On our most recent episode with the founders of United Colours of Fashion, Christine mentioned that the goal was to show people (white people) that cultures can be shared, they can wear clothes with what seems to be more traditional fabrics, patterns, and colours so long as they are buying from the source or it is being shared with them. This is a concept and mentality that even I have struggled with on some occasions, not only in the conversation about fashion but also the conversation about braids we continue to have. How do you share with a group you feel will mock you, or has wronged you, but you know not every person in that group is poorly intentioned? Do you try anyway?
In the conversation about braids, I saw people comment on Tik Tok asking about why it was and wasn’t allowed to be shared, asking about hair types and textures etc. and while I have delved into that topic thoroughly, what I did find shocking was this comment from white people: of course Black people will braid your hair for money. I found it interesting, almost surprising, that white people thought we would share our culture for business, for money, but that it was morally wrong and we were setting themselves up for failure. I think I’ve said it before that the fact Black people are not looking for vindication and revenge for the wrongs done to them is shocking, and I don’t think letting white people get their hair braided in their business is how they are going to go about sticking it to the white man.
In our conversation with Christine and Rufina, they mentioned that white people are stuck wondering what they are allowed to do and not allowed to do and that through United Colours of Fashion they are trying to show that they are allowed to be brought into these cultures by Black people and with Black patterns and styles. I think we are all on the same page that buying something with a tribal design from H&M probably is not the way to try to immerse yourself in any culture. If someone is inviting you in, whether it’s braiding your hair at their salon or wearing clothes they have made, that is not anyone trying to secretly make you look insensitive – that is genuine sharing, and an effort in cultural appreciation.
What makes me hesitant in all of this, is almost the flip side to the white people concern of “am I being brought into this as a prank”. What about the white people who desecrate our cultures? I was always made to feel that things being culturally appropriated were because they were being handled in an insensitive way, by people who were making profit off of something that wasn’t theirs to profit off of in the first place. Example: Donna Karan New York brand going to the North West Territories to inquire about their coats because the brand wanted to make parkas based on those designs for the runway. It’s definitely different if I give one piece of African/Senegalese clothing to my white friends because I love them (which I have done), but I know there are people who will take what is gifted to them and do something stupid like turn it into a Halloween costume, try to figure out how it was made and make their own for profit, or simply won’t respect that it is an introduction into culture sharing and not to be manipulated for their own gain.
While this trepidation may seem a bit over the top, this is what truly happens. Lana Del Rey wearing Native headdress while holding a gun in a music video is grotesque cultural appropriation because she wanted to seem “wild” or “daring”. We’ve seen repeatedly that some people do not understand how sacred some elements of culture are, and they use them for shock value, or simply because they don’t understand how to appreciate this element of culture. I think fashion and food are great tools to use to start sharing cultures. Very little harm can be done when someone is wearing something you gifted them, or tasting a dish that is native to a specific region. I really admire Christina and Rufina for taking the time to use fashion to share culture and let people understand that when used in the right way, cultural appreciation can exist. I also admire all white people and allies who are trying to get their toes wet and start learning about other cultures in a safe and kind way.