Dagny Zenovia

Kente Cloth, U.S. Congress, and Terminology

The tricky thing about this era of rapid information is that whenever you do “too much,” you can never please everyone. In this video, I respond to a question from you. I discuss the nuances behind the reaction to the U.S. Congress wearing Kente cloth while presenting a police reform bill, the historical origin and adopted symbolism of Kente cloth, and the vast spectrum of terminology around Black identity and ethnicity in America.

Regarding the gesture by the U.S. Congress, in the grand scheme of things, I think it was okay. However, I would not have suggested to make that gesture at this time. It felt forced, which made it too easy to dismiss. This is where tagging on definitions or people to established symbols becomes slippery. There will always be push back when you add foreigners to a symbol or initiative that was created predominately for a certain message and a certain group of people. Now, after that gesture, they did introduce police reform legislation. We will see how that proceeds. Federal law is a start. The real work happens at the state and union level.

I think it is cool that people became Kente cloth connoisseurs over night due to this gesture. Like I mentioned in the video, Western media jumped between quoting social media posts about slave owners wearing Kente and whether a spider inspired the Kente patterns. Before you jump to conclusions, no, Kente cloth is not connected to the slave trade. Yes, of course Anansi the Spider created the original pattern. It is originally from Ghana, from the Ashanti and Ewe people. The colors, patterns, and weaving technique is a beautiful cultural tradition. To learn more from the source, I suggest you check out Kwasi Asare, a master Kente weaver. Below is the story of how Anansi the Spider inspired Kente cloth. Do you remember watching this clip as a kid? Or when your kids were actually kids?

As for Kente in America, it became a symbol of Black pride during the Civil Right’s Movement. Part of that was inspired by seeing Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President, wearing Kente cloth to meet with President Eisenhower at the White House. Images of Ghana’s independence influenced and inspired Black people all over the world, in and out of Africa. Kente continued to represent a gesture to reclaim Black identity paying homage to Ghana and Africa as well as making a statement to rebut the hipocracy of the American dream. This article discusses more details on how Kente became a part of the Black diaspora graduation tradition.

Like I mentioned in the video, Wax Print Film is a documentary about the origins, culture, and challenges behind wax print. I watched it at a screening last year at the Wax Print Festival in Accra. I thought it was really well done and thought provoking. The organizers for that festival were also recently featured in this BBC article discussing the same topic. African textiles that are sourced from Africa have so much potential that is suffocated by counterfeit goods, stifling trade agreements, and lack of investment. I am encouraged to see fashion industries all over Africa position themselves to showcase their value on a global scale. Hopefully, this leads to more progress in substantial support for this industry. What do you think? What makes wax print African? How can we build systems and infrastructure to support the fashion and textile industry in Africa?

Regarding terminology for Black identity in America, there is a spectrum of terms that continue to evolve. As I mentioned in the video, I appreciated the way Bre Danielle defined the terms in this post. There really is no one-size-fits-all answer to why some people prefer Black over African American or vice versa. As you can see, neither of the official definitions of these terms distance the person from Africa. The terms may also not fully represent the person’s identity. Where do people who are children of immigrants in America fit in? What do we call them? First-generation American. Diasporan. Afropolitan. Wakandan. The list continues to transform.

I feel the attitude towards creating a distance with Africa is more influenced on identity and pain instead of category terms. When I say it is exhausting being Black in America, I do not mean America makes me sleepy. There is a weight sitting on your shoulders that you cannot shake off. There is a cap to how tall you can stand. There is a constant internal fight to second-guess yourself as you maneuver a system that is designed to make you hate yourself. That same system defined Africa as the dark continent, a place with no value, which validates treating the people who were taken from it with no value. That pain is still very real and runs really deep. That is why education is so important. We cannot continue to hold on to ignorance as an excuse. I am encouraged to see more of the Diaspora take the initiative to knowing their history and opening themselves up to expanding their horizons to Africa.

Understanding the Black American experience will help understand the gestures to reconnect with Africa through art and fashion. For example, I have noticed the responses to Beyoncé upcoming film Black is King on Disney+. They are mixed, as usual. One discussion stood out to me, which you can view on this African Hustle Series post. The perspective noted that it is a film about Africa that is not available to watch in Africa. The narrative of African Kings and Queens is not valid because most were farmers and Africa is no longer full of huts. They expected more from Beyoncé. Now, I see where they are coming from. The film includes a lot of African artists and was filmed in different parts of Africa. I’m not sure yet why it is being released on Disney+. It could point us to who the target audience is for this film. I feel this film is a response to the Black American experience. The American education system and news media has taught Americans that Africa and its people are poor, diseased, and worthless. To rebut this, art that portrays Africa as rich, royal, and beautiful is needed. A quote from the trailer says “your ancestors never left you.” Why would the film depict “the ancestors” with cell phones and skyscrapers? Actually, we should be happy she is not showing all the investment and lifestyle opportunities in Africa. It would be too much. Africa would not be able to protect itself from the influx of foreigners, who are not Black, coming in to take it away again. If you are offended by this, maybe you are not the target audience for this film.

Similar to how Kente cloth was adopted, Africa represents something different for Black America compared to Africans and African immigrants. For Africans, Africa is home and is easily accessible. For Black America, Africa is freedom and needs to be defended and protected.

Thank you again to my YouTube subscriber for sharing this question. Let’s keep it going! Comment below and share what you would like to know and what you wish other Black people understood about you.

Also, remember to connect with me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I love hearing from you.

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