I wrote this based on a response I wrote to my sister, when she sent me this article: “Can Black Americans Appropriate African Cultures?” After reading some of the dismissive, disgusting comment section, I had to say something because all I’ve seen is Black Americans attacking and Africans backing down and being silenced.
In 2015, Black Americans don’t have any connection to African cultures. Their closest connection is 500 years ago. They have FIVE CENTURIES of their own history, traditions and cultures that they created for themselves in the western world to draw from. Yes, this created culture has African origin, but the VAST MAJORITY of things on this earth have African origin. Including humanity. That doesn’t give everyone on planet earth who is a human the right to claim an African identity. I’ve seen Black Americans argue “I’m an African. It’s in my DNA.” Well, it’s not only in your DNA. Everyone on the planet has DNA that will eventually link them back to Africa. What makes me an African is not a collection of protein sequences. That is a shallow oversimplification that is offensive in and of itself. My upbringing, the food I eat, the music I listen to, the clothes I grew up wearing and had Black Americans mock me for wearing, my name (which was also mocked) the way I see the world, the way I define my Blackness, the languages I grew up hearing all around me. My values. The hilarious way Africans tell stories. The way my grandmother used to hug me and say “Oshyah” (phonetic) until I stopped crying when I fell down or hurt myself. My experiences as a 1st Generation American who has to deal with Anti-Blackness from everyone as well as Anti-African-ness from Western Black people. These things are part of my identity as an African. And there are many other things that I can’t even necessarily articulate. You do not have these experiences. Everything you know about Africa comes from what White people have told you. You don’t know who I am. Honestly, you don’t even know who you are. So how do you think you not only have the right to define what African-ness is but also put it on as if it were a costume? That is offensive. That is disrespectful. And that is exactly what White people do to you. (You know, those other people with African DNA?)
Look at the Khoisan. That’s where East Asian people get their looks from. And East Asian cultures are actually MORE similar to African cultures than Black American cultures are. Can Asians start walking around in dashikis and kente cloth and whatever mish-mash pick-and-choose- gumbo of African cultures they want to claim as their own and start saying they are African? NO THEY CANNOT. (Not like they ever would say that because the thirst for Whiteness over here in Asia is REAL.) Anyway, they are around 50,000 years removed from Africa. Might as well be 500. Either/or, the majority of both groups have NO clue about the cultures and identities they are emulating and that is a fact. I was raised in the US. I don’t recall ANY Black Americans being respectful and knowledgeable about my background growing up. Or maybe they just didn’t have time to be, between slurs of “darky”, “nappy”, or “African Bootyscratcher” and mocking me about having AIDS or Ebola. The Western Black people who would say “You’re too pretty to be African, what are you mixed with?” Or assume that my long hair was a weave, or would ask me if I ate tigers or lived in a hut (tigers aren’t fucking from Africa dumbass. And huts? Really?) The people who when I say my mother is from Sierra Leone they respond with, “What’s that?”… These are the people who want to call themselves Africans? Why?
What was seen at that “festival that dare not speak its name” and elsewhere by Western Black people IS appropriation. When WE walk down Fulton St. or 125th St. or through any Black American neighborhood in traditional clothing, we get looks and snickers and comments but when they wear it, it’s fashionable. When our music is played in its natural form it is mocked. When it is played in the form of reggae or hip-hop or blues, it’s cool. By the way, most instruments and scales (pentatonic, anyone?) seen as western are African inventions. Without those things, Western music wouldn’t exist PERIOD. History goes one way. Africans making rap is not appropriation because Black Americans did not create rap independent of African influence. It CAME FROM US. You just adapted it into something that reflected your experience and circumstances. That is not a problem. But how can you tell people who invented communication through talking drums that we can’t rap? That is the cultural ignorance that I am talking about. And I am SURE that all the Western Black people who made those comments have never heard of a talking drum in their life. Or the people who are on the step team yet know nothing about South African Gumboot dancing. You take from our cultures, do not give credit or are completely ignorant of the fact that credit is due, and only view our cultures as “cool” when they are filtered through YOU. That’s wrong and it is EXACTLY what White people do to you. If you do not respect me, why do you want to take my name? When Marlon Wayans hosted the MTV Africa Music awards (I’m sure he hosted it out of “pride” and not a paycheck) , he spent the whole night making Anti-African jokes. Nowadays, there are all these rappers taking African tracks and ripping them off without paying royalties, Black American run clothing lines using African prints/materials and not a damn African makes a penny from it … Many African artists even boycotted the BET awards because they were treated horribly. They had Tiwa Savage dancing around in a back lot in an un-aired performance. Tiwa Savage is one of Nigeria’s biggest stars! There was even an African band at this years “festival that dare not speak its name” that was HORRIBLY mistreated and I know that for a fact … Black Americans collecting money on other people’s culture yet mistreating and disrespecting the actual people doesn’t qualify as exploitation?
