Black Americans Wearing African Clothing Is NOT Cultural Appropriation

Maya Angelou and Malcolm X

Maya Angelou and Malcolm X in Ghana

The internet has unfortunately become a cesspool for the most simplistic arguments to be sensationalized. The latest finger pointing bandwagon phrase to hit the net is “cultural appropriation.” It’s being slaughtered, with a slew of would be  writers refusing to actually research the meaning of the term before tossing it around carelessly. So is the case with a recent article declaring, that Black Americans were culturally appropriating African cultures by wearing African clothing. It goes without saying, that this bold assertion is as deprived of history, logic and critical analysis as “reverse racism.”

Part I: Let’s begin with the definition of appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is when a dominant culture takes, claims and establishes itself the creator of the cultural heritage and artifacts of a minority and or marginalized culture thereby erasing the history of the marginalized culture.

In Neo-Slave Narratives: Studies of a Social Logic in Literary Form, African American studies professor Ashraf H. A. Rushdy describes appropriation and how it operates:

Something gets appropriated by something else when a productive or expressive form or practices, let’s say jazz or blues or agricultural methods for growing rice, develops within one disempowered cultural group but gets used by and enriches only or mostly another empowered cultural group. The distinction between cultural groups has to do most emphatically with each group’s relationship to power, controlling the means of material production and controlling the means to mental production.

Rushdy continues:

One of the marks of that relationship between an empowered and a disempowered cultural group is that the empowered group is able to take possession of those material products, physical labors, and cultural forms and practices developed within the disempowered group. Once that something is “appropriated” it no longer functions to enrich materially or to empower socially those within whose cultural group that something developed. (p. 175)

Using Rushdy’s explanation, Black Americans as African descendants are not appropriating African cultures by wearing African clothing. The oppressive power dynamics, the enrichment that excludes African cultures, the means of controlling the material production of African clothing on the part of Black Americans is non-existent. Nor can Black American power dynamics with African cultures be compared with the power dynamics of colonial power structures that stifled Africa’s progress as was outlined in Guyanese Pan African scholar Walter Rodney’s, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

Part II: Black History Is African History

The historical experience of Black Americans does not begin with slavery. It begins in Africa. This is a shocking plot twist to those wishing to disconnect Black Americans from African cultures. We did not emerge out of thin air, but are instead a mixture of African people of multiple ethnic groups predominantly from Western Africa. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery did not erase the cultural legacy of Black Americans anymore than colonialism erased the cultural legacy of African ethnic groups.

During the slave trade and chattel slavery the ancestors of Black Americans, Afro-Latinos and Afro-Caribbean people were often prevented from speaking their African languages and practicing their religions. Furthermore, the dominant Western culture demonized all aspects of Black African cultures. Still, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society and later the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787, which is to date one of the oldest Black American institutions in the United States of America.

They named it the “African” Methodist Episcopal Church for a reason. It was a reflection of how they viewed themselves in America. They spoke no African languages, they wore no African clothing because those things were not readily available to them. But they insisted on embracing everything about their heritage that they had access to.

Over the last 228 years, a lot of changes have taken place including the ability to reconnect with aspects of African cultures that were cut off by oppressive systems.

These reconnections are not without complications.

However, claiming that Black Americans are committing the same cultural appropriation as whites when wearing African clothing demonstrates a gross lack of basic level critical thinking skills. One can not compare attempts to reconnect to cultural origins with oppressive attempts to erase an ethnicity’s cultural legacy. Even if some Black Americans may not understand the full deeper religious meaning of various prints or tribal paints, that is completely different from seeking to erase the achievements and history of a culture’s artifacts, which is what cultural appropriation does.

Furthermore, the assumption that all Black Americans do not know the deeper meaning of various tribal prints or paints is without merit. This is especially the case due to the rising amount of African descendants converting to traditional African religions or at least bonding with various symbolic references from these religions. One can not assume, that the wearer does not know the meaning simply because they are Black American. It could be the case that they know the meaning and that’s why they wore it. It’s complicated, layered and not always executed properly, but still not appropriation.

Part III: Africa Is Not A Country, Blackness Does Not Exist In A Vacuum

Nkrumah and Dubois

Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, both attended Lincoln University, the first degree granting Historically Black College in the U.S. Nkrumah, an avid Pan Africanist, often cited the interconnectedness among all members of the Pan African World, working closely with Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois. Nkrumah is well known for his vision of a unified Africa with strong linkages to the Pan African World. “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me,” said Nkrumah.

Making the statement that “if you do not belong to an African tribe, don’t wear tribal print,” is exclusionary to people that may not know the exact tribe of their family’s origin. It’s even furthermore complicated because as a mixed people, Black Americans actually come from many different tribes. Everyone does not have the privilege of knowing what tribes they come from, but they still carry the cultural heritage of those groups.

I was fortunate enough to trace my maternal lineage, with the help of AfricanAncestry.com’s DNA program. My own maternal ancestors are from the Tikar ethnic groups in modern day Cameroon. Does this mean that I suddenly became the spokesperson for all things Tikar? The answer is no. But it does mean that I have a cultural and ancestral connection that extends beyond the history of U.S. chattel slavery and any attempts to reconnect with that at best can be viewed as cultural appreciation or acculturation depending on my proximity to members of that ethnic group. The artistry and craftsmanship that my grandmother exhibited through her quilts, statues, paintings and instruments represent her heritage as a direct descendant of the Tikar people, even though she did not know she came from this ethnic group.

This can not and never will be cultural appropriation. You can not appropriate that which is your own.

