At first glance, IFHT Films’ remake of Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE,” entitled “Ferda Girls,” is a female empowerment manifesta, a giant middle finger to male arrogance within the male-dominated sport of mountain biking. As someone who has experienced sexism in the mountain biking industry, I understand the impetus for this anthem. I, too, am tired of dudes being surprised when I’m “actually good” at this sport. I’m sick of the arrogance, invisibilization, sexualization, and hypermasculinity.
In working as a mountain bike instructor this summer, I saw and experienced sexism every day, be it when the young boys I was coaching bullied other girls for not being fast enough, or when my ignorant male coworkers tried to mansplain that we live in a post-sexist era. The outdoor world is rife with sexist discrimination, and we certainly do need “bros” to “sit down” and “be humble,” as the lyrics of “Ferda Girls” insist.
But there’s another thing going on here in this “remix” of Kendrick Lamar’s music video: “Ferda Girls” is appropriative.
In a piece for “Everyday Feminism,” contributor Maisha Z. Johnson explains that the appropriation of Black culture happens “when other people take elements of traditionally Black culture without knowledge of or respect for what it means to Black folks.” In line with this definition, I will show how “Ferda Girls” appropriates elements of Black culture and Lamar’s experience.
Although much of “HUMBLE.” is characterized by Lamar flaunting his King or God-like status within hip hop, lyrics such as “I remember syrup sandwiches and crime allowances” point to his poor beginnings. In a 2015 interview for Rolling Stone, contributor Josh Eells relays how the rapper’s family “survived on welfare and food stamps,” and how Lamar suspected his father “was probably making money off the streets” – hence, the “crime allowances.” Meanwhile, “Ferda Girls” reinterprets this line as, “I remember buying my first bike with my allowances,” featuring shots of white women in the Whistler Bike Park. The way that “Ferda Girls” replaces Lamar’s experience of a black man growing up in poverty with that of class-privileged white women in the Whistler Bike Park is inappropriate at best. Worse, it’s an example of how “society cuts and commercializes pieces of Black culture for white consumption”.
“Ferda Girls” also appropriates notions of black “cool.” In an article for the Huffington Post, Dr. Darron T. Smith, a sociology professor at the University of Memphis, elaborates on the importance of “coolness” in the context of black masculinity. Drawing from Richard Majors and Janet Billson’s book, Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America, Smith writes, “Cool masculinity or ‘cool pose,’ […] is a way of being for many black males, a performance born out of the stark realities of centuries-old white supremacy and ongoing oppression.” Smith explains that there’s a long history of white people appropriating “coolness,” without remaining attentive to its history as “a way to survive the harsh brutality and environmental morass of slavery and its lingering effects.”
“Ferda Girls” is an example of such appropriation, in which white producers package and sell elements of “cool” black culture without bearing the consequences of actually being black in racist society. As Cathryn Atkinson explains in an article for Whistler’s local newspaper, the team behind “Ferda Girls” recently took home the $5,000 first prize at Whistler’s Crankworx film festival, and the video currently has over half a million views on YouTube. The makers behind “Ferda Girls” are thus able to financially and socially capitalize off of “‘acting black’ without ‘shouldering the racial burden of being black’”.
If “empowerment” looks like appropriating the work of black artists and culture and focusing on the plight of upper-class, white, able-bodied, athletic women, then we have some serious rethinking to do in terms of what “oppression” means. As white women, we need to be more critical about our position in the world by addressing how we are exploited and marginalized as well as how we are afforded unearned privileges. In practice, this probably looks like not remixing a Kendrick song for a white women’s mountain biker anthem. As bell hooks writes in feminist theory: from margin to center, “White women may be victimized by sexism, but racism enables them to act as exploiters and oppressors of black people” (16).
Until we can find a way to fight sexist oppression without appropriating experience and reinforcing the subjugation of people of color, we will continue to reinscribe white centrality and supremacy.
Put simply: find another song, folks.