On kente cloth and appropriation

Elon Musk

Instead, Elon Musk gets to manufacture automobiles, dig tunnels, and launch astronauts to the International Space Station. Seriously, how insane is this?

It appears Tesla workers were infected with COVID-19 prior to an agreement with Alameda County that allowed company to resume production in Fremont and so the company was not required to, and did not, report the cases to the county.[1]

Faiz Siddiqui, “Tesla defied county orders so it could restart production. Days later, workers tested positive for the coronavirus,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/06/09/tesla-factory-coronavirus/


George Floyd

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Fig. 1. Photograph by Manuel Balce Ceneta of the Associated Press, via the Washington Post, June 9, 2020,[2] fair use.

The concern I have with Congressional leaders wearing kente cloth stoles (figure 1) is with what’s called ‘appropriation,’ in which, as I understand it, a colonizer appropriates cultural objects of a colonized culture. The critique applies generally when whites, whose heritage is inextricable from colonialism and imperialism, deploy objects from other cultures with little regard for the cultures themselves.

I acknowledge the complaint, at least to the degree I understand it, but I also see treacherous ground: Cultural interchange happens. Is every white woman in a yoga class thus guilty? And what, really, are the boundaries here? Is this a charge applicable only to whites?

I suspect the charge of appropriation more strongly applies when the political leadership of a hegemonic world power deploys cultural artifacts, which is what I see with Nancy Pelosi and other congressmembers wearing the kente cloth. I can see where it might be different had they repudiated neoconservative policies, including the neoliberalism which neoconservatism sees as a moral imperative and which colonizes poor and working class people even today, but they most certainly have not.

I don’t really have an answer for all this and I’m not really one to say. In the case of the kente cloth, I’d very much rather hear from Blacks on this, some of whom do indeed seem disturbed.[3] Most of the response I’m seeing so far is more along the lines of Benjamin Dixon’s and Eric Haywood’s tweets, quoted above, which is that they are more concerned with the (predictably and woefully inadequate) political response to the protests than they are with the possible appropriation.

Robin Givhan, a fashion critic at the Washington Post, appears a little better placed to respond—and along with some useful background on kente cloth, she has some suggestions as to how the cloth might better have been used.[4]

Alicia Lee, “Congressional Democrats criticized for wearing Kente cloth at event honoring George Floyd,” CNN, June 8, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/politics/democrats-criticized-kente-cloth-trnd/index.html

Robin Givhan, “Congress’s kente cloth spectacle was a mess of contradictions,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/06/09/congresss-kente-cloth-spectacle-was-mess-contradictions/


Censorship

Mark Zuckerberg has refused to take action against Donald Trump for inciting violence on Facebook[5] against Black protesters. But on spurious allegations of fraud, Facebook shut down (and later restored, after—this was in an earlier version of the article—the Sacramento Bee requested comment from Facebook’s legal department) Black Zebra’s page. The latter organization has been providing video documentary coverage of Black Lives Matters protests, especially since the George Floyd murder, directly through a social media presence and to the Sacramento Bee.[6]

Racism much?

Alex Hern, “Facebook moderators join criticism of Zuckerberg over Trump stance,” Guardian, June 8, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jun/08/facebook-moderators-criticism-mark-zuckerberg-donald-trump

Michael McGough, “Facebook page restored for Black Zebra, team covering Sacramento protests, after being disabled,” Sacramento Bee, June 9, 2020, https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article243401291.html


  1. [1]Faiz Siddiqui, “Tesla defied county orders so it could restart production. Days later, workers tested positive for the coronavirus,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/06/09/tesla-factory-coronavirus/
  2. [2]Robin Givhan, “Congress’s kente cloth spectacle was a mess of contradictions,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/06/09/congresss-kente-cloth-spectacle-was-mess-contradictions/
  3. [3]Alicia Lee, “Congressional Democrats criticized for wearing Kente cloth at event honoring George Floyd,” CNN, June 8, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/politics/democrats-criticized-kente-cloth-trnd/index.html
  4. [4]Robin Givhan, “Congress’s kente cloth spectacle was a mess of contradictions,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/06/09/congresss-kente-cloth-spectacle-was-mess-contradictions/
  5. [5]Alex Hern, “Facebook moderators join criticism of Zuckerberg over Trump stance,” Guardian, June 8, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jun/08/facebook-moderators-criticism-mark-zuckerberg-donald-trump
  6. [6]Michael McGough, “Facebook page restored for Black Zebra, team covering Sacramento protests, after being disabled,” Sacramento Bee, June 9, 2020, https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article243401291.html

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