Additionally, there are thousands of different types of African cultures and sub-groups. Ethnic groups on the continent and throughout the diaspora borrow from one another through cultural exchanges. Exchanging languages, religions, foods, musical styles and clothing. Members of various African ethnic groups often wear the tribal prints and jewelry of other ethnic groups simply based on liking the style. There is no reason Black Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Latinos should be excluded from this cultural exchange. Additionally, on the economic front, many marketplace sellers and African fashion designers would cringe at the thought of limiting their work to only within the confines of their tribe.

That’s not how this works.

Black Americans and other children of the African Diaspora are included in the Pan African cross-cultural process as evidenced by the spread of hip hop music throughout Africa and the creation of Rastafari communities in South Africa and Tanzania. These are both stylistic and religious exchanges that no reasonable person views as appropriation.

Part IV: Lack of Knowledge Affects Everyone, Not Just Black Americans

Miseducation and Eurocentric thinking taught through colonialism, slavery and Western education affects all members of the Pan African World in varying levels, not just Black Americans.

The need to assert authority over Africanity in the face of other African descendants is a pettiness that stems from the designed disenfranchisement of the Pan African world. It also unknowingly reaffirms anti-Black sentiments by denying the nuanced experiences and cultural heritages of all people of African descendant. Instead relying on a limited non-layered perspective of Africanity.

Additionally, the faux concern about Black American knowledge of African prints would be more believable if critics were offering classes and books that share the deeper meaning on various tribal prints.

Part V: We’ve been told the same lie.

The limited interaction between continental Africans and African descendants is highly influenced by western based miseducation and media (in both Africa and North America) that promotes anti-Blackness at every turn, leaving African descendants and Africans on the continent circling in an endless cycle of confusion and rage uselessly aimed at each another.

This leads some Black Americans to make illogical declarations like, “I’m Black Not African American,” as if Black Land is a thing that magically exists outside of Africa. Upon asking, when did they stop being African, the response will include some gibberish about not speaking an African language, not having a red carpet laid out for them when they went to Africa and the misguided belief that Jesse Jackson created the term “African American.”

No one has yet been able to answer Malcolm X’s question, “If a cat has kittens in an oven, does that make them biscuits?”

Meanwhile, some Africans will proclaim more pride in being French or British than Senegalese, Ghanaian or Nigerian. Upon asking, why they perceive Western cultures to be superior, the response will include a puzzling look as to why you don’t understand that everything white is just better.

We’ve all been told the same lie, that somehow being African is “less-than” believing that it is more refined to be disconnected from Africanity. This has lead to many of us needlessly tearing each other apart. And make no mistake, all levels of anti-Blackness around the world stems from the historical Eurocentric perspective that African people are subhuman.

As children, Black Americans often used heard the term, “African booty scratcher.” I was called African Booty Scratcher daily, being a little dark skinned Black girl with short nappy hair. This term was not reserved for African immigrants but for all dark-skinned children. Black children were reiterating the negative stereotypes of African people that surrounded us on a daily basis through media, the Western education system and older generations. And it hurt.

In fact, there is a meme floating around the net that says, “You called me an African Booty Scratcher in school. Now you’re wearing a dashiki.”

Yet few who circulate this meme will admit that their parents also held onto negative stereotypes of Black Americans and Jamaicans, often attempting to keep them away. Using their own derogatory terms to describe them.

Though this generation has more opportunities to form cross-cultural bonds than our parents, there are those among us that are harboring hurt. And turning this pain into a “you can’t share my toy attitude.” It’s time to grow up. We’re not on the playground anymore.

We are all hurting, because we’ve been taught to believe the same lies.

In Conclusion:

Black Americans, Jamaicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Black Canadians, Afro-Caribbeans, whatever you want to call us, are members of the Pan African family. Wearing African clothing and tribal print is more revolutionary and impactful than upholding any stereotypes, slurs or one writer’s shortsightedness.

Our progress depends on our interconnectedness.

Over 400 years ago, many of us were torn from the shores of our homelands in Africa. We were beaten for speaking our languages, shunned for our skin, raped, murdered and brutalized. Some of us tossed ourselves over the sides of ships in order to see freedom through death. We have witnessed our family members hanging from trees. We have survived a horror like no other and still have the unmitigated gall to walk around in 2015 with our tribal print and paint. Our ancestors are somewhere smiling.

Despite not being born in Africa, like Nkrumah proclaimed, Africa was born in us. Overthrowing the tools of oppressive systems, gaining self knowledge and reconnecting with our origins may not always be perfect or without growing pains. But it is not and never will be cultural appropriation.

It’s a layered, nuanced, complicated triumph.

 

 

P.S.

I am a member of the North American Delegation of the 8th Pan African Congress.  To be included on our mailing list email OurLegaci@gmail.com.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com. Follow JAM @TweetingJAM and Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

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78 thoughts on “Black Americans Wearing African Clothing Is NOT Cultural Appropriation

  1. As usual, on point and right on time! What that girl wrote was pure foolishness. I could barely finish reading her article. Maybe if she dared to pick up a book, she would learn something. Thanks for this thorough write up.

    • Thank you! We must promote knowledge and truth as much as possible because the internet has made it easy for ignorance to be shared and applauded.

      • My first time reading your article or any of your work,very interesting and it talks to me as African in Africa. .I would just like to get the article that you are responding to..where can I find..thanks for good piece.

  2. Black Americans, Jamaicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Black Canadians, Afro-Caribbeans, whatever you want to call us, are members of the Pan African family. Wearing African clothing and tribal print is more revolutionary and impactful than upholding any stereotypes, slurs or one writer’s shortsightedness.

