My Dashiki isn’t your costume

Illustration by Steck Von.

Margaretta Sakor

Contributing Writer

I was born on the west coast of Africa, in Monrovia, Liberia — the land named for former slaves to return to their home. The only problem is, former slaves didn’t want to return to a place that was no longer their home. The original enslaved people were all dead or too old. This new generation of African-Americans did not know much about Africa or their ancestors, much like today.

The African diaspora is a part of history that strikes to the core. Many African-Americans do not know about their African roots and can’t trace them back. Because of this lack of understanding, many people misrepresent the African culture in an attempt to modernize it. The misrepresentation of African culture is a dividing line between Africans and African-Americans.

This misrepresentation is unintentional. There are two sides to this problem — some people truly want to learn about African culture and connect to their roots, while others profit off African trends. This is where most of the problem originates: you cannot choose to be African when it is convenient for you.

It’s easy to grab African prints, put them on and claim to be “woke” because of current activism trends. People decide to be African temporarily and then take it off like an out-of-date costume.

Behavior like this takes away the significance of African culture. It allows non-black people to come in and tear down my culture. People who wear it for the trends won’t protect the culture as it needs.

Where I am from, there are very strong gender roles. Men and women’s clothing is very different and you may never see a man or woman wearing the same thing. The Americanized dashiki shirts that you’ll see many college students wearing are meant for men.

I see people who don’t even know what the colors or different designs mean wearing these bright dashiki prints. There are five main colors: gold, red, green, blue and white. Gold is popular because it conveys wealth and fertility. Red is the color of blood and stands for spiritual or political tension. The most harmonious color is blue, which represents love, peace and the sky. Green is a medicinal color — it’s the color of life and prosperity. White represents spirituality and purity.

One doesn’t blindly decide which color to wear without considering the meanings. When African men and women leave the house, they dress to impress. The whole idea is to grab attention and be bold within your clothing.

Now all the blame is not rested on the shoulders of African-Americans. Some Africans are unintentionally stepping away from African culture — I do this myself. I’m not saying we must walk around dressed in African garments all day, throwing our “pure African” roots in people’s faces. A helping hand is more of what I mean.

When I see someone misrepresenting African culture, I do not say anything to them. I don’t educate them in hopes of bettering their understanding because it becomes a matter of emotional labor. Having to bear all my knowledge and my identity on the table is something I’m not willing to do. Instead, I look at them and probably think something snarky in my head. And then complain about it later to my friends.

This is all a new thing to me. At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, the need for people to embrace African culture and reconnect with African roots started trending. I’ve never seen so many black people want to be African. When I came to America, I was bullied for my skin tone, my African accent and for just being African.

Now everyone seemingly wants to be African. Yet, it’s hard for me to accept that this generation of people who once bullied me for being African now want a part of my culture. It’s a hard pill to swallow and all the water in the world can’t make it go down easily.

I’m happy and proud of people who want to learn their roots. It’s groundbreaking to have a force as large as the African-American population wanting to reconnect with Africa.

If you truly want to learn more about African culture, I applaud you. They are trying to understand their roots because for them, their history has been lost. If you are African just for the trend, I urge you to stop. You are damaging the culture for everyone else. And even worse, you are creating a divide when there should be complete unity within the black community.

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