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Can Black People Appropriate African Culture?

December 18, 2017

Last Sunday, I was sitting in my friend Khadyja’s kitchen helping Alioune make fataya (a Senegalese dish that resembles empanadas), while Khadyja and Fatima made ceebu jën (rice with fish). We decided to have a dinner with other Senegalese friends who also go to Howard and before we ate dinner we talked. Senegalese people love to talk. We talked about our experiences at school, back at home and differences and similarities with both.


Soukeyna brought up cultural appropriation. More specifically, Black sub-cultural appropriation. The idea that Black people appropriate cultures within the African diaspora. It wasn’t the same cultural appropriation that many of us talk about on a regular basis. Caucasian Americans wearing braids and locs, such as Kylie Jenner, or Katy Perry slicking down her edges or “baby hairs.” She brought up a topic that many of us rarely discuss. At first thought, I had to take a second and really think about the topic. Since I am Senegalese and African-American, I understand how both sides could argue whether Black people appropriate African culture, but not to the extent of Caucasian-Americans.


So, I asked my friend China, an African-American from Virginia, “Do you feel as though African-Americans appropriate sub-cultures within the diaspora?”


She responded, “Well, we follow trends. I feel like we try to appropriate, but it only goes as deep as the trends. For others, it goes further. We adopt certain aspects of other cultures that we may find intriguing. At the end of the day, we all want to claim something and we all want to have pride in something.”


Pride. Something that I didn’t realize I had until I actually had the experience of traveling to Senegal. And although I had pride in my Blackness, I still felt as though I was missing a part of my culture that I could never relate to.


I asked Tyasia Vessup, a Caribbean-American from Queens, NY, a similar question, “Do you feel as though Black people who do not identify with a specific country appropriate sub-cultures within the African diaspora?”


Tyasia said, “I don’t really know how I feel about that. Some people say Black people wearing dashikis is a form of appropriation but if you believe we all come from Africa, is it really? We’re trying to embrace roots that we were forcefully detached from.”


In my opinion, Black people can take from sub-cultures and make them trendy. If someone decides to wear clothing with African prints for a week straight for Instagram likes, but the next week degrades the entire continent of Africa, it’s not O.K, and in many cases it stops at this. But if you are willing to rock a few styles, learn more about the history and culture and explore more about a specific country, it balances out. This goes for everybody within the diaspora, African Americans, Jamaicans, Senegalese, Trinidadians, Cubans and more. Many of us don’t know where we originally come from and wearing a Queen Nefertiti shirt or waving a Haitian flag gives us a sense of belonging. In the end, Africans born on the continent and Africans born in America or elsewhere need to realize that our culture was stripped. We have to make it a priority, all Black people within the diaspora, to discuss our similarities and differences, our likings and dislikings, trends within each culture and see where we can go from there.


Dr. Carr: “I think it’s possible to identify with specific cultures and have a general sense of “Africa at the same time.”



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