    Our progress depends on our interconnectedness.
    Very well said! You said quite a mouthful Jessica. You really nailed it. I’ll have to share this post.

  3. Thank you so much for this! It was really needed. I cannot appropriate that which is my own. I’ve been repeating this multiple times throughout the weekend. Great way to summarize all of the view points anout this topic.

  4. Pingback: Black Americans Wearing African Clothing Is NOT Cultural Appropriation | Our Legaci | Habari Gani, America!
    • Thank you for reading and sharing MsAfropolitan. We have to always counter misinformation with the truth, strongly and firmly. Thanks for your support.

  5. Thank you. While we are here nitpicking about what to call ourselves and who is wearing what, we are a living target!! Really, the ones who wish to erase us from history don’t care what we wear, what we label ourselves or where we come from. Once your skin is black, you are black. If we spent 1/4 of the energy building our communities, rather than tearing one another down, we’d be MUCH better off.

  6. Thank you so much for being very well-researched!! We do so much complaining of the lack of knowledge that we forget to actually do our research and we forget to actually attempt to educate people instead of criticizing things that we do not understand fully ourselves! This was a refreshing write-up in response to the the writing of the person who wrote the piece that was severely lacking in facts, knowledge, intellect, and critical thinking that perpetuate the same stereotypical thinking that all African People Around the World struggle to eradicate. Your insights are very similar to mine as I’m married to a Ghanaian, my father has traced his maternal line to the Tikar tribe as your maternal line, my mother’s maternal slave ancestors held on to identifying that they were from Guinea throughout slavery and after, and I perform and study West African Dance, Drum and History. We have to work hard to continue to provide facts, knowledge, and support to all African People so that we can build each other up instead of continuously investing in the players, systems, stereotypes, and ideas that tear us apart.

    • Thank you for commenting and sharing your story. Yes, we have very similar stories. It’s important that we remember our stories and hold on to our legacy no matter what. Welcome Tikar sister!

  7. I’m Ghanaian and i think your article is stupid and ridiculous. African Americans have the right to live in Africa without any problem or wear clothing from Africa, you don’t speak for everyone in Africa.

    • I think you meant to comment on the article I was responding to. This article, if you will take time to read it, actually agrees with your sentiments.

    • Osei this article was a response to the one that said African Americans wearing African clothing was cultural appropriation. You’re commenting on the wrong article

  8. Hello,

    I think that your article is very interesting, and so is the one you are responding to. From my point of view, both articles raise important and interesting points, and both seem fairly one-sided.
    If I intellectually understand that many people cannot retrace their lineage, it does not mean that everything can be worn in any kind of way, and that skin color will give a pass. On an other side, I do not see the problem of someone wearing African Clothing or other, as long as it is done with respect. Especially if it foster a connection, and that is the main point.
    You can not change the fact that some type of jewellery, markings and clothing are made for specific purpose, and wearing them outside of those is offensive. The one feeling offended do not owe you to feel differently because you share ancestry. However, anything worn with respect should be respected, and nobody gets to tell you not to wear it because that person wants only the people he/she can clearly identify of his/her ethnicity to wear it. It is like asking for a DNA test before to wear something, ridiculous.
    The case of African-Americans is very specific. You see, I am French with 70-80% of African Descent. In France, for example you state your nationality and then if somebody ask, your Ancestry (we say “origin/roots”). My father was born in Ivory Coast and raised in Benin, and my mother is half French(and other)/ half Malian. Mainly for family and money reasons, I have not been to Mali, my mother’s country, before 18 years old. You see, Europe is just “above” Africa (geographically), so many 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc generation people go on holidays whenever they can on the Continent. I for one, did not get to learn any African Languages. Yet, y father speaks many, but I grew up with my mom, who was raised by her French grandmother. Even like that, I did connected in various ways with West African Culture. I am Bambara and Soninke on my mother side, Yoruba and Fula on my father side. They are many things I don’t know and crave to learn, and in here, not speaking any African Language and not being recognize various thing is not the norm, it is more of a shame. Also, I am quite fairskinned, so “not a real black” to many people’s standard here. Yet my crave to learn does not allow me to do whatever I want to reconnect. I would not wear anything from the 4 ethnies I talked about, unless being sure it is appropriate. I am lucky enough to have a connection and know where I am from, though it does not give me extra knowledge, but I do not think that ignoring your Ancestry means you can wear anything in anyway you like.

    What I like from your article is how knowledgeable you are, how you have done your research, and the pride you are writing with. Yet it seems that on the behalf on your own feeling, it is ok to trample other’s ones. We are both living in predominantly white country, but bear in mind that, among people with African Ancestry, our nationality makes us part of the one with privileged, as difficult as it can seems sometimes. Therefore, when you are arguing about your own rights of doing something, whether it hurts others, in this case people born and raised in the African Continent, who see people wearing their markings or special clothing in way they deem inappropriate, you are indeed making yourself more important. Not all ethnicity in Africa gets along, they do not see themselves as being all brothers and sisters, and the concept of being one big family was birthed in Western Countries.

    In the street of Paris, letting alone non-African people’s reactions, if you wear some sacred clothing or marking in a inappropriate way, things are more likely to go south. However, if you wear it the right way, you might get compliments, even if you are actually from a different African ethnicity (I love Tuareg necklace and bought a few in Bamako from Tuareg travelers). I think outside America, in every Diasporas with more or less connection to the continent, it is how it is going to be. I guess the main problem, is about knowing what you are wearing, and if it’s ok to. An other way to ask yourself, is, “would I walk like this in Accra/Dakar/Nairobi’s streets” ? Especially on the Continent, they are liberties you do not want to take, and people you do not want to offend (culturally speaking I mean, when it comes to the amount of coverage and stuff, it’s an other story). Once you know you are not insulting a special rite or anything, go for it.

