I did a stupid thing recently. I was debating on Social Media about a topic that has been out there for a while if you live in the USA. And as a result I have been called names just because my opinion was slightly different from what was the norm. The issue I was debating is called Cultural Appropriation particularly in the fashion industry. For those of you who do not know, cultural appropriation is the use, adoption or sometimes misuse of one element of a culture by someone from another culture. Most of the time it is done to minoritiy groups by dominant groups. It is an issue because these dominant groups use that element of a culture in such an inappropriate way that minorities see it as a sign of disrespect. Or worse, they appropriate it totally without even acknoweldging its origins.
The issue was raised recently over two things. First, some fashion magazine was giving advice on how to sport an Afro but apparently it used a White person on the cover of the article. Then weeks later, another mainstream magazine put the Dashiki on its site calling it the "It item". Black twitter screamed foul play. And I got involved into a debate on Instagram just because I said that this issue was redundant and that we should get over it by now. One person particularly went as far as to say that I was assimilated, that back in the slavery days, I would have been a house slave, that my ancestors must have sold slaves, and even my name which is a Christian name of Michelle was a proof of all that (FYI: yes, my name is a Christian and not African but I am proud of it because I was named after my great grandmother who according to all the stories my Father told me, was an exceptional woman). I guess that is what I get for saying what I think on Social Media. But in this blog, I do get to say what I want without being insulted so here is what I think of the entire issue.
White people have been accused of appropriating aspects of other cultures and even making money out of it from music to fashion. I guess sometimes the accusations are true. We all know about Elvis Presley getting rich ripping off black folks songs.The problem I have with this debate over cultural appropriation is that in this day and age we should be celebrating people embracing other cultures and not shaming them for doing so. I love Indian fashion. I like to wear Sarees and Kurtas. How do you think I would I feel if an Indian friend of mine told me I should not even wear them just because it is not my culture? I would feel bad. It never actually happened to me but once an Indian friend of mine saw me wearing a Kurta I had designed and she screamed : "This is Indian! Where did yo asu get it?". I felt weird but I explained to her that I always loved wearing Kurta ever since I was a teen. And I wanted one so badly I designed the entire outfit.
Jersey scarf - Sandaga market
Dashiki print tee - gift from my Dad
Army green shirt - thrifted from Hubby then pimped
Jeans - Brandmart
Shoes - Westside
The shirt was gifted to my son, but it was so big I appropriated it!
I do not know how it happened but this Dashiki print was all over my country the last couple of years. Everybody was wearing them! It was on dresses, shirts, skirts, shoes and bags. I wonder who made it trendy again?
I guess where many people have problem with cultural appropriation is that White people do not acknowledge the origins of things they use. Most of the time, they do not even know what meaning it has. Afros and Dashiki were a symbol of protest in the 60s, of political and cultural movement. The Dashiki is not something as frivolous as a trend, it stand for something. And to now see it worn so casually and without any respect for what it represents, it hurts.
The other thing that some African Americans point out is that the White people tend to appropriate everything that is good about African American culture such as rap music, cornrows but they never get engaged in the struggle. Some even went so far as to finger Iggy Azelia who is an Australian (white rapper) who raps like she is from the South (of the USA) but never says a thing about African Americans causes such police shooting and brutality.
Funnily enough most people in Africa were not rocking the Dashiki for the same purpose as African Americans. For them, the Dashiki is a traditional garment, that became everyday clothing. The print that we all recognize today may have originated in Easter Africa. My Dad told me that the Dashiki used to be called "Addis Abeba" (and not Dashiki), the name of the capital city of Ethiopia, because it was believed, it originated from there. It arrived in the US after an American interested in African culture started manufacturing and selling it there. But it became popular when African Americans starting to wear it as a symbol of going back to their roots. As Africans, we could also say the Americans culturally appropriated our Dashiki and made it something entirely different. Just because it was a black person doing it, does not make it any less of a cultural appropriation. But we do not do it, right? And frankly, I am not sure we care that much. Or at least I do not.
I get it. Trust me! I get it. I would hate to see some White people rock something that was ours and pretend like they made it happen. But we cannot get mad every time it happens. At some point, we should start to laugh about it. Believe me, there are more important things to be frustrated about in this world. As for myself, I do feel proud because if they appropriate something of ours, it is because it is good and they like it so dang much. You do not steal something that is not worth stealing. So, rock your Dashiki with pride and let others do the same if they want to. But if they overdo it, acting like they own it, just school them and move on!