I’m starting to think every fashion editor from mainstream America got together and had a secret meeting on how to piss black girls off, because there’s just no way white people can be this dense. Or can they?
As if Teen Vogue didn’t just get dragged for showcasing Senegalese twists on a non-black model two months ago and Allure didn’t find out the hard way that afros actually aren’t for white women a mere three weeks ago, Elle Canada decided now is a good time to tell people (i.e. their white readers) Dashikis are the newest “it” fashion item. And why? Because Sarah Jessica Parker was seen rocking one.
Sex and the City’s leading lady wasn’t the only reason Elle Canada decided dashikis were worth writing about, but she was the fair-skinned star power the mag used as proof for why “this tribal printed shirt” belongs on their “style radar,” as was noted in an intro feature on their site. That page was followed with a picture of the actress in a pink and white dashiki accompanied by the caption: “When SJP starts rocking it you know it’s hot! She even wore a dashiki to her collection launch at Nordstrom.” Funny, I knew dashikis were hot when I saw my people wearing them some 50-plus years ago during the height of the civil rights and black power movements — and it wasn’t because they went nice with a wedge heel in the summer.
To be fair, Elle Canada did include some black women in their feature (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jhene Aiko) which, interestingly enough, is now nowhere to be found on the fashion site. However, as these things often go, the stain of their ignorance has not been scrubbed from social media. And I wouldn’t expect it to be anytime soon as the magazine clearly took the route of cowardice, quietly removing the article rather than fessing up to falling prey to their own privilege. Media Diversified threw out a great hashtag — #MyCultureIsNotCouture — that I’m personally hoping ends up on a t-shirt one day soon. Amandla Stenberg, are you reading this? Can we make it happen?
— Media Diversified (@WritersofColour) August 20, 2015
I won’t pretend like when Ri Ri and Bey are wearing dashikis they are doing so to honor their West African kinfolk for whom such apparel is typical every day dress. But I would hope they at least are aware of the history and why and how dashikis became an “it” thing in the western world. That’s the part that’s missing from all of these magazine missteps. I really don’t care all that much about a white girl walking down the street with a ‘fro or braids or “the new kaftan” as Elle Canada wants us to believe the dashiki is. But I do have a problem with the ignorance that often accompanies wearing said styles and the way in which they are dumbed down to merely represent something cute when they originated as iconic cultural symbols — ironically in some cases to combat the very thing so present in these consistent examples of cultural appropriation: white privilege. If you’re going to tell a story, tell the whole one. Otherwise, as most black people would probably prefer at this point, leave it alone.