    What do you think ?

    • Thanks for your thoughtful article. Yes, it is important to have knowledge of clothing and prints that we wear, especially if they could have a religious or spiritual significance. However, it is important to also understand that even if a Black American makes the mistake of wearing something in the wrong context, that is not cultural appropriation. And also, as you pointed out, if worn properly they can receive many compliments, as I have before in my travels to 5 African countries. It’s about learning, growing, being respectful and also being embraced. However it must be understand that even if done with flaws, wearing Black Americans wearing African clothing can not be cultural appropriation, because that word denotes colonial power dynamics that Black Americans do not have with Africans on the continent. Furthermore, Black Americans are also Africans in a different context. The issue is not about being able to trample upon the rights and feelings of others, but knowing how and when to use terminology. It is important that we have dialogue and understand each other. However, using the wrong terminology in these discussions can cause more confusion and pain. As you have pointed out in your response, this issue is extremely complex and people can not simplistically compare Black Americans to white colonial oppressors. That is going way too far and completely off base, which is what the article we are addressing did. I enjoyed reading your comment, thanks for providing additional insight 🙂

      • You’re wrong about African Americans not having power over Africans. The establishment of Liberia is proof positive of the dominance and privilege African American people have over Africans. It is disrespectful and hypocritical to call out white people for not taking the time to understand historical and cultural context of what is essentially African American pop culture and refuse to acknowledge
        African ethnic diversity that mandates African culture. The refusal of African Americans to explore African identity through African people, opting instead to wear fabrics and face paint and claim an affinity for an African identity while simultaneously ignoring African immigrants that could teach ethnic identity. This is why it is cultural appropriation. There is a fundamental lack of respect that comes from Western privilege that gives African Americans the sense that they don’t have to learn about Africa and that resonates through these sloppy attempts to claim an African identity without proper education.

    • Don’t worry since they’re in America there’s a little to no chance native africans will be offended . Do the the traditional clothes being worn over there and not in Africa.

  9. I apologize, I was already horribly long, but I need to add something. Your ancestors are not the only ones who have suffered, and most of the African Continent is STILL suffering, you do not get to compare pain, and use it to justify this kind of properly offensive comment ““you can’t share my toy attitude.” It’s time to grow up. We’re not on the playground anymore.” We are talking about important makings, clothing and jewellery representing sacred moment and rite of different culture, comparing them to toys is offensive, derogatory and oppressive, and I am seriously offended at this. There IS a different between everyday attire and those, and I do not see how you can justify this kind of attitude.

    That is all, I promise I’ll stop writing, good week to you.

    • Again, this is not about comparing oppressions. I am well versed in the history of what has happened in Africa, which is why I referred readers to the book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. You are right, we are talking about important issues, but what we can’t do is trivialize the Black American experience and hold African artifacts hostage, with no real analysis. That is why I called it a “you can’t share my toy attitude.” Because the very usage of African clothing and artifacts was trivialized by attempting to separate them from African descendants, as if to criminalize Black Americans for daring to still value African cultures. And every African article of clothing is not sacred. Many are and many aren’t. Furthermore it is condescending to assume that those same important markings and clothing are not sacred to Black Americans as well. The offensive part is when we allow ignorance to allow members of the Pan African world to denigrate one another for attempting to reconnect, instead of attempting to educate.

      • Thank you for both your answers :). Sorry for the delay, I did not get notified ! I am happy to see people like you writing, and truly enjoy the read and conversation. Good continuation !

  10. Why doesn’t anyone open up a dictionary anymore? These words like cultural apportion and feminism would easily be answered if people could comprehend definitions. Great article by the way

  11. I’ve seen the “original” article and I’ve had many thoughts on it. Firstly I think he stance is petty and I think she’s wrong. However I do think there is an underlying issue that causes some people of African background who have not been born or grew up in the US to feel this need to draw a distinction. I moved to the US in my 20’s growing up under a totally different culture then here and while there is a lot that is the same or similar, a lot is also very different. I’ve found myself have to respond to some African Americans who seem to deem my culture to be not really “black”. When the “growing up black” hashtag craze was on, to me some where not really growing up black but directly growing up African American and while i just looked at it as a show of how different yet beautiful various black cultures can be, to others I know it was just annoying. Years ago when you said black in most places you thought of what can generically be called the African culture from Africa itself. Now when non-blacks hear the work black they think America, hip hop, and everything that seems to belong in a Medea movie. I might be wrong, but maybe, that is the issue that brings these sort of thoughts and ideas expressed by the writer to the surface. It can be taken that all the various black cultures are being eroded by one specific America Urban Black sub culture. They are just trying to not disappear. They are just doing it in the wrong way. That’s just my two cents.

    • You make good points here, too. But also how “blackness” is being imposed on Africa/Africans in different ways than it has been in the past. Colonization and enslavement are two distinct sets of experiences and it is difficult to hear African Americans impose ‘blackness’ on Ashanti – as people who are also Ghanaians – and for whom Blackness has not been a powerful social category. Even words like the ‘n-word’ don’t appear in the regular language but has started to be imposed and taken up. I think both articles make important points and I’m glad the author here made sure to clarify that it’s not the same as when white people appropriate. But I also worry about how we keep silencing the voice of Africans by telling them that they don’t know how to ‘properly feel’ about all of this and that their pain (the pain of colonization and forced Christianization – I mean, how many Congolese were slaughtered, torutured, enslaved, and maimed by the Dutch), and perhaps their fears about the way that many African Americans have embraced white American consumer culture – I don’t know. There’s something there, no? There’s value in what that author said – and this one, too, about needing to be respectful in reclaiming and reconnecting. I think that’s all that can be expected to happen. Thoughtful, loving respect.

