Black America, please stop appropriating African clothing and tribal marks.
Zipporah Gene

  • First, *love* the use of the Euro/Asian folding paper fans in the Diop portraits you used to illustrate the piece! The irony is delicious.

Zipporah, based on your responses, it sounds like you are really trying to figure out where you stand, whether it’s marks or dress that bother you, and in what context. It is this specificity that you missed in your article. You are policing Black people in the Diaspora on their fashion and style, but it sounds like you’re talking to a monolithic Black America live and direct from the country of Africa.

We all know that misuse of garments, even within a specific culture can offend. e.g. “why every Indian wanna be the chief?” Indians can’t all just walk around in warbonnets every day. That’s not how it works. That’s special occasion wear. Dressing is a code, a language. And within each particular cultural context, dressing has a particular meaning.

I think an important distinction between us and The Others is that we DO know what we’re doing. We’re not white girls wearing warbonnets to Coachella. We’re not wearing a warbonnet at all. We’re wearing a warbonnet shaped weave (oh wait, that’s actually a bomb ass idea) with some feathers and glitter to Coachella because we have Indian in us, but in the end we’re Black.

Black Americans are masters of sample culture. We’re not lost. We’re not confused. We’re not all that misguided. To make it this far as a Black American means to have a certain critical toolkit. Many of us have an acute understanding of the meaning of the images we sample, and the ability to take that thang and make it even doper. Put some stank on it. It’s what we do. That being said, we are really not trying to be y’all. Rest assured we are not cultural hijackers and we’re not at a loss for creativity. Also, we have a good thing going here. We’re engaging in a little of what some of you call Sankofa. Take a pinch from the throwback pile mix it with a tad of what we got going on and keep steppin’. That’s not to say that Africa is always in the past tense, but in terms of heritage, it’s in OUR past. You get that, right, we got Africa in our gene pool, skin, naps… so sometimes we want it in our prints and patterns too.

Also, importantly: I’m not too into the ‘tribal’/Dutch lost wax print stuff these days, but I really see Black Americans wearing these looks as more of a nod to our parents’ generation of dashiki-wearing “Say It Loud I’m Black And I’m Proud”ness and the 90s kente cloth (print) looks. Sorry girl, I see it as a nostalgic remixing (like most fashion), not appropriation.

So, to sum: We’re sampling, with good reasons. Last ditch offer: if you want to paint a broad-stroked Us. vs. Them, I propose we meet in the Atlantic Ocean. You hand over hip hop, we’ll hand over dashikis. Until then, stay focused on becoming comfortable with your own flavor, identity, and self-expression.


*Edit*: I just had a flashback to my undergrad days of studying batik in Ghana and loving me some Yinka Shonibare and remembered that Dutch wax prints are actually European reproductions of Asian fabrics that become popular in Africa…. tsk tsk I’m so over this mess!

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