It has been about a year to the date when the internet was taken by storm when a young British Nigerian told African Americans to stop cultural appropriating African culture. She was ignited by a picture from AfroPunk of some melanin rich folks rocking wears from the diaspora. And the conversation has kept on going and going and going. With this year’s AfroPunk happening this past weekend, on today I am jumping into, ever so gently, to tell folks, let’s give this conversation up. Like full stop.
This conversation at that start lacks much nuance and is buoyed by ethnocentrisms each community holds, turning into a conversation about who hurt who, I called you booty scratcher, you said all my peoples is lazy. We have to own it, as an oppressed people it is indefinitely hard to hear people accuse you of oppressing them. We can point to ways where both sides are wrong but we have to find a way to move past this in a productive manner. That does not mean we deduce each other’s personal narrative, but that we both strive to do better, each in our own way.
Truth be told, this conversation about African Americans appropriating African cultures, it ain’t even about us. Low-key it might be about Nigeria versus everyone else. The smaller African countries are irritated as they aren’t acknowledged and typically “African” is deduced to West Africa and more specifically Nigerian culture. Look my sister from THE Gambia, I acknowledge you, with love.
A lot of African fashion is coming into the mainstream context because of the wealth of that very boisterous country with the green and white flag. On top of it, we are a generation where people are 2nd and 3rd generation, growing up in America or Europe and returning to their home countries to build businesses that are connected back to the Western World. There is a community of wealth amongst West African millennials, and they are utilizing their culture to build businesses. Maybe there is a conversation to be had about how capitalism commodifies local culture without benefiting the local community, but that has to happen within.
And hello, my Caribbean cousins, I see you grinning from ear to ear. We have to let go of this idea that any of us are better than the next batch. We all have people amongst us that are our skinfolk but not kinfolk in their ain’t shittedness. The thing is African Americans can’t really leave where they’re from to go to land of more opportunity. We can’t hide the less than stellar aspects of our community. But do understand that every time we point to each other and say that I am better than you or your people are lazy and have no work ethic, we are feeding into the white patriarchy and imperialism that precipitates the poverty and crime in Kingston and in Chicago. Greater than that is the a shared history amongst us, word to Marcus Garvey.
Let me not forget my own, you my African American oh I just want to be called Black sister, I see you ready to go toe to toe about how Africans come to America with their nose in the air. You can’t expect anyone to do better if you ain’t putting forth no effort. It’s really so very simple and I will get to giving you tips in a bit. We all have lazy cousins, and negroes that scratch their but on the stoop and in the bush; who care more about Jordans or Manchester United. There isn’t a more enlightened culture or ethnic group amongst us. We have made it through the shackles of slavery that brought some of us to the Islands, others to the Americas, and some right back to the Gold Coast, down to Biafra and up to Sierra Leone and Liberia. One brother was sold, the other was forced to labor for someone else on the same land their grandfather nurtured but was now claimed by the Europeans. We all came out of it with distinct and beautiful cultures. We should not be fighting each other, but rather the pillars of oppression that make it hard for any Black nation to flourish holistically.
The tips: It is really simple to ease the ire that African immigrants, by investing in a little bit of knowledge about the continent.
Nigeria has three major tribes (amongst the thousands of ethnic groups) Ibgo, Yoruba and Hausa. If you politely ask someone what ethnicity they are, ah ha…biko what do you know?
Ghana loves Nkrumah, who was a leader and greater orator. He was also a member of Phi Beta Sigma who pledged at the HBCU Lincoln University. Really just tell a Ghanaian you like their jollof even if you’ve never had it.
Congolese? Ask them if they are from the DRC or Brazzaville Congo, ah ha, you’re no longer an ignorant American.
Kenya is run by the Kenyatta family. Harambe is not just a gorilla, but the name of the political platform of Jomo Kenyatta, the first post-colonization president and face of Kenyan independence.
Burkina Faso had a revolutionary named Thomas Sankara.
There’s a whole section of southern Africa that was heavily impacted by World War II and more than just South Africa fought against apartheid.
The parallels and taking interest in history across the diaspora will teach you more about your own history and it’s just amazing inspiration to pull from to learn about your own history. If you want to read up on there (click the name for the recommended book) is Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Adichie, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Micere Githae Mugo, Ama Ata Aidoo, Frantz Fanon, Patrice Lumumba, Steve Biko and many many more. Digging into this slice of culture and history will bring you right back around African American authors such as James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and WEB DuBois. The fight for independence against colonization was happening during the same time period as the Civil Rights movement, and the history connects.
The investment and openness to understanding and learning about another must happen on all sides, because a lot of us want to hold each other to standard that we don’t even live by. This conversation of cultural appropriation amongst the African diaspora, is often happening online amongst a niche audience of young adults who are tuned in more than the average person to culture. Because of that we want to see your culture represented on the mainstage, because cultural is personal to our identity we also want to control that narrative. Somehow this gets watered down and stuck on the appropriation conversation, rather than taking the opportunity to educated people about the beauty of your culture you want to share with the world. This is all happening in a bubble on social media that encompasses the vast of the ever changing Black in America identity. The average person no matter where they are from, doesn’t care that much about cultural education, and we are left levying unrealistic expectations on to each other out of frustration. So let’s hug out, strive to do better, have patience, respect with understanding and asé my queens.