  12. Thank you so much for this…I have been expressing these thoughts, much less eloquently, for a long time. I have even heard some Black people say, “A white South African is more African than me.” Hurt my heart. I have been privileged to be adopted into a Kenyan community at my church. They share their language, food, clothing, culture, and village mentality when raising children with my husband, children and myself. I can’t say how much I love it. I know I am not likely descended from Kenya, but I feel like I have found a home I’ve never been to, when I sing in Swahili or Luo. It’s amazing. I encourage everyone to find friends from African countries, learn about their culture, and eat their food, which is divine, and immerse yourself in something that goes beyond the shores of the United States. It’s a beautiful thing.

  13. Thank you for clarifying this for those who have chosen the act of policing culture as they see it. The words, along with others, are two words I have grown to despise lately.

    Our enslaved ancestors didn’t completely eliminate certain elements of their culture from their homelands when they assimilated in America or elsewhere as some seem to think.

  14. The word appropriation is probably not the best and the comparison with the white australian was wrong. But the fact that it’s your culture is not a excuse to mess with it . Using religious signs outside of the context is wrong. Mixed differents culture like africa is one big country is wrong too. African Americans still Americans and still benefit from imperialism so stop comparing the afropean or african reality with the afroamerican reality. Stop saying that if we don’t agree we need to stop watching your movies or wearing your clothes .Our voices are shut down because when it comes to black people your are the reference. Now I just feel like you refuse to hear us . It’s a very imperialist and occidental way of thiking. You don’t have to agree but respect the voices of afropean or african people when they express their opinion /feelings.

    • Where in her article did she say “stop watching out movies and wearing our clothes.” No where in her article did she say that. And she was very respectful and truthful throughout this article. Perhaps your hurt feelings are overriding what she actually said. Because its obvious you didn’t read the article. I’m so thankful that most African people do not agree with your sentiments.

  15. Ugh …The original article annoyed me and this article annoyed me more! Clothing is clothing and every non African is welcome to wear African clothing in my book. Partly because most African print comes from Amsterdam. And Mostly because cultural appropriation can not tie into books, food and art (clothing falls in there) due to the definition. My definition differs from yours in that cultural appropriation is the robbing of ones culture to treat as a trope, a costume or a punch line. i.e wearing a fulani earring as a septum piercing to show how “afro-fashionable” you are at afro-punk. Pan-African culture is a free for all but my tribes face markings, our tattoos and our significant cultural pieces are my tribes and my tribes alone. I would not let a fellow countryman from another tribe rock my tribes markings why should African-Americans get a pass? You are trying to erase the uniqueness of my tribesmen by claiming our culture as your own. Do you go to Native Americans and say I am an 1/18th Cherokee so I am going to rock this headdress at Afro-punk ? No! Then why do African tribes have to be your trope ? Your proof that you are super black does not have to come from my tribes markings. You have no idea how hard we (our ancestors) had to fight to keep our tribes alive and you are basically saying we are all black so go ahead and make tribal markings less important

    • That is not what she’s saying at all. She’s simply stating the fact that Black Americans wearing them is not “cultural appropriation.” She also highlighted the need for knowledge and understanding but never once did she minimize the importance of tribal markings. Furthermore, if you’re suggesting that Black Americans wearing them, some how decreasing their value, maybe you need to take a look at yourself and how you’re assuming that Black Americans don’t value them as well. And no that is not the same as some one claiming to be 1/18 Cherokee. We know for a fact that Black Americans come directly from Africa and are descendants of those same tribes, you are trying to disconnect them with.

      • You are not descendants of “that” same tribe. You are descendants of a SPECIFIC tribe. Find out which tribe that is and rep them but you can’t be repping Fulani tribe markings unless you are Fulani! There are hundreds of thousands of tribes in Africa you can not just willy nilly decide to wear a tribe’s markings that you do not belong to because that is disrespect.
        I AM saying she is minimizing tribal markings when she says that every black person should be allowed to wear whatever tribal markings they want. Why can’t there be a modicum of respect towards my tribes culture? If we say we are disrespected when you wear our tribal markings to Afro-punk why can’t you accept that and say I did not know that was to wear st specific occasions, I will do better next time? Why does it have to be, well I am black and I say i can wear it wherever the fuck I want.

        In terms of the Cherokee part, I was trying to say someone who is part Cherokee would not wear a head dress to Afropunk, because they know that a head dress is specific to a certain occasion and place or maybe they are not ranked high enough in the tribe to wear it. Why can’t African tribes get that same amount of respect?

      • Once again, you didn’t read the article. You claim African Americans don’t know history but neither do you. As the author pointed out, African Americans are NOT descendants of one tribe. They are a mixture of many different tribes. Do you only think that only one tribe was enslaved? Are you that deprived of books? Do you know nothing?

        And no she is not minimizing tribal marks. She didn’t say that everyone can wear them. She didn’t say everyone can wear what ever they want. She said that Blacks are trying to reconnect and their attempts to reconnect (whether or not it is flawed) should not be called cultural appropriation. That is what this article is about. You keep trying to make it about something else . And who is “we”? You don’t even know the context in which people were wearing them. You don’t even know if they practice traditional African religions. You know nothing about them and why they wore it. You don’t even know if they were born on the continent of Africa. You don’t even know if they took a DNA test and found out what tribe there were from and were honoring their tribe. You just saw Black people wearing tribal print and made assumptions. All you have is a bunch of assumptions. Nothing else.

