I think every time I write a piece on cultural appropriation I have to first make reference to the definition because there is so much confusion surrounding it, it isn’t even funny anymore.
What is cultural appropriation? (Direct from Wikipedia for convenience):
Cultural appropriation is a sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon. Generally, an assumption that the culture being borrowed from is also being oppressed by the culture doing the borrowing is prerequisite to the concept.
This view of cultural borrowing is controversial, both in academic circles, and in general society. According to proponents of the concept of cultural appropriation, such cultural borrowings are problematic for a variety of reasons, ranging from group identity, and questions of cultural oppression, to claims of intellectual property rights.
According to proponents of the theory, cultural appropriation differs from acculturation or assimilation in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of the dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context – sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.
Zipporah Gene is a freelance journalist who wrote an article that asked the question Can Black people culturally appropriate one other? In her opinion African American’s are culturally appropriating African culture when they wear African clothing and do tribal make up in an effort to be ‘trendy’.
Here is a snippet of what she had to say:
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It’s a nuanced question that seems to either set tempers aflare or create vacuums of silence in a room but, after going through pictures taken at the latest Afropunk Festival, it’s definitely one that I have to ask.
And if Blacks can, why is the disgust and uproar surrounding this ongoing phenomenon only reserved for instances when White people appropriate us?
I ask this because Black Twitter is littered with countless examples of the uproar that ensues when White people appropriate Black culture. Words such as fancy dress, mockery and profiteering are thrown around quite freely, but no one seems to realize that this selfsame violation is committed against us Africans — all under the guise of tribal fashion and connecting to The Motherland.
Yes, I know that African-inspired prints are poppin’ right now and many African designers have chosen to showcase certain styles to the global fashion scene, but it appears to me and my African friends that it’s been taken a step further. I understand that, for the most part, many of my own Black American friends are well meaning when they talk about African fashion, but the end result is still the same. You take a cultural dress, mark or trait, with all its religious and historical connotations, dilute it, and bring it out for occasions when you want to look ‘trendy’.
Ask yourself, how exactly is that any better?
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. It’s a hodgepodge, a juxtaposition, a right mess of regional, ethnic and cultural customs and it screams ignorance and cultural insensitivity.
Yes, that’s right, even when worn by Black people.
I know it looks cool and the wearer looks unique, but if you look at it for what it is, it’s still cultural appropriation.
If this author took a moment to just think about how awesome Afro Punk was not just for African Americans but for African people on a whole, she would have probably written a more well rounded post.
The value of women copying images from their own heritage even with very little knowledge of the historical origin is an opportunity for a history lesson not chastisement.
What can an African American woman or man hold on to as part of their own cultural make up? America stands today as a mixture of various cultures, histories and practices combined on one continent.
The American Indians have their culture, Caribbean people who are also a product of Africa have their own culture, Mexicans, Europeans and the list goes on and on.
To separate the African American from the African to make the point that we should not complain when white people do it is ignorant. If tribal make up is worn at a festival that celebrates African culture and black people why in the world is anyone complaining?
If there is a demand for African inspired dresses and skirts authentically made from African designers, how is that bad for the African economy, Africans or black people generally?
If more people are inspired to visit Africa and spend money because they want to learn more after going to festivals like Afro Punk, explain to me again, how that is a bad thing?
Sometimes I think we as in black people are our biggest problem, we often like focus on the negatives even when there are more pros than cons to something that will never be perfect.
Again cultural appropriation is taking the culture of a minority people and exploiting it for financial or other gains without any reference to the origin of the culture you stole.
Afro Punk attire or women who wear tribal makeup or wear cute African skirts did not do that. Personally, even though I have not stepped one foot on the African Continent, I am so inspired by our African sisters who demonstrate traditional tribal makeup on YouTube. Or the sisters starting online stores selling their garments giving little history lessons on each caption.
I am inspired by AfroPunk which successfully created a nostalgic celebration of black culture that only added to the conversation.
To answer the question Can Black people culturally appropriate one other? The answer is no black people are not appropriating within their own race.
Comment below and let us know if you agree