Saturday, September 5, 2015

Are Blacks in America culturally appropriating African culture by wearing African prints and tribal marks?



I wore a dashiki today. And I adore African fabrics. I am a Black American. And my hair is kinky. Am I appropriating African culture?

An article in ThesePeople.com says that I am: “Black America, please stop appropriating African clothing and tribal marks.” 

Wait. I did not see any of this ish coming. Like none of it. I feel some kind of way about this. Because I do not feel that Black people can culturally appropriate each other. I am Black. Usually, I am mistaken for African. I consider it a compliment; fine with me. But to say that I'm appropriating African culture, when I am African American? Hold up. This ain't Rachel Dolezal we're talking about. I am not Rachel.

And to say that I’m appropriating African culture. Wait. Whuh? Dayum! Last I checked, I was Black. 

When no one was claiming anything African
Let’s back this up a bit. 20 years ago, no one wore African prints (well, very few,with the exception of conscious folks). And 30 years ago, I can remember it clearly: A kid who called you African on the playground meant those were fighting words (it’s not right, but it is what it is). To be called an ‘African booty scratcher’ was the highest form of disrespect in a kids’ world.

No one wanted to be associated with African; it was an insult (we were all brainwashed). We were the,"We are the World" generation. And nobody was checking for anything African.

Fast forward a few decades, and African prints and tribal fashions are ALL the rage. Fashion designers from Ghana and throughout the continent are hawking their African print maxi skirts, dashiki maxi skirts and African print dresses and skirts. High fashion. I'm not mad at them. They’re on mainstream runways, too, with many designers of all colors openly embracing the prints and fabrics of Africa.

And we’re wearing our hair kinky, too. And for the first time in my life, we’re embracing all of our skin tones – from the bluest black to the cocoa and coffee colors. Yaaasss! I'm seeing all kinds of memes positively supporting our African culture. And I am here for it. 

But this article is troubling, to say the least.
There’s long been this divide, a rift, between Africans and African Americans, Black Americans, Afro Americans (take your pick on the name). We’re separated by familial ties and oceans. And stereotypes have flown on both sides of the oceans for as long as we have co-existed on different shores.

‘I’m not African,” says the Black American.

‘Blacks are lazy,’ said the African.

Is this another attempt at division? 

I’ve chosen to embrace our similarities, our common ties, not our supposed differences. Cause one thing for sure, folks certainly won’t mistake me for European. And Africans and Blacks in America certainly have more in common than not. We were taught to hate the very thing that links us both together.

And so the entire article left me feeling some kind of way, as if it was reaching. The article essentially says Black folks in America have no affiliations; I beg to differ.

Which is why this article is so confusing to me. How do you know I’m not African? Did you do a DNA test? And do Africans feel some kind of way when they see me wearing African prints? This is a VERY slippery slope, because what’s next?

Am I appropriating African hair because my hair is kinky? What about skin color? My skin is the color of cocoa? Am I appropriating that, too? I like Jamaican food. Is that appropriating, too? I'm not mad at the African fashion designers making serious money because these fashions are now in vogue. 

I mean. Where does this end? One definition of cultural appropriation is profiting off another culture while not recognizing them as the source, failing to give credit. Is it wrong if you buy these items from African vendors or from companies that get their fabrics from Africa, which is stimulating their economies? 

And then I think about hair products. Is buying Shea Moisture appropriation? What about buying shea butter from Africans at flea markets? Is that appropriation, too? Where exactly does this end?

If anything, I wonder what will happen when African fabrics are no longer "trendy" and the companies in Africa that make these will have less business. That's a real concern.  

 
I get the concerns, the nuances. I’d never wear anything ritual or holy; that’s not my lane and I would never disrespect the culture or any culture as such. But what if wearing African fabrics causes me embrace that side of me as a Black person? What if it connects me to the African part of my history, my being? Makes me feel closer to something that was once shunned? Is it wrong if a Black woman in the U.S. buys an African print maxi skirt and uses it as a learning opportunity to learn more about the culture? How is that wrong?

I mean, Raven Symone still walking round here talking about she's 'American.' Whatever, Raven.

Where do we draw the line?
Am I culturally appropriating when I wear Aztec prints? Is anyone mad about that? Where exactly is the line drawn here? Cause I want to know.

Listen. We still got work to do. Cultural appropriation is a convo that needs to be had …. Among white folks. Not among us. We need to save some of the vitriol for the folks who wanna be Black until it's time to be Black ... and making bank, too. You know, the Justin Biebers, Kardashians (all 'em) and the Miley Cyrus' of the world). 

And, if anything, we need to check the fashion designers who trot out African fabrics and prints on the runways on non-Black models. If there's an example of appropriation, this would be it, IMO.
Africans and Africans in America are both marginalized. So let me be clear: Black folks culturally appropriating each other shouldn’t even be apart of this conversation.



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