    • Stop trolling you claim to be dominican now trying to be like the European opressers and bash African Americans just stop stealing African culture.

  16. But American Blacks do have power and privilege. The way Euro-American supremacy protects itself is by passing on crumbs to people of color via their (perceived) proximity to whiteness: whether by being light skinned, or speaking the right language with the right accent, or wealth and being educated in their institutions, or geographical proximity.

    In the case of being American Black, proximity to whiteness means that even if you are underrepresented in American media, you are overrepresented relative to other Afro people in global media. Most books, most films, most stories being made public about Afro experiences are made for that perspective. Africa, which makes up more than 90% of the world’s Afro population, is severely underrepresented in institutions of “global” storytelling, which are often based in Europe and the US- from film to publishing companies to media organizations. Even our most prominent voices are of people who were raised or educated or are based in the US or in Europe.

    And this is why some Africans will get testy about having their cultural items be misrepresented, and that’s why they’ll call it ‘appropriation’, not because they’re lacking in “logic, history or critical analysis” but because they see how the strings of power run. When you don’t honor the specificity of the culture that you’re wearing, whatever your intentions, you could end up participating in and contributing to the same systems of Euro-American supremacy that we’re trying to dismantle. The systems that represent Africans as a monolithic continent of ignorant savages. The ones that demonize Black men in the US as descendants of these savages. It’s all interconnected and yes, some people in that conversation might come off as being petty (as happens in every conversation of this sort), but there is a genuine shame at constantly seeing yourself misrepresented in the media that could cause people to be hyper-vigilant. Also, let’s be real, the people who attend AfroPunk are usually educated and middle class, if not upwardly mobile. They should know better.

    I may not agree with the original article, I honestly can’t think of an instance when I’d mind someone wearing clothes from my community, as long as it’s coming from a place of genuine curiosity and respect and not using my culture as a trendy costume. I appreciate that you wrote this article, just as I appreciate the initial article. Not because I agree with either of you but because I think it’s a good thing to have conversations between African peoples. Junot Diaz talks about how, often, people of color write to whiteness and not to one another, and I think that conversations like this are a frustrating yet necessary part of building dialog amongst ourselves.

    And I’m all for PanAfrican unity, (as I am for unity within feminist communities) I just don’t like when “unity” is shouted over and over again to dismiss valid voices of dissent within the community.

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  19. Thanks Jessica- great article! I will be sharing your wonderfully written piece also.

    Also in response to the Zipporah Gene article and blog, I found this post on facebook and would like to share.
    There’s also a petition at the end so please feel free to check it out.

    by Gazi Kodzo:
    …I’m serving morning tea.
    Zipporah is the blogger that wrote that article called “African Americans stop Appropriating African Clothing and culture.”
    This is the photo that drove her to write that stupid blog post. This tweet was written by her on the 1st and her blog was posted on the 3rd. The funny thing about this picture is….everyone in this picture in African clothing is African Continental….not “African American”…lmao.
    Young Paris (Milandou Badila) is a world famous musician from the DR Congo.
    Ntangou Badila is a famous artist from the DR Congo
    Kwabena Samuel Nana Ofosu-Ware is a world renowned fashion designer from Ghana.
    This “reporter” saw a picture taken in Brooklyn and assumed everyone there was born and raised in america…
    What’s “Not Cool” is her divisive tactics against African people. You see we are such One People that she couldn’t even tell the difference by sight.
    Before I go…let me be petty. I find it funny that she ONLY clings to “her African culture” when she wants to shame other Africans. While her Facebook is filled with pictures of her white boyfriend and her many trips to Asia. Her food blog is filled with nothing but Asian and British foods that she tries to make for her white boyfriend. Maybe if she spent less time wishing she was Chinese and serving her white man she would have known who these three famous and very talented Africans were.
    Hope yall enjoyed your morning tea.
    Have a great day Africans! All Africans! Diaspora and Continental! We are One People! Touch one, Touch all!
    Uhuru!
    Let’s do something positive and sign this Petition http://www.AfricansChargeGenocide.org

  20. Thanks Jessica- great article! I will be sharing your wonderfully written piece also.

    Also in response to the Zipporah Gene article and blog, I found this post on facebook and would like to share.
    There’s also a petition at the end so please feel free to check it out.

    by Gazi Kodzo:
    …I’m serving morning tea.
    Zipporah is the blogger that wrote that article called “African Americans stop Appropriating African Clothing and culture.”
    This is the photo that drove her to write that stupid blog post. This tweet was written by her on the 1st and her blog was posted on the 3rd. The funny thing about this picture is….everyone in this picture in African clothing is African Continental….not “African American”…lmao.
    Young Paris (Milandou Badila) is a world famous musician from the DR Congo.
    Ntangou Badila is a famous artist from the DR Congo
    Kwabena Samuel Nana Ofosu-Ware is a world renowned fashion designer from Ghana.
    This “reporter” saw a picture taken in Brooklyn and assumed everyone there was born and raised in america…
    What’s “Not Cool” is her divisive tactics against African people. You see we are such One People that she couldn’t even tell the difference by sight.
    Before I go…let me be petty. I find it funny that she ONLY clings to “her African culture” when she wants to shame other Africans. While her Facebook is filled with pictures of her white boyfriend and her many trips to Asia. Her food blog is filled with nothing but Asian and British foods that she tries to make for her white boyfriend. Maybe if she spent less time wishing she was Chinese and serving her white man she would have known who these three famous and very talented Africans were.
    Hope yall enjoyed your morning tea.
    Have a great day Africans! All Africans! Diaspora and Continental! We are One People! Touch one, Touch all!
    Uhuru!
    Let’s do something positive and sign this Petition http://www.AfricansChargeGenocide.org

    • I know I’m a year late but that had me rolling I’m like she couldn’t tell that they were born and from Africa 😂. She made dumb ass of the year for 2016 folks are still talking about it.

