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Blacks appropriate African culture

The release of the Black Panther movie is projected to be one of the highest grossing opening weekend movies for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I, just like everyone else, have been ecstatic over the release of this all black cast, featuring not just a male protagonist but powerful and prideful black women. The idea that a black face will be donning the “superhero” title in a large feature film hasn’t been seen since Wesley Snipes’ “Blade.” This will truly be the first time for many, including me, to see someone who looks like me and will be presented as a hero.

A problem with the film has been getting backlash while also raising a question for myself. Can black people culturally appropriate African culture? The question seemed ridiculous at a glance when I first saw articles posing the same question.

For many people outside the diaspora, they group black Americans and Africans as one and not separate. The reason is because we all know black Americans’ ancestry runs back to Africa when they were captured and sent across the Middle Passage never to return to their native land.

While in America, blacks tried to retain their African roots through their music, clothes and attaining African artifacts. This reconnection with our roots led to ridicule and harassment in America which rejected black assimilation with anything outside of white American culture. As a result, black people are left grasping for the cultural ties we once had with Africa.

Even though African-Americans and Africans are historically linked together, there is a cultural gap which persists and separates us. The most argued topic is the clothes that African-Americans wear which they adopt from the wardrobe of many African cultures. Some of these include wearing dashikis, head scarfs such as geles from Nigeria that are worn in variety of occasions from weddings to funerals. Their clothing holds deep meaning and symbolism regarding what occasion they are going to. It is culturally insensitive to combine multiple clothing types, from different ethnic and regional groups, ignoring the cultural relevance and wearing it to look trendy and “cultured.”

Black Americans have made African clothing popular when prominent African-Americans like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael used it to link the African diaspora, reject Western cultural norms and inject back pride. It is not just used to get clout or praise to seem “cultured”, but to link the forgotten African identity that we have been trying to get back for centuries. If we can not identify with our lost African culture, then black Americans will face an identity crisis trying to find who we are and where we belong in the world. We are trying to find an identity to have pride in and cling onto, something that makes our purpose important in an America that has historically suppressed and marginalized black people.

I have always witnessed the cruel remarks about Africans from black people and been amazed by the immediate switch when they dress in African clothing to seem “cultured.” The lack of respect given back to Africans from the black community is a real problem and needs to be addressed if we truly want to be considered part of the African diaspora. On the contrary, Africans must realize the majority of blacks really do care about Africans and respecting African culture.

I do not believe blacks are appropriating in terms of disrespecting the various ethnic groups, but they are misinformed on how to show their solidarity. I believe if Africans and black Americans can come together, we can both educate the other on understanding each other’s cultures, then a resolution can be found.

Kamal Morgan, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at

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