The cultural appropriation controversy everyone is talking about

The cultural appropriation controversy everyone is talking about

I am sure by now you may have come across the article written by Zipporah Gene where she takes African Americans to task for wearing African garb to events such as Afropunk with no real understanding of their religious and historical significance. Some have accused Gene for inciting internal racism between Africans and African Americans with her article stating that she misses the point especially when African-influenced fashion can be traced back to the Black Power Movement. This all start after the the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn last month, where every other attendee rocked some version of an African-inspired look. But draping oneself in the colors of the Pan-African flag and sporting tribal tattoos isn’t fashion forward, says African journalist Zipporah Gene. Nadra Nittle of racked.com had the following to say about Gene’s piece.

“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 a djellaba, painted with Yoruba-like tribal marks, all the while claiming that this is meant to be respectful,” states Gene in the piece. “It’s a hodgepodge, a juxtaposition, a right mess of regional, ethnic and cultural customs and it screams ignorance and cultural insensitivity.”

Gene may not have intended to start a war, but the backlash from her article has been fierce. For criticizing what blipsters wore to Afropunk, she’s been accused of inflaming tensions between Africans and African Americans, attacked for dating a white man, and labeled a race traitor. But the name-calling ignores the provocative, if not totally fair, questions her piece posed: Is Black America appropriating African fashion traditions? Is that even possible?” While Gene, who never identifies her ethnicity in the piece, certainly thinks so, the reality of the matter is far more complicated than she presents. For one, she reduces cultural appropriation to an act that occurs when people borrow the clothing, jewelry, and markings of groups to which they don’t belong. That’s part of the story but not its entirety. “If you’re not from an African tribe, please leave off wearing the tribal marks,” she says, ignoring the fact that the ancestors of American blacks did belong to African tribes. Thanks to the peculiar institution of slavery, which incredibly Gene never mentions, the average African American can’t trace her roots to a particular tribe without the help of a DNA test. Yet, it’s well documented that the forefathers of American blacks largely hailed from West Africa, where the slave trade flourished.” In the 1960s and ’70s, when the civil rights movement gave way to the Black Power movement, American blacks embraced dashikis to reconnect with their roots, reject white supremacist ideas about themselves and their ancestors, and to show solidarity with the African nations recently liberated from colonial rule. American blacks saw a parallel between Africa’s struggle for independence and their own struggle for equal rights in the United States. Their interest in African fashion never stemmed from a desire to rip off African peoples and popularize their customs for profit, as is often the case with cultural appropriation. It stemmed from the desire to carve out a new racial identity in a nation that had not only treated them as sub-humans, but also taught them to buy into damaging stereotypes about their ancestral homeland, further instilling in them a sense of inferiority.”

Read more on Ms. Nittle essay here.

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