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Thursday, September 8, 2016

ON THE BLACK AMERICAN ABILITY TO CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE AFRICAN CULTURE


"Recently, I’ve come across some rather ignorant and inflammatory articles online accusing Black Americans of Culturally Appropriating “African Culture”. One narrow-minded article in particular really got under my skin for a myriad of reasons. It singles out members of the AfroPunk community for wearing nose rings, tribal markings, and african prints as a part of a “trend”. It then goes on to say this personal celebration of ancestry, being “all under the guise of tribal fashion and connecting to The Motherland”, is in fact an insulting misappropriation of Culture.
Misappropriating!? Where the hell do you think we came from ? When we wear these prints and tribal markings its a tribute to our Pre-Colonial ancestors. You know, the ones that were betrayed and sold off by other Africans? Yeah Those People. One quote just springs out to me like a flaming slap to the face:
  • 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..."

~Medium.com


* * * * * *
When I was in college, an African man asked me on a date to a house party. Once I said yes, he stopped me and made me face him in the middle of a walkway on campus.

He said something like, "They might treat you badly."  I asked him what he meant. He essentially said "Some Africans don't like Black Americans because they feel you are inferior"


Then he communicated that some Africans think blacks here in the United States are lazy (due to high poverty rates and listening to white newspapers/white run television) He also said some Africans feel like black people (men) allowed themselves to be enslaved and their women raped (Please note: The only black people that count are black men within black version of toxic masculinity, here in the U.S. and in Africa apparently)


He said all this kindly and apologetically. I didn't blame him for what he said. Though I was nervous, I still wanted to go. It came to me that "curiosity killed the cat," but I still went. I always go. I can't help myself. 


Sure enough he was correct. The temperature of the house dropped ten degrees the minute we walked in the door. Everybody went silent and stared.

It wasn't like being a house of black-skinned KKK members but it wasn't like being in a house black-skinned white people who are smiling too much either -- you know those smiles white people give you when they clearly think you might bite them if they move to fast. The feeling I got from this house full of Africans was somewhere in between.


I wish we could have stayed longer.  But this drop dead gorgeous (and stoned) Bob Marley look alike, sans the facial hair, started dancing with me. I was trying to figure how to stop dancing with him since I was there with someone else when the women started whispering. Shortly an upset black woman with a baby came downstairs to stair daggers at me. 


I seriously doubt I was there a full hour. But the thing that came clear to me after this date and just a few more incidents is this: I'm not African. That's not just a rejection of people who treated me badly either. In short interactions, I feel their foreignness. I felt my American-ness as  I felt their Ethiopian-ness and their Kenyan-ness. We are different. And I'm okay with being different. I've had to learn to be okay with racial-others NOT being okay with difference through my interactions with a bunch of white people, the occasional asian and the occasional Latinx/Hispanic


I learned early on to be perfectly fine with having my history as a Black American start here in this country. Slavery does not shame me at all. My Black American ancestors survived it and thrived in some ways. I'm glad to finally start seeing movies and images of slavery told through black story tellers  (Steve McQueen - "12 Years A Slave"; Ava DuVernay - "Selma"; John Legend - "Underground") who have creative control


White people should be ashamed of slavery to this day.

For the most part they aren't because then they'd have to take serious steps to deal with the outcomes that are still with us. Solid family structure going back 100 years before "The Civil Rights Movement,"  my family jumped through that window that was open between 1965 and 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected.  Some black families didn't have the legs to jump and remain in poverty to this day. And they are blamed for their own predicament  


The Africans that sold us should be ashamed to this day as well.

They aren't either and for the same reasons as white people. If Africans look over to the U.S. and see the current suffering of poor black people and various other blacks under white racism, they'd have to take some ownership of that. It's easier to side with white people and ignore structural components of white racism and say, "It's been 150 years get over it"   


All of this is okay. It's not good, but it's okay.

I'm still an American, my ancestors blood is in the soil. I'm still African descended, my blood was raised up from African soil 200 to 400 years ago. What I am now is "Black American." I'll leave the designation of "African American" for Africans who come to the United States and want to be part of my America. I'll welcome them in the same way I do white people for so long as they "come correct."  


Having been raised in a very diverse environment, I know that the desire to belong to a group then deem your own group superior is not something attached to the section of DNA that turns skin white. I know all human beings are like this. 



I know children overcome this all the time. I know some children follow their parents into racism at five years of age. I know that some children that "overcame" the ethnoracism of their parents get out into the world then see "the common sense" of their parents and start following people like Donald Trump. 

I have no illusions about by fellow human beings no matter what color their skin is. 


When choosing to interact with people, I look for reciprocation. I look for reciprocation from white people, from black people, from white feminists, from black men, and from Africans too. 


I've met Africans I enjoyed at gatherings where there was a lot of diversity, where there were people seeking other people that were not exactly like themselves. I met Africans that know that "curiosity killed the cat" but came to the potluck anyway.  


Through a few sets of experiences with Africans, a lot of them not-great frankly, I understand that people who are only around their own too much have better chance of become prejudiced, bigoted, and sometimes ethnoracist without even being aware of it.

I've even met Black Americans who are only ever around Black Americans who feel they are blacker-than-thou.  I don't really talk to the Who-Is-Blacker-Police whether they come from the United States Or Africa.

Sometimes low social curiosity 
= social moron 
= bigot/ethnoracist. 
Maybe? 

Maybe it really is that simple sometimes. 




Other times human beings just aren't that "good" and they enjoy the feeling of superiority. Ethnoracism isn't always ignorance. Sometimes ethnoracism is based on lack of empathy and even the enjoyment of not-having-empathy. And the enjoyment of not-having-empathy, the enjoyment of lack-of-empathy is sometimes fairly named "evil."



In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949)
I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the
defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men.
I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all thedefendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men.

               Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

Quotation: 
Captain G. M. Gilbert, the Army psychologist assigned to
watching the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials


As a social being I need a sense of belonging. Human beings that don't have a developed sense of belonging often don't do well by themselves or others sometimes. So I am glad to belong to Black Americans. I'm okay with my history starting here on this land. 


I'm also okay sharing my culture with the other for so long as it's not stolen, ruined, and mocked as costume. I'm also okay with appreciating and possessing the culture of my ancestors in tiny bits of cloth and jewelry without feeling a need to label it "mine" 



I think the talk around "cultural appropriation" has become to simple-minded in some corners. Some education and avoidance of religious artifacts is required for cultural sharing. But calling out "Cultural Appropriation" is more than "Mine. Mine! MINE!"  
So if I want to wear accessories that come from all over Africa, all at once, because I don't know exactly which Africans sold my ancestors to white people, then that's what I'll do -- proudly. I've got my eye on a few mudcloth looking duffel bags right now.


Everybody doesn't have to feel as I do.  A lot of people don't. Most black people don't, I think.

My journey has led me to some conclusions that have to do with my own comfort about where I see myself in the world. I see reaching out to Africans in the diaspora as going forward as joining other people that are different from myself, not as going back to something that always was or always should have been. 


That is, nasty, closed-minded Africans don't bother me anymore than white people do. In fact, they bother me less because they don't have their hands on the levers of power that more of my people need access to.