Appropriation or Appreciation?

I’m a black immigrant African woman living the United States. Thus, I fall in the minority group, which also means I claim a culture that is unique and celebrated across the globe. When people of different cultural backgrounds adopt styles (usually outward expressions through fashion) original to my culture, it usually sparks discussions on the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. While appreciation suggests a genuine respect for the borrowed traits of the minority culture, accusations of appropriation surface when members of said minority perceive that such traits are unjustly presented as a staple of the dominant culture, or in disrespectful disregard of its origins.

There have been countless instances of white celebrities sporting hairstyles or fashion choices generally known to be staples of African culture. A recent example is Kim Kardashian’s “Bo Derek” braids situation. Other examples include Kylie Jenner’s lip augmentation frenzy, amid countless other instances. And it’s not just with African culture. The Asian prom dress on a white girl also springs to mind.

Those who argue appropriation are usually of the minority group, and argue that adopting these cultural traits constitutes a blatant disregard and/or disrespect for their origins. Others say there is usually no credit given to the pioneers of such styles, or like in the case of “Bo Derek” braids, credit is given where it isn’t due.

People copy what celebrities do. As such, when celebrities make such fashion choices knowingly or unknowingly presenting them as original creations, trend followers copy theses choices. As a result  pop culture associates these trends with the celebrities who made them popular, instead of their cultures of origin, thus shifting the focus once again, a way from the minority group. Case in point; it is widely presumed that the Kardashians “started” the big  booty and big lips trend. However, both those physical traits are staple features of African women’s natural physiques, traits which were ridiculed in the past.

While many are staunch critics of cultural appropriation, there are others who see it the other way. Personally, I don’t imagine that when Katy Perry donned her Asian geisha attire at the 2013 American Music Awards, she was thinking “I hope I piss off all the Asians”. I also don’t think Beyoncé hoped to alienate her Indian fanbase with her Coldplay collaboration.  In an article for Odyssey, Kiana Cozier states; “while there needs to be an intimate and exclusive space within cultures, there must also be a warm and welcoming space for others to learn about other cultures.”

The point is this; know the obvious cultural no-nos; ie blackface, or “acting like” a culture, Cozier says. But also know when such representations are harmless. This then begs the question, has popular society become too sensitive? In my book, we have with regards to this particular issue. As long as credit is given where it’s due and people aren’t ignorant about the fashion choices they make, I see no issue with it. Frankly, I’m proud, because in the case of African adaptations, I’d like to see the world adopt African culture in a genuine way.

There’s no clear demarcation. Where do you draw the line? For this reason,  each individual is entitled to their reactions of acclamation or dismay when such things happen. There’s no right or wrong answer.

We Should All Be Like Children

Have you been around a child? They are the freest creatures. They laugh aloud, cry aloud, think aloud, and are unafraid of their emotions. Their friends are spoons, the sofa, mommy’s high heels, daddy’s hat, or anything in their immediate vicinity that calls to them. They play with people/things everyone can see, as well as those no one can see. They spill things and wallow in the mess because it feels good. Children live in the present, they are creative, naive, innocent, and full of life and wonder. We should all be like children.

Why you ask? Consider this; adults worry all the time, mainly about things they cannot control. It’s almost pre-requisite to being a grown-up. They care about how others perceive them, which often influences their actions and reactions. They typically befriend people who hold the same values. They imprison their creativity and lock away their dreams because they live by the “responsible” taxpaying, bill-paying standards of societal acceptance. As a result, only 30 percent of the world reported a 6 or higher on a happiness scale from 0 to 10, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report.

That said, what must adults do? We should all be like children. Rich in wonder, doe-eyed at the world, and never afraid to feel. We should never stop inquiring, trying, imagining, trusting, and believing in the impossible. Imagine if we combine our advanced intellectual comprehension .

This is not a magic solution to world unhappiness, seeing as circumstances are usually more complex than flipping a switch. It is insensitive to trivialize grave world issues that cause pain and sadness in people’s lives. What this write-up hopes to establish is that if people saw life with a child’s eyes, living under less than ideal situations – often beyond our limitations – could become less burdensome. Lisa Rosas writes; “If we can learn to let go and not want to control all aspects in life, we can then feel freer.”

So, watch children’s cartoons, and read children’s books. Share, trust, forgive, and love wholly. Most importantly live in the moment. Growing old is inevitable, but growing up is a choice.

 

America And Her Guns

On February 14, 2018, a man opened fire at a high school in Florida, killing 17 people and injuring many more.

America had already seen 30 mass shootings, 45 days into the new year.

The perpetrators of these horrific incidents stole the futures of innocent unsuspecting humans.

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President Donald Trump ordered that the national flag be flown at half mast in mourning.

Guns
America and her Guns.

The flag flown at half mast
The Dead don’t wake up
The world moves on
Gun laws don’t change
We wait for the next horror
It’s vicious cycle.

 

H&M Kids Sweater Campaign; What Went Wrong?

Social media has gone wild following a kids sweater campaign by H&M clothing brand, that launched in the United Kingdom. The problem; a black boy, pictured wearing a green sweater with the words; “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” printed across the front.

