Can Black Americans Appropriate African Cultures?

By Zipporah Gene for Those People

For the life of me, I need to know:

Can Black people culturally appropriate one other?

It’s a nuanced question that seems to either set tempers aflare or create vacuums of silence in a room but, after going through pictures taken at the latest Afropunk Festival, it’s definitely one that I have to ask.

And if Blacks can, why is the disgust and uproar surrounding this ongoing phenomenon only reserved for instances when White people appropriate us?

I ask this because Black Twitter is littered with countless examples of the uproar that ensues when White people appropriate Black culture. Words such as fancy dress, mockery and profiteering are thrown around quite freely, 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.

Yes, I know that African-inspired prints are poppin’ right now and many African designers have chosen to showcase certain styles to the global fashion scene, but it appears to me and my African friends that it’s been taken a step further. I understand that, for the most part, many of my own Black American friends are well meaning when they talk about African fashion, but the end result is still the same:
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 adjellaba, 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.

It’s basically like a White Australian guy with dreadlocks, Ta moko, wearing Batik. They are all Islanders after all. So he’s not being offensive, right?

Africans may not be as vocal as Americans when it comes to appropriation rights. And I get that Black America’s history is one marred with so many injustices that I would never claim to understand. The emergence of a unified voice that is strong and proud is one that I respect and continue to applaud, but please also understand the need for us to be heard, too. Please don’t trample our rights fighting for yours.

On the scale of global issues, I admit this is petty, but it is something that should still be addressed.

Photo: Omar Victor Diop

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