Though Mars is not a descendant of any part of Africa, it’s easy to see why many assume the racially ambiguous singer is part-black: His music is infused with R&B, funk, soul, reggae and hip-hop-traditionally African-American genres.
Is Mars any different from Justin Timberlake, who has long been dogged by accusations of cultural appropriation for his R&B songs, just because he isn’t white?
“Bruno Mars 100 percent is a cultural appropriator. He is not black, at all, and he plays up his racial ambiguity to cross genres,” Sensei said in a video for The Grapevine, a web series that features panels to discuss African-American issues.
A clip of Sensei’s argument about Mars went viral on Twitter on Friday, sparking a lively debate.
“So Bruno Mars is culture appropriating now? Are you guys kidding me?” wrote one user.
Sensei, who, like Demby, lives in the D.C. area, said that while she understood the point the NPR host was trying to make, she found it “Moot.” Sensei sees the Grammy’s album of the year award as a metric of white acceptance of black artists: Bruno Mars won this year, but Beyoncé has never won.
Perhaps this debate signals a need for more nuance when it comes to the topic of cultural appropriation-or maybe, as Sensei believes, it’s simply time for Mars to face the ire his white peers are all too familiar with.