Some more Black people acting White about Africa are the people who attacked the African woman who wrote the article like her feelings are invalid as an African because you as Black Americans don’t agree. Well great but, uh, you ain’t African and you have no clue what it feels like so who are you to shut her down when she says she feels uncomfortable when she sees people who couldn’t even name 5 African countries (or didn’t even know that Africa isn’t a country) adopting her culture, most times incorrectly, and being rude and standoffish when corrected? My mother could tell you how many times she’s seen Black women trying to tie their baby to them with a lapa and they do it wrong and get mad when she tries to show them how to do it right so their baby doesn’t die of shaken baby syndrome by the time they walk home.
I’ve also seen Black Americans ask, “Who are you to say we can’t wear these things?” Who are we? We are Africans. That’s not enough? Who do we have to be to tell someone when they do things that make us feel offended or uncomfortable? Black Americans have a horrible history but so do we as Africans. We just didn’t get our cultures stripped from us. And we can sympathise with you without letting you run over us. If your cousin got their wallet stolen, can they demand access to your bank account and get huffy when you say no and be all, “I’m your cousin we have a connection I can take what I want from you we have the same blood!”
Honestly speaking, Black Americans are like distant cousins that ain’t nobody seen for 500 years and when we do see you 9 times out of 10 you act like an asshole and mock us, resent our successes, put us down and stereotype us. And though you got your own house, your landlord’s a violent, abusive ass so you just show up to our place like “Hey, we’re related I’m moving in” and bust into our closet and wear our clothes and eat up all our food and get your name legally changed to ours and STILL don’t even respect us in our own house. Then when we say that we’re not comfortable with you barging in and doing these things, you try to say we have no right to protest because “we’re blood” and you get defensive that we even brought up your presence or behaviour. Isn’t that…um, completely insane?
If Black Americans would say “I want to be closer to African cultures because I don’t know where I’m from and it makes me feel lost and empty somehow. Embracing African cultures makes me feel more grounded as a Black person and gives me something to connect to, therefore I would like to learn. What are your traditions? What do your clothes mean and how do you make them? What do you wear on this occasion or eat on that occasion? What are your religions? I’d really like to learn your language. What is it called? Can you teach me? I’d like to see where/how you live. Can I visit? I think if I do, it would really feel like home to me.”
Do you think if Black Americans approached Africans like that, we would have ANY problem with it? Africans are the most sharing-ass people on the planet even when it is to our own detriment. No one would have a problem with teaching or sharing. The problem is, Black Americans are too arrogant and ethnocentric to want to learn. They think they are above trying to learn from Africans and are entitled to our cultures and identities and can just take what they want and do as they please no matter what we say or how we feel. Sound familiar?
When Black Americans learn to respect Africans as rich cultures and people that exist independently of them in the present and no longer view us solely as “primitive” relics of their past that they can just trade and horde at will, I will have no problem with them learning about Africa and becoming a part of a somewhat shared identity. Until that time comes, however, stay the hell out of my closet. And stop changing your name to Shawakalakabaka that is not African you can’t just make things up omg.