That’s the question being posed over on the Medium’s Those People section in a post titled: “Black America, Please Stop Appropriating African Clothing and Tribal Marks. Yes, that means everyone at Aropunk too.“
The author of the piece, Zipporah Gene, says she’s asking this question because “Black Twitter is littered with countless examples of the uproar that ensues when White people appropriate Black culture…. but no one seems to realize that this selfsame violation is committed against us Africans — all under the guise of tribal fashion and connecting to The Motherland.” Gene says at the end of the day the result is still the same and offers this harsh critique:
You take a cultural dress, mark or trait, with all its religious and historical connotations, dilute it, and bring it out for occasions when you want to look ‘trendy’.
Ask yourself, how exactly is that any better?
I’m not trying to start a war, but I would just like you all to realize the hypocrisy of seeing someone wearing a Fulani septum ring, rocking a djellaba, painted with Yoruba-like tribal marks, all the while claiming that this is meant to be respectful. It’s a hodgepodge, a juxtaposition, a right mess of regional, ethnic and cultural customs and it screams ignorance and cultural insensitivity.
Yes, that’s right, even when worn by Black people.
I know it looks cool and the wearer looks unique, but if you look at it for what it is, it’s still cultural appropriation.
As Gene goes on to talk about the casual way in which some black people rock African garments traditionally reserved for special occasions and with no real knowledge of those origins, I can see her point. But if we look at the definition of cultural appropriation we just went over earlier: African Americans are not oppressing Africans by wearing said garments.
There’s also that African-African American connection. While I know some black people aren’t down with being labeled African American, the fact remains a lot of us here in America are descendants of Africans, specifically West Africans brought over by the slave trade. There’s a difference in reclaiming the original culture you never knew — you know the one wiped out by Europeans — and appropriating something from someone else that was never native to you to begin with.
Plus this isn’t black Americans first go ’round “experimenting,” as Gene would liken it, with African prints and traditional wear. Remember the black power movement and the resurgence of afros, kufis, and dashikis that were seen in the western world during that time? That re-adoption of cultural customs sent a powerful message about understanding and getting back to our roots (again the ones we were stripped of). While many things in society today have lost their traditional meaning, I’d argue that the racial genocide African Americans are currently experiencing has just a bit more to do with the re-emergence of these different styles of dress than wanting to simply be “trendy.”
Due to the testy relationship that’s historically existed between African Americans and Africans, I’m glad Gene acknowledged that at the end of the day, on a global scale, her gripe is “petty,” but I’d also argue its unnecessarily divisive.
Clutchettes, do you think Black people can culturally appropriate one another?
Image Credits: Medium – thsppl.com/Omar Victor Diop