Imagine having a group of people take everything away from you. Your family, your history, your culture – everything that makes up who you are and how you identify. The group of people tell you, “If you continue to express your culture we will punish you for expressing it. We will take away opportunities from you and exclude you from society unless you assimilate to our way of life. After years of being degraded and ridiculed, as a result of practising your culture, you see that the same group of people have taken your culture and used it as a fashion accessory. You point out that you created this culture yet you were miss-treated for it. Despite this, you are told to ‘shut up’ and to ‘get over it’, because ‘we’re all one race – the human race’.
This is what it feels like when black people see cultural appropriation taking place. This is what it feels like when black people see their culture being used as a fashion accessory when their ancestors had their culture taken away from them during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and this is what the dominant fashion world and white people fail to understand.
Tradition and customs are ultimately what makes African culture, not fashion. When you look at the western fashion world in general, does anything ever stay the same? Yes, we’ve seen the return of jelly sandals and bomber jackets – iconic styles of the 90’s, but trends come and go, culture doesn’t. Culture stays the same. Take the traditional kente cloth of Ghana, where I’m from – this unique cloth can be hand made in different ways but the distinctive pattern has remained the same. That is how you know it’s kente and therefore Ghanaian. The fashion world needs to understand this distinctive characteristic of culture instead of re-branding it as nothing more than a fashion item.
Elle Canada Magazine recently promoted the Dashiki as the new ‘it’ item. The new ‘it’ item? Really? Dashiki’s have been around since before my parents were even born.
The African-American – Oba (means king) Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi born 1928, created the Dashiki. At the age of 14 Adefunmi became increasingly interested in the subject of Africa and African people. When he was 20 years old, Adefunmi decided to travel to Haiti for more exposure to African culture. Soon, he returned to America and launched his African clothing line and the Dashiki was born. So, in what way is the Dashiki new? The point is, if you are going to take what is clearly not yours, and state it as ‘new’ without bothering to ACKNOWLEDGE where it originates from and how it has already been worn by BLACK people, then how can you expect black people not to get mad?
“What about black women who wear blonde weaves and blue contacts?” I am forever sick and tired of hearing this same statement being used by white people thinking they have made an amazing point to shut us down. First, blonde hair and blue contacts are not CULTURE, that’s fashion. There is nothing cultural about blonde hair or blue eyes because there is no cultural link to an ancestral past. With black braiding hairstyles there is, because braiding is part of the historical tribal customs in Africa. For example, braid patterns signify what tribe you are from and help to identity members of that tribe. Second, Caucasian people are not the only ones with naturally blonde hair. Go to the Solomon Islands and you will find the Melanesian people – black people with blonde afro hair.
When a white celebrity wears braids, cornrows or even dreadlocks it’s a new beauty trend. A black woman who has worn these same hairstyles since her ancestors walked the planet – before Caucasian people even appeared, is seen as ‘ghetto’. Zendaya’s loc’s were insulted with a white woman saying, “Her hair looks like it smells like patchouli oil or weed. Black women wearing braids, loc’s etc, are told they look ‘unprofessional’ in the workplace or that the style is ‘not suitable’ for the classroom. White orientated magazines even advertise the ‘afro’ look with no mention or portrayal of black women who are born with afro hair. Instead, we’re compared to dogs…
Some white people like to say, “How can you loose a job over a hairstyle? That’s ridiculous!” Just because it does not affect white people, it does not mean it isn’t a reality for others. This is why it is important black people are outspoken about this. Amandla Stenberg asked, “What if white America loved black people as much as it loves black culture?” This is pretty much what we see here – the white fashion world loves to use black culture yet it has no love for the people who created it in the first place.
Body features might not be seen by everyone as part of culture but let me say this – when it comes to black people, body features signify our identity and where we come from because this is part of who we are. The majority of black Caribbean and African women are naturally born with thick lips, wide noses, big hips and big bums, and the men thick lips, wide noses and naturally thick muscle. Yet, these distinct features are not portrayed as beautiful or attractive in the beauty industry – unless a white woman attains these features. I’m sure you all heard about the Kylie Jenner challenge. Do I even need to include a picture of ‘before and after’ she injected her lips, along with pictures of foolish girls sucking bottles? I don’t think so. Kylie admitted to injecting her lips because of beauty pressures. So it’s the thick lips that make a woman attractive now is it? The same thick lips black women have had since the beginning of time, yet we get no beauty recognition for it. No wonder why white women feel they can go on tumblr to declare that, ‘white girls own big bums, black girls don’t own shit’
If white girls ‘own’ big bums then why was the black female house slave, Saartjie Baartman taken from South Africa to be paraded around Europe and put on display simply because she, coming from the distinctive Khoikhoi tribe, had a much bigger bum, hips and breasts then the average ‘meaty’ black woman, white men came into contact with. If white girls own big bums then why were racist cartoons made of black characters with exaggerated big lips, hips and bums – not to mention the fact we were made to look like lazy monkeys rather than human beings? This history shows that black women were not taught to love their bodies but to think their bodies were savage, unusual and overly sexual.
Cultural appropriation makes black people mad because the white fashion world fails to acknowledge the ancestral and historical links between the culture they are appropriating and the descendants of those ancestors – black people of today. By failing to acknowledge this link they are showing no respect to something which holds deep roots for so many black people. They de-value this meaning by labelling the cultural item as ‘new’, as if what it was before was ‘old’ and is no longer relevant. If other races want to embrace black culture, fine, whatever, but please don’t act like you created it and don’t ignore the people who did, because that’s not embracing, that’s stealing. Appreciate, don’t appropriate.
Black indigenous with blonde hair: http://www.odditycentral.com/news/black-and-blond-the-origin-of-blond-afros-in-melanesia.html
Never forget Sarrarjie Baartman:
Sarrtjie Baartman film (PART 1):
Saartjie Baartman film (PART 2):
What if America love Black people as it loves Black Culture: