and benefits them. At the same time, there are white people who enjoy hip-hop and understand where it came from and respect that there are parts of the culture that they can’t engage in like their black counterparts do. Perhaps there would be no issue of appropriation or appreciation of hip-hop though, if everyone could agree that it came from a certain place, and if everyone acknowledges and credits the place that it came from.


Cultural Appropriation in American Holi Festivals

Throughout the month of March, crowds of thousands will gather in Houston, Boston, and other cities around the United States to celebrate the Indian festival of Holi. Called the Festival of Colors, this holiday celebrates the arrival of spring, and is chiefly known for its tradition of participants throwing brightly colored powder on the crowded streets of India. However, there’s a cultural history that might be lost in the crowds of Americans eating Indian food and drenching each other in colored water. Is celebrating Holi in American festivals a victory for diversity, or is it cultural appropriation?

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Cultural Appropriation and Holidays

El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) was originally an ancient Aztec tradition which celebrated the passing of loved ones from years past. Over the last 3,000 years, the tradition has spread from southern Mexico up through northern Mexico and has combined with Christian practices as well. It used to occur in the beginning of the summer, but has since shifted to align with All Souls Day, also known as All Saints Day. Despite the tradition’s longstanding history of adaptation and change, Tuscon, Arizona’s 26th All Souls’ Procession, a celebration of the community’s deceased loved ones, was greeted with disapproval from some for alleged cultural appropriation of Mexicans. How legitimate are these allegations?

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Cultural Appropriation in Classical Music

The majority of the classical music we know and love today has been steeped in European traditions for generations. It is not uncommon, however, to see hints of other cultures within classical music composition. Sometimes this is done as an authentic ode to another culture’s music, but can also be exploitative if not done with proper knowledge and respect for the culture.

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Disney’s Moana and Cultural Appropriation

The soon-to-be newest Disney movie, Moana, will be a refreshing addition to Hollywoods animated films. Set in the Pacific Islands, a Polynesian protagonist sets out on a journey to save her people, discovering her own identity and potential along the way. Disney has released a trailer for the film, which is scheduled to premier in late November. As a corporation potentially making over a billion dollars from this film, Disney teeters a fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. It has an obligation and responsibility to maintain cultural accuracy and respect. Though Disney claims that it has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film,” it did not apply that same diligence to its marketing strategies and has already made a massive blunder in a profit-driven move. Though the movie will come out in November, Disney began offering costumes of the characters in time for the Halloween season. The costume of  Maui, the demigod who assists Moana on her journeys, has galvanized people to speak out about the costume’s inappropriate representation of the Polynesian culture, inducing Disney’s decision to issue an apology and pull its product from the market.

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The Sports “Race”

Halloween has just passed, and it is clear that public discourse on culturally sensitive and appropriate costumes continues to increase. These discussions about cultural appropriation are particularly prominent amongst America’s educated youth, who are on their way to becoming the next generation of leaders and advocates against racial discrimination. This heightened awareness is now slowly but surely making its way towards the world of sports.
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An Expectation of White Allies

Hello, White Allies.

I honestly do not expect every white person to know when they are offending me, but when I say that you are offensive, just accept and apologize. When you do not accept it, you are silencing my experience. My experience is important as it highlights the inequalities in America. It allows for other people from different backgrounds to interpret and understand that certain racial injustices do exist. As people began to understand these injustices, they are able to find proper ways to fight against them. This battle is bigger than any single person on this campus. My point in addressing Kappa Alpha Theta’s decision to wear Afros was not to shame them, but use them as an example of why the perpetuation of Black dehumanization still exists. The importance of highlighting this fact is to draw to all of your attention to the meaning of dehumanization: “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.” Perpetuating dehumanization normalizes issues such as police brutality, structural racism, and other injustices in America. If this continues to be normalized, then how do you expect our race to make progress?

I understand that some of the women apart of this fraternity may indeed fight for Black lives and claim themselves to be allies, but unfortunately, sometimes white allies make mistakes. You all do not know the complete history of Black culture. You are not able to identify things that you do not see on a daily basis. So, when I am telling you that Black Afros and White Afros are two different textures – just as curly is to coily; when I am telling you that the texture I witnessed on white women’s head at Greek God and Goddess dance was too close to Black texture, believe me. One would not know the difference unless one is Black and being oppressed for having this hair type every single day — so I forgive your ignorance.

A real ally would take full responsibility, apologize, and raise awareness that appropriation is real. White allies are important because they are the ones who hold privileges that I do not have. You all can easily sway the opinions of this university simply because you make up the majority. You all can easily change the laws that were created to oppress me because you have the same skin color as the group that is empower. But, in order to make changes and fight with me, you have to humble yourself. White allies must admit to being wrong when wrong, do some research, and stand behind Blacks. As you can witness from the rebuttal I received from my last article, Blacks’ experiences are easily silenced and swept under the rug. So, instead of saying things such as “I helped fight for you before,” say “I apologize” and support me as I decide what is best for me and my community. I should not have to challenge my white allies to make you understand that you are hurting me.

This Op-Ed is about current events at DePauw University. For more context, check out Ms. Jones’ Op-Ed from the previous week and the Op-Ed written in response. 


Cultural Appropriation Dinner & Discussion on Oct.13

Come out to Prindle on Monday, October 13 at 5:30 PM for a dinner and discussion about the ethics of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation occurs when someone from one culture takes or uses something from another culture. What is taken can be a physical artifact, such as when an archaeologist takes an ancient relic and gives it to a museum. Cultural appropriation can also occur with something more abstract such as an idea, piece of music, or even an art style that is unique to the other culture, such as when Eric Clapton plays cover songs of traditional southern blues songs or when Iggy Azalea raps in a “blaccent.”  Other examples include imitating clothing styles from other cultures, as Urban Outfitters did with their “Navajo” clothing line.

Sometimes we encounter instances of cultural appropriation and immediately think it’s totally offensive, and sometimes we encounter instances that we think are more acceptable. What makes an instance of cultural appropriation wrong, if at all? When, if at all, is cultural appropriation morally permissible? How does cultural appropriation differ from cultural appreciation?

The Prindle Institute’s director Andy Cullison will give a brief presentation about cultural appropriation, and table conversation will follow. Each table will have several prompt cards to guide discussion. Dinner will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis and will include gourmet grilled cheese from student start-up Cheesin’ and soup and salad from Almost Home. This event is free and open to all DePauw students, staff, and faculty.

Prindle has coordinated this event with the School of Music to be a part of the Dvorak Music Festival due to the Native American and African-American cultural influences in Dvorak’s work.

We’re excited to delve into this complicated and relevant topic, and we hope you’ll join us and share your perspective!

Need a ride out to Prindle? A shuttle will be leaving the Hub for Prindle at 5:15 PM and will return after the event.