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. The writer of the article to which this response is referring to stated that she was being trivial, yet she took the time to “put it out there” and shame something SHE clearly didn’t understand. This article is virtually how I reacted verbatim. Shunning your African brothers and sisters because you were able to stay “home” and be immersed in your own culture is a privilege. As a black American I don’t have that luxury; we don’t have the languages, tribes, cultural dishes or the tribal prints we should’ve had which makes me feel kind of lost in that respect. But we do have a rich history and a connection to our “home” so embracing it is a step in the right direction in my opinion, however misguided it may look. This isn’t a trend for a lot of us, deprogramming the Eurocentric “Willie Lynch” mentality and reclaiming WHO we really are, especially in our current racial climate, is a imperative and a priority.

  22. Excellent writing.

    My only problem is labeling the following statement: “I’m Black Not African American” as ‘illogical.’

    It is absolute foolishness surrounded by a wonderful display of wit, class, and intellect, and actually made me think less of you for stating it. I call myself Black American for many reasons. The biggest reason is one of your own talking points: that Africa is not a country. When people (mostly white people) use African American, they have a natural assumption that you’re black, yet one of your largest arguments focuses on the diversity of African culture. By calling us African American, they have pitted us all together into one group despite numerous people of various races and cultures living in Africa. This leads to confusion. An Arab or Asian or White African is no longer considered African, for example. More problematic, your statement, as well as the term African American, largely goes with the assumption that all Black people the world over have one culture. I use Black American, Afro Latino;etc. apart from African American because it shows the sheer breath of our cultural reach. Japanese, Chinese, and Indian people all exist within Asia, but often say they’re Indian-American, or Japanese American, to show where their culture origins lie. In essence, I do the same thing when I say that I am Black American – a descendant of Black slaves. Our culture experience is NOT the same one that Africans have encountered. Your idea that we are all African American, even if we don’t even identify as African, gives off the idea of culture homogeneity, which funnily, is one of the very things you’re arguing against.

    Further, this statement is offensive given that you know your roots. It comes off as a passionately naive in its earnestness to be seen as the Black People who are apparently enlightened. It gives the idea that you view those who DO consider ourselves Black American beneath you. Good for you; you know your tribe. Many Black folks DON’T. How dare you? Because I refuse to call myself African American, does not mean I have zero appreciation for my African heritage or mother continent. Is just means that I’m not willing to reduce myself to one buzzword term that white people have decided makes the sum of our existence. Notice that it’s WHITE people that mostly label all Black Americans as African Americans, and filing all Black people underneath one umbrella. They don’t know the difference; we do. Why give them more ammo?

    Labeling our own unique ways of processing the Diaspora as “illogical” because they don’t fit your own history is demeaning, and goes against the very Black unity you say you’re for. Guess what, not all of our grandmothers made quilts that respected the traditions of Cameroon tribes. You would be best to remember this the next time you express hopes of Black unity while making such a wide reaching and highly judgemental statement that many of your readers identify as is foolish.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. But one question Naomi: Where is Black Land? The concept of Black as race has its benefits, but it’s also faulty in that it does not adequately describe us as a people, especially in terms of our history and connection to a major land mass/cultural mecca of the world. Thus, yes it is illogical to prefer simply “Black” over African American. AND Fact Check time: white americans did not come up with the term “African American.” It was first used in the 1700s by Black people in America who wanted to maintain and honor the links to their heritage. Your entire argument is based on misinformation.

      • My argument isn’t based off of misinformation at all. Black people in America then wanted to tie themselves to their roots, but now isn’t the 1700’s and words and their definitions evolve over time. Currently, most Black Americans refer to themselves as Black Americans. It’s not very common for me to see someone born and raised in America, and is Black to refer to themselves as African American. Also, you didn’t fact check me at all; you merely misunderstood what I said. I never said that white people came up with the term African American. I said that it’s mostly White People who use African American in the year of our Lord 2015, to label all people who happen to be Black and American. Thus, someone who immigrated to America from Africa and someone literally born in America with slavery in their blood, are cited as African American despite an inherent difference in our culture, pasts, and histories. It makes as much sense as labeling all Latinos as Mexican-American. If anything, using arguments made from Black People in the 1700’s is illogical given we had a Black Power movement as recent as the 60’s and 70’s that stressed pride in being Black. By your own argument, the words Negro or Colored have just as much merit as African American. After all, they were what we originally called ourselves. But that isn’t the case, because time marches on, and words and phrases and terminologies change. What Black slaves called themselves in the 1700’s should have no bearing nor relevance to what free Black People call ourselves nearly 300 years after the fact. That, in essence, is illogical.

      • It’s saddening to see the lengths to which so called “proud black people” will go to disconnect themselves from Africa. The word gymnastics, along with misinformation seems never ending. You say this isn’t the 1700s anymore, thus you believe this discredits the term African American. Yet, you fight for the term Black without knowledge of when Black was first used as a descriptor for African people in America. You just misguidedly believe that “Black” emerged out of the 1960s. You leave out that members of the Black power movement also referred to themselves at Africans, Afro-Americans and African Americans in the 1970s. And no, African people never originally called themselves “Negro” or “colored.” Those were terms created to disconnect us from our history and African heritage. The terms became normalized but did not originate with us. I could spoon feed you the correct information, but that would be useless. However, your illogical reasoning intrigues me, so please continue.

