So there’s this article floating around the Internet making the case that black America’s love of African print clothing is cultural appropriation. I know, African Americans rocking African-inspired clothing; terrible right? *sigh* Where’s Arrested Development when you need them?
As a black girl who graduated from a PWI, still rolls my eyes at the mention of Kylie Jenner’s cornrows and is about four, five seconds from wildin’ when forced to explain why white women’s full commitment to the Crazy Eyes character come October is a no-no, I wholeheartedly understand and am sympathetic to minority’s disdain of cultural appropriation. However, as a longtime lover of African-inspired fashions, my heart shuddered at the thought of a globally and culturally-void wardrobe. The author writes:
If you’re not from an African tribe, please leave off wearing the tribal marks. Otherwise you’re participating in the very thing you vehemently speak out against.
Don’t get me wrong; the author has several valid points — the biggest being black American’s lack of knowledge regarding the meaning behind many of the tribal-infused clothing we’ve worn this past few summer seasons. But slapping the label of culture appropriation on my printed midi skirt because my birth certificate says Columbus, OH is a bit much. This isn’t some white chick’s Instagram ode to natural hair via perm rods, but rather the early stages of a race with scattered roots attempting to find ties to the continent that binds us all.
Do I wish I were more well versed on the symbolism behind African culture and traditional African garb, of course; but consider this steps in the right direction. Due to forces beyond my control, like Henry Louis Gates’ refusal to track my ancestry at a discounted rate, and a small hiccup known as the Slave Trade, I’ve been a little removed from my African heritage and blood ties to the Motherland these past few years. But I welcome the opportunity to be educated and gain a deeper understanding of the rich culture that has inspired so much of my own culture and the culture of millions of African Americans. And if education starts with an Etsy purchase courtesy of R. Reuel, I’m in.
Africans and Black Americans have some deep wounds to heal when it comes to accepting one another’s cultural similarities and differences, and I would hate to see an opportunity for unity and healthy conversation lost due to superficial Internet banter on textile. Besides, takeaway my prints and I’m basically left with polka dot and Old Navy khaki, and that’s just plain wrong.
I get it; no one likes their culture to be transformed to fit the masses. I felt the same way the day I saw Macklemore prancing down the street with Kool Moe Dee and his Cell Block 6 biceps in tow. But cultural appropriation, appreciation and degradation are three very different ideas that should not be applied in haste.
Blacks and Africans in America and across the ocean have enough issues without throwing Kente into the mix so let’s not pick a pealing scab any further. Instead let’s braid it out, exchange recipes on Chichinga and fried chicken, kiss and make up.
Oh, and if we’re playing the culture take back game, I’m calling dibs on sew-ins, S-curls, Beyonce and the Wobble.