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Posted under: Community Submitted

Before You Consider Wearing Traditional African Garb To See 'Black Panther', Do Your Research

It's not all meant for the movies.

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As Black Panther's release is quickly coming upon us, we should be considerate of how we choose to dress for this momentous and celebratory event.

Firstly, I categorically believe that black people of the diaspora cannot appropriate African cultures. However, we CAN misapply it. We CAN misrepresent it. We can be offensive and commit unintentional faux pas that are hurtful and create mistrust. Not only is that disrespectful to the culture of origin, but it can widen existing fault lines and points of friction between Africa and its Diaspora.

We must be mindful that regardless of our intentions, the impact arising from our actions is always more important.

Yes, we in the diaspora are dealing with hundreds of years of post-traumatic stress disorder, unresolved pain and unanswered questions. Our histories have been minimized by white supremacist governments. And yes, many of us are excited about a newfound access to Africa itself, even across our experience of slavery and displacement. Sometimes, all we had were faded memories. I believe this contributes to our collective subconscious feeling of anxiety around Africa, as well as our curiosity and feelings of love and pride for Her. Media narratives of both Africans and Diasporans have colored the conversation on both sides, and have added a level of subjectivity that hasn't yet been overcome by the increased level of personal interaction between groups.


Hence, I believe that we have a responsibility to learn as much as we can about our mother continent, her people, and her cultures. This way, we can celebrate Her in an informed manner. And that means learning, among other things, which textiles and clothing are appropriate for casual dress. Learning which jewelry is not for you.

For instance, Kente (nwetom) cloth is traditionally ONLY TO BE WORN ON VERY SERIOUS, VERY SPECIAL SOCIAL OCCASIONS. Like notable birthdays of eldership, weddings, enstoolments. It is inappropriate to wear Kente cloth (and yours is likely fake because if it is printed, it isn't authentic Kente) for casual occasions, on bathing suits, footwear, and lingerie. Please reconsider, or consider very carefully what it means to wear kente.

There are literally hundreds of fabrics and textiles on the continent and patterns that are for casual and everyday use. Many are also formal and not tied up in vested religio-social context. Even Kente is only one of the dozens of Ghanaian fabrics and prints. 

Additionally, it is unseemly to wear Maasai, Zulu, or Xhosa jewelry as they indicate the completion of rites of passage, like marriage or initiation, if you have not passed through these rites. The same goes for ileke (beads) for various Orisha if you have not received shrines for- or been designated as belonging to- those Orisha. These protocols have been in place for hundreds of years, even longer.

One major concern that many African continentals have is that we in the diaspora are not taking the time to approach the cultures they grew up immersed in or were born into, with nuance and respect. Many feel that we are wearing African culture as costume and not properly respecting their/our heritage.

Let's respect our mother cultures by not misapplying them.

If you are unsure about what to wear, do your research. Ask for advice from your African friends or family. Take some time to consider the impact of what you are wearing. If you find that a particular article of clothing, or face paint, or tribal markings, or jewelry are off limits to you, respect that. There are other options. Insisting on prioritizing your feelings over someone else's actual culture is doing exactly what white people with locs and cornrows do. Prioritizing themselves. And you know we are not happy when Becky takes from our aesthetic.

There are dozens, even hundreds of talented African clothiers who would love to see you in their lovely designs but please respect African etiquette and protocol.

Black Panther, for many of us, is a turning point in our media representation and in our own acceptance and pride in our African heritage. Although Wakanda is fictional, our hope is not.

Let's celebrate together and share in our dreams of a beautiful future.

And pull up to the scene looking GLORIOUS.
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