The perception of Africa is evolving as an increasing number of people across the African diaspora choose to embrace the fashion and culture of the long misrepresented continent. In the midst of growing African trends, an interesting question has been raised by blogger Zipporah Gene in her article “Black America, please stop appropriating African clothing and tribal markings.” In it she critiques the increasing popularity of festivals such as Afropunk as well as the growing visibility of African fashion in black culture in the western world. The article raises an intriguing question: “What are the implications of black Americans wearing African fashion and in what ways does it influence the African continent?” These questions were explored at the 2015 Ankara Festival held in Los Angeles this past Saturday. Ankara Fest was created by Jagaban Lentini in 2010 to “increase the visibility of African culture through fashion, music, dance, and food.” Although the festival was centered around African creations, many black Americans attended the event as well.
When asked about the increased popularity of African culture in Western culture, the response was overwhelmingly positive amongst African attendees. “ It makes me proud,” exclaimed Liberian designer Sharnelle Kennedy, “It’s about time that we have exposure. It gives us pride to wear who we are at a grocery store, school, or for a fashion show.” Kemi, a media correspondent for the Nigerian cultural magazine My Green Gene shared similar sentiments, “It’s time that the western world is following us rather than us following them. I think Africa is becoming too westernized and we need to bring our heritage forward.” She also supports African-Americans embracing African culture because, “We wear all kinds of other culture’s clothing attire, why should it be different when it comes to African clothing?” Meanwhile black American attendees also expressed their support. Lora Fyles is a marriage and family therapist who sees this movement as important for her children. “There seems to be a resurgence of being connected to our roots,” she said, “It’s important to me especially being a mother now. I want my kids to know where they come from.” Moreover, fashion designer Batani Kahlfani challenged the appropriation argument, “It’s not appropriation, it’s just going back to who we are…A black person can’t appropriate Africa because it’s where we come from.”
Meanwhile, African fashion isn’t just trending among black Americans, but in Africa as well. It’s becoming chic to rock Ankara prints when for so long European fashion was considered the epitome of style. Chijioke Umeh, the owner of Yes Boss clothing, notes, “Our fashion has broken through many barriers and one of the influences has been music. African artists have no problem rocking African prints and because of that it’s pushed that image of Ankara prints into the mainstream. It showcases that we are proud of who we are, what we do and where we’re from.” Nigerian-born gospel singer Sammy Dee challenges Africans to go even further with showcasing their heritage. “Africans need to embrace our creations more,” Dee said, “We don’t need to wait for non-African people to wear our stuff before we recognize how incredible we are. Being African is a good thing. t’s a blessing.”
Beneath the standard media narrative of war, disease and famine, a shift is occurring. Africa is trending. It’s emerging in Western fashion, music, and overall culture and the momentum is steadily building. Because this phenomenon impacts many countries and communities differently, there is no single story. However one thing is certain, a growing number of black people across the world are celebrating and showcasing the vibrant and rich traditions of African culture.
Come to think of it, why shouldn’t they?