      • But Naomi, your skin is not ‘black’ , its brown just as a ‘white’ persons skin is not white. So who came up with the term ‘black’ to describe you ? ‘African American’ is a more accurate descriptor than ‘Black’ as it at least makes reference to your ancestral origin in America.

        “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. ” Isaiah 1:18

        “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. ” Psalm 51:7

        The Europeans gave their slaves religion then using said religion convinced them their skin was related to their sin.
        ” All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.” – Timothy 6:1,2 (N.I.V.)

        Our generation owns this ‘sin’ to this day, then we wonder why so many ‘Blacks’ have no self confidence, or struggle with identity as it relates to their heritage and skin color. Which is evidenced even more when you look at the numbers who are struggling to graduate high school, keep families together, stay out of trouble with the law. Having a strong identity = High value of self = High expectations of self.

    • But Naomi, your skin is not ‘black’ , its brown just as a ‘white’ persons skin is not white. So who came up with the term ‘black’ to describe you ? ‘African American’ is a more accurate descriptor than ‘Black’ as it at least makes reference to your ancestral origin in America.

      • I dont use the term african-american because i researched the origin of both names. both names come from european conquers of our land. i dont try to separate from the mother land and i embrace the cultures of the land. i just prefer to be called black since most people cant accept the fact that we are really Hebrew Israelites and israel is east africa, no such thing is middle east

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  25. The article should not be dignified with responses. It demonstrates why we as African- descended people will never come together as a people because we are forever pulling each other down. Rather than showing interest in what her kith and kin have been doing in the diaspora since they were kidnapped and taken from the continent; rather than working to reconnect with her lost brothers and sisters; rather than marvelling at how we have kept Africa alive outside of Africa, she talks arrant nonsense about appropriation. Most importantly, given what we the descendants of enslaved Africans have endured, no one, least of all someone like her with no sense or understanding of history can tell us what to think, what to do, what to wear, how to walk or how to talk. We’ve earned that right over the last 500 years when no one came to look for us or to help us. She just needs to back back as we say back home. Jus turn and come again! Come again, but come good dis time!

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  29. Black Americans ain’t Africans. If its TRUE that white people raped enslaved people in American, why they didn’t become mixed race. U are where u from, I’m African and u are American not Black American. Just American not Black because Africans are the TRUE Black not u. I’m Kwame and u are McDonald.

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  31. Many of us africans that are christian/ muslim condem traditional african beliefs and have children who are in america and dont even speak our native tounge ..im appalled by the pseudo concern for african culture that my people from africa display when ever african americans ( our brothers/sister) want to claim their heritage … i live in both west africa and in america… many of us continental africans would rather mingle with white ppl then other african american ppl, skin bleach and value western education over our traditional african belief systems… looking at it from the view point of this article it is true ignorance comes from the media… The ignorance about africa was not started by african Americans but by white media since the days of earlier anthropologians in europe like edward tyler…One thing is Many african Americans are mis-informed that africans sold them into slavery when more were actually stolen or sold into what many of us mistook as indentured servertude similar to the slave system always existed in Africa.. not the in humane system of whit oppression that it actually was. When more of us africans stop letting our traditional culture or costumes of africa die or be sold off then ill be more convinced that we are truly concerned about retaining our cultures… when we stop loving white jesus more then our own traditional african beliefs ill be more convinced, when our children learn to speak there native tounge ill be more convinced, when our main goal is not to make it big in a western country and never return to africa to help our own ill be more convinced.. hating black americans( our brothers an sisters) comes from the same insecurities that causes the skin bleaching.. did you know german king leopald killed over 5million congolese poeple yet we do just fine forgiving the whiteman ….infact going to africa as a white person people will role out the red carpet…so like i said im not conviced that we truly care about our culture and cultural appropriation more than we just want prove to the whiteman that we are better than our brothers and sisters in the daispora …but not all of us … I for one want to encouage my brothers and sisters in american to keep being proud.

  32. This is ignorance in its healthiest form. Of course Black Americans can appropriate “African Culture.” What is the difference between white people trying to claim cornrows as a new style and black Americans claiming they founded twerking?

    The dance they call “twerking” is an African dance style that Black Americans renamed and called it their own creation. That is 100% cultural appropriation.

    Being black doesn’t mean we all have the same culture. It simply means that there are simililarities in our culture because we share a common ancestor.

    A black American won’t claim Rumba as theirs. Nor will an Afro-Latino claim Jazz as theirs. Furthermore, Africans aren’t claiming Hip Hop, Rumba, Jazz, Funk, Gospel etc… As theirs even though they inspired all those styles.

    African culture belongs to the people of Africa and those who wish to use her culture should give her proper credit otherwise it is considered cultural appropriation.

    • Your comment is ignorance at the most unhealthiest form. Black/African American historians have since we left Africa, maintained that our dance, vernacular, cooking at etc. derived from Africa. No one is claiming something that isn’t their own. We are the descendants of African people brought to America against our will. You are right about one thing…African culture belongs to the people of Africa. Unfortunately, you lack so much historical context that you can’t see Black Americans are part of the Pan African World. No, being black doesn’t mean that all of our cultures are the same. However, we have cultural ties that have lasted over 400 years across the Diaspora. Furthermore, you need to re-read the definition of “cultural appropriation.” You are yet another person that harps on internet buzz words without regard for context or depth. Just be truthful and say that you don’t care for Black Americans. Don’t try to be wonky. You just sound ignorant and salty.

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