Oh no not tribal fashion references again!

So the last time I wrote about American Apparel’s use of mock tribal prints and the name, “Afrika” for a line of clothing, it was a little bit controversial. Some folks didn’t understand why putting thin, white models, in faux tribal and animal prints with the title, “Afrika” was racist. So be it.
UPDATE: I think one of our commenters put the argument for why the use of “African” symbolism is problematic and racist best here.
She says,

For people who have not been exposed to critical race theory or the study of colonialism and cultural appropriation, the new Afrika line probably doesn’t look racist to you. The reason it doesn’t look racist to you is because the attractiveness of the line is meant to play on the unconscious attitudes that non-African westerners have about Africa. Here’s a set of association words:
exotic
primitive
tribal
jungle
wild
animalistic
hypersexual
I can go on, but you get the point.


Africa is a continent, not a country. If they called the line “Cameroon”, people would say “what”? Most Americans don’t know anything about africa, and probably couldn’t point out Cameroon on a blank map. “Tribal” is a loaded word, which I could write like ten pages about, especially in relation to the western perception of African societies.

I am choosing to put that quote in here and I think it applies to the below example as well.

This however, is just weird. I like fashion, I won’t lie. But I don’t even think these look good. Galliano states that his starting point was in fact African tribalism. But, I don’t even know where this is categorized. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is appropriation, but I do think it is offensive to make a “tribal figure” the heel of your shoe. Even more so, since it is supposed to represent fertility so the tribal figure is supposed to be an “African” woman. I guess it could also be seen as a play on voodoo. That is kind of wack no?

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53 Comments

  1. puckalish
    Posted October 2, 2008 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Wow, ZoBabe… that’s insanity.

  2. lotus seed
    Posted October 2, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    To me, what Zobabe posted is exactly at the heart of this issue – it’s the appropriation of a culture and taking the rights to it away from the very people it came from.
    To me, this is what makes it different from, say, the evolution of African-based music into the blues into rock and roll, where props are given to the predecessors and the originators of the art aren’t told they’re somehow doing it wrong. I can’t help feeling, for example, that the fashion industry is telling me that I’ve been doing my culture all wrong, or that it didn’t exist before American Eagle got its hands on it and “improved” it, or that the style is something I can never pull off because as a nonwhite person it looks “too ethnic” on me – EVEN WHEN IT’S AN OUTFIT INSPIRED FROM MY COUNTRY OF ORIGIN.
    The moment this became a racial issue is when AE called the animal prints “Afrika”, as if this is what represents the continent, its people and culture. How would we feel if AE put out a line of stripper outfits or June Cleaver dresses and called it “American Woman”? Come on, we’d be up in arms for being defined this way by the fashion industry. This is the same exact thing.
    Now, I’m not upset by white people wearing fashions inspired by my culture. They can wear whatever they want. The danger, however, is when people believe this fashion IS my culture, and thus who I am as an individual – and sadly this does happen.

  3. jlw
    Posted October 2, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    baddesignhurts,
    I just think that the other conversations around this that you want to have can’t happen without having conversations like this one taking place at the same time. This discussion is not just about assigning fault, it’s trying to get people to understand that this is racist. You’re taking for granted that this is racist (and I think you’re right to do that), but clearly from these comments you can see that not everyone is there yet. The orginial article may not have gone into it in too much depth, but it did allow for people to try to expain to others why this is racist. And a few of the commenters who didn’t know why it was racist seemed to appreciate the information. I’m just saying, since not everyone IS in agreement that this is racist, a discussion like this has value, even if it doesn’t go into a discussion of teh reasons our culture perpetuates racist views of other cultures.

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