For me, this question all started with the new “African prom dress” trend. All across social media I was seeing black Americans wearing beautiful ethnic prints to prom. Although, I had to give credit that they looked good, something about it didn’t sit right with me.
As a black American I didn’t exactly feel entitled to wear these garments that hold so much meaning, especially in the name of a “heritage” that I truly didn’t know much about. When we think about appropriation we often think of the Kylie Jenners of the world, taking attributes of black people and suddenly making them fashionable. Or the wanna-be “hippie” Coachella kids who take significant pieces of Native American culture in an attempt to be “different”.
But can I appropriate a culture that was once mine? As black Americans are we so far removed from African culture that our own version of it is “bootleg”?
After research and consulting with the opinions of my peers I’ve come to my own personal conclusion: It’s ok to take part in African culture as a non-African as long as you value and understand the heritage and meaning. Don’t go into it wanting your prom dress to be “African themed” because not only does that generalize, it ignores the vast cultures that are in Africa.
It’s important that we have ties to a culture from which we came, but it’s also
important that we too do our research. These patterns and colors are meaningful, and come from many different countries across the African continent. So to really show support for this fashion trend, we should first understand it’s origins.
What do you think? Is education the solution to cultural appropriation or is it appropriation still? What about if a non-black person educates themselves and decides to participate in African culture? Leave your comments and opinions in the comments.