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Critics are calling this a racist and insensitive quote, because of the connotations behind the word “monkey in the jungle” worn by a black model.

As a result of the backlash, H&M lost a celebrity partner; musician The WeekndOn January 7, 2018, the Canadian singer whose real name is Abel Tesfaye,  tweeted; “woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. i’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore…”

 

H&M issued this statement to The Washington Post; “We understand that many people are upset about the image. We, who work at H&M, can only agree. We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print. Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering globally.”

However, for many consumers, the apology isn’t enough. What were they thinking? Was this a publicity stunt or an innocent mistake? Did a focus group test this campaign before the images were launched? Was there even a focus group? If so, was it racially diverse? Did the model’s parents approve the shoot? There are so many puzzling questions about this campaign, and many are calling for a total boycott of the H&M brand. Let’s attempt to dissect the issue(s);

  1. The phrase “monkey in the jungle”; On a black model, this should have raised many red flags for everyone involved – photographers, the model’s parents or guardians, H&M’s PR team, the campaign supervisors, the list is endless. It’s 2018 and we live in very charged times. Someone should have known that this wouldn’t sit right with consumers. It’s common sense at the very least.
  2. Focus groups or campaign monitors; There must have been a team responsible for making sure that this campaign was suitable for public release. H&M is a large clothing company so it’s not unreasonable to expect that such resources were indeed available. Going on this expectation, one wonders who the team consisted of. Did the focus group consist of caucasians or was it a diverse group including people from different races? The fact that this hoodie was advertised as such brings me to a few possible explanations;
    1.  H&M genuinely did not see an issue with this image (I sincerely doubt this).
    2. There was no focus group to test this campaign (highly unlikely).
    3. There was a team which did not include any people of colour (likely).
    4. Someone saw the problem, but was too afraid to speak up (highly likely).
  3. Publicity stunt?; I cannot wrap my head around the idea that this was a mistake. Was it? Really? Or was there an ulterior motive? It doesn’t seem logical that in 2018, a large company like H&M would be this clueless about such obvious racial triggers. The boldness of it seems intentional, which leads me to think that H&M needed eyes on their company. Think about it; many upset people will flock to websites, where they will find several sales and discounts as H&M’s way of fixing the their mistake. Think of the millions of people who might not see the issue with this campaign or even relate to it, and will therefore flock to the store to benefit from whatever perks result from damage control.
  4. The impact; I don’t imagine that this is a comfortable time for the young black boy in this campaign, who is – in my opinion, not mature enough to deal with such grand public scrutiny. Granted, the backlash is mainly in his favor. What happens, however, when the public is not looking so closely? I hope his parents/guardians teach him a strong sense of identity and boldness to help him navigate the fashion industry, which can often times be harsh, especially at a such a young and impressionable age.
  5. The pattern; This too will pass, just like the Pepsi and Dove controversies. An apology here, a reparation sale there, and soon this will be history. There’s no real sanction besides angry consumers and possible bad ratings. I say this not to undermine the impact that disgruntled customers can have on a company of that magnitude. However, it would be naive not to consider the possibility that such publicity could work in H&M’s favor. Pepsi’s sales shot up only a few weeks after the Kylie Jenner ad debacle.

What do you think about the situation? What was your initial reaction to the image? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

To Non-Africans; Response to coverboy James Charles’ Twitter ignorance

Dear non-African people guilty of this,

Why is it that when you visit a country in Europe, Asia or the Americas, you’re usually specific about where you go, yet when you travel to somewhere in the CONTINENT of Africa – which by the way has 54 countries, you refer to it as if it’s one country?

If you had an amazing experience at Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, went on a Kenyan safari, or hiked Table Mountain in South Africa, PLEASE do NOT say “I had a blast in Africa”. It’s a small minded thing to say. You wouldn’t say “I had fun at La Tomatina festival in Europe”.

Educate yourselves freinds. I’d say grab a map but Google already did that for ya.

To my non-African friends who know better, teach your friends, share your knowledge.

While I’m on the subject of the CONTINENT of Africa, let me say this; not all children are starving. We don’t all live in huts. Yes, Africans have skyscrapers, electricity and running water. No, we don’t live in trees either. It’s not all muddy/dirty/ridden-with-disease or underdeveloped.

You want to know what Africa is like? Do PROPER research.

Sincerely,
A pissed off African

My Broken Motherland (Cameroon)

I’m Cameroonian. I say that with the deepest pride, and yet these days it seems my patriotism is fleeting. Why, you ask?

As of this morning (Nov. 21 2016), there are serious protests happening in the North-Western part of the country. Bamenda is the largest hub of English Cameroon, the birthplace of the only opposition party – Social Democratic Front (SDF), that has come slightly close to making any kind of political statement. You would think their popularity with the English masses would impart some change or at least enable their grievances to be acknowledged by the ruling government. However, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has made sure that by any  means possible – including but not limited to bribing officials, they silence the people.

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Protester stands in a coffin symbolic of his preparedness to die for the cause. Photo credit; Tapang  Ivo.

