Can there be cultural appropriation within the diaspora?

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| September 10 2015,

02:00 am

Earlier this week, an article was published titled “Black America, Please Stop Appropriating African Clothing and Tribal Marks: Yes, that means everyone at Afropunk too. In sum, this article draws parallels between white girls with cornrows and black people at Afropunk expressing themselves through African-inspired clothing.

Ultimately, this is a lackluster comparison. 

Drawing this parallel assumes that Black America can contribute to the erasure of African cultures at the same degree to which White America does. The reasons we vehemently oppose white people appropriating African cultures are because of the power dynamics at play and the very real history of whites taking credit for and ownership of African cultures. Not only is the tone of this article condescending, but it ignores major nuances about the identities of black Americans.

[caption id="attachment_15212" align="aligncenter" width="541"]Photo: John H. White/Documerica Photo: John H. White/Documerica[/caption]

For many, a connection to Africa forged by clothing, music, customs, etc. acts as a form of liberation — a way to unlearn the many ways white supremacy has embedded a hatred toward Africa in the black psyche. By reducing the dress of many black people at Afropunk to a mere attempt at looking “trendy,” this article dismisses the longstanding history of Black America aiming to reconnect with Africa, proving this is much more than a clothing trend. The author states “if you’re not from an African tribe, please leave off wearing the tribal marks,” without acknowledging the fact that black Americans indeed are from African tribes. They might not know which ones, but who is to blame for that? Does black America feel this offended when youth in all countries and regions of Africa wear Rocawear and FUBU?

[caption id="attachment_15213" align="aligncenter" width="694"]Photo: John H. White/Documerica Photo: John H. White/Documerica[/caption]

How can we criticize Black America for not identifying with Africa when they are constantly being told they aren’t African? Instead of encouraging reductionism, let’s provide this discussion with the context, nuance and thought it deserves. Rather than stress about particularities of clothing, let's focus on the real and pervasive threats to our diaspora. Instead of dictating identities and constructing hierarchies, we should provide safe spaces for people to explore and engage with different African cultures especially when those cultures reflect their lineage.

Ultimately, as a diaspora, let us focus on building bridges of unity aimed at advancing the lives of our people.

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What are your thoughts on the idea of Black America appropriating African cultures? Let us know in the comments below.