Today, the people are tired of being silenced! They are tired of being marginalized, being led by officials who sell their positions for money and leave their constituents in poverty, unemployment and economic instability. Today, the people are in the streets with coffins, ready to die in protest against a government that has ignored the over three point two million English-speaking Cameroonians for far too long. Cameroon Concord journalist; Tapang Ivo interviewed a protester who said; “We are ready for death. The solution to end these more than 50 years of marginalization is inclusive dialogue and nothing else”.

This has been a longtime coming. For many years, English-speaking Cameroonians have been denied jobs solely on the basis of being anglophones. Many positions of leadership are reserved for the francophone indgens. Anglophone cities are at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to socio-economic development. Corruption plagues the country. According to Africa Ranking, Cameroon is the 18th most corrupt country in Africa, with a Corruption Perceptions Index score of 27, calculated by Transparency International.

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Flag of the Federal Republic of Southern Cameroons

The Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) was formed in protest of this unfair treatment, and is seeking independence from the French part. Reporting for Vice, Oscar Rickett says he met a citizen living in exile in London because of his affiliations with the SCNC. His wife was raped and killed, and on several occasions, he spent weeks at a time in jail, before successfully fleeing to London on asylum.

It all started with the French and British colonial rule. French Cameroon gained independence in 1960 and in 1961, Britain was ready to leave West Africa too. Northern British territory chose to join Nigeria, and the small portion of today’s Southern Cameroon- for a varied number of reasons, joined French Cameroon. Their condition was that they would operate as an autonomy under the French government. That did not last because Ahmadou Ahidjo (the nation’s first President) made sure to flush out this autonomy in an effort to “unite” the country. In light of recent events, notice the irony?

President Paul Biya took office in 1982 following what many believe was a guerrilla-fueled coup d’etat that fooled late President Ahmadou Ahidjo out of the Unity Palace (Cameroon’s presidential residence) and into exile. For a few years after he assumed power, it is safe to say that the development that had come with the British and French rule, and partially maintained by Ahidjo, dwindled over the years.

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Derailed train in Central Cameroon, Oct. 2016. Photo credit; Mahamat Mazou Aboubakar/Reuters

1982 was 10 years before I was born. We’re in 2016 and Biya is still President at 83 years of age. Many of the roads constructed back then are the same ones used today, with little to – in some cases, no renovations. Just last month (Oct. 2016), a bridge collapsed on the main highway connecting the Capital city; Yaounde to the economic capital; Douala. This incident forced many to board the only existing rail transport system in the area. As a result, a train that could carry a maximum of 600 people had 13 hundred people in it and subsequently derailed, killing 70 and injuring hundreds more.

Youth unemployment rates reported by the National Institute of Statistics are soaring at 36.5 percent. According to the CIA World Factbook, 48 percent of the population was living in poverty as of 2014. With increased national unrest resulting from Boko Haram incidents, civil conflict between French and English Cameroons, and dropping GDP as reported by the World Bank, it wouldn’t be unfathomable if the poverty margin has increased.

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Mount Cameroon

What makes this even sadder is that the country has so much potential. It’s not for no reason that we were dubbed “Africa in miniature.” We have Sahara desert lands in the north, a coast line in the south, naturally formed plateaus, a tropical rain forest that is habitat to some impressive wildlife, a really high (the highest in west Africa) active volcanic mountain, natural oil and gas, timbre, rubber plantations, and so much more. This should attract tourists and investors from all over the world, and it does, somewhat. But to what extent do we even really benefit from it?

Our government officials (a good majority) do not serve the people, they serve their own political and financial interests. Thus, the country – for many years, has and is still suffering from this bad governance.

Will the protests help solve some of the problems that this country faces? Some doubt it will. Many are uncertain whether the change they so desperately need is even possible. Most youth who graduate university are living on the hope that someday they can emigrate to America or Europe or anywhere that isn’t Cameroon, so that they can have a chance at a better future.

To be continued…

We Must Fight

I have a question….

Disclaimer: this question might be considered offensive to some folk.
P.S, it is not intended to spark hate or be offensive, it is intended to spark conversation…

Ok so here’s my question… If given the chance in today’s America or perhaps today’s world, for black people to enslave white people the way they did blacks during slavery, would Black people do it?

Our wounds are deep and our scars will never fade. The history can never be forgotten. But will hurting the ones who hurt us make the pain go away? Will holding on to this pain somehow make our struggles less of a burden?

This is what I say. I say the only way to beat racism is to take our wounds, our scars, our history, and make it beautiful. It’s to rise up to excellence and be majestic and unapologetic about who we are.

We are a people, stronger than chains or beatings, stronger than plantation farms or forced labour. Stronger than abuse or insult. We are strong even when we are at our weakest.

So while we can never forget who we are because we will carry our scars until the end of time, we can also not live in perpetual hate and limit our possibilities. We must not find every excuse to relive our torture, to blame, even though the blame is very justified.

We must wear our scars with pride, and March in strength to excellence, for the strong were born to fight!! We must fight!

Happy Fourth America!