I’m not black, can I wear African print? 

by Amarachi Chukwu

Discussions on Cultural Appropriation and Appreciation 

We often get approached by non-Black potential customers who wonder whether or not it is appropriate to wear our products. 

It is usually the case that they want to know our thoughts on cultural appropriation; as a brand, we feel like it is an important conversation to have.

Who is Nkiti designed for?

At the conception of this brand, we came to a realization that our intended audience was ourselves.

As Nigerian — specifically Igbo — people, living across the diaspora, our focus was on African and Black people in the diaspora. Who, like us, wanted to find modern ways to integrate elements of African aesthetics in our everyday wardrobe. 

Our clothes and designs are primarily aimed at Black diasporic communities but this does not mean that non-black people cannot engage with our brand or wear our products.

We invite everyone to this space we’ve created; born of our hybrid identification with nations in Africa, Europe and North America.

Laughing women in kente print t shirt dress

Understanding Appropriation vs Appreciation

“Cultural appropriation is the use of symbols, aesthetics, characteristics,etc of a culture without knowledge or acknowledgement of its origin and meaning.”

Cultural Appropriation more specifically is about power and the dynamic between dominant and marginalized communities.

Appropriation allows a dominant culture to take elements of an oppressed peoples’ culture without its context; whilst that same element is still negatively perceived on people of that culture e.g. braids, locs etc.

In reference to the African context specifically, the legacies of colonialism and slavery are important in understanding appropriation as it pertains to African and Black cultures. Therefore, care around engagement with the varying cultures within the African Continent is important.

“Cultural appreciation is the respectful engagement with cultural symbols and aesthetics that are not your own. It requires; respect, knowledge of the culture and context, and an invitation.”

In a global and technologically advanced world where access to other cultures is unprecedented, we have to be intentional about responsibly engaging with other cultures. We must recognize that not every culture wants outsiders to partake or wear the different symbols and aesthetics that are specific to them. People may invite you into their cultural context as a guest and the etiquette of that position requires the guest to respect the boundaries regarding what you do (or don’t) have access to.

Let's appreciate not appropriate

Being a Guest in Another’s Culture 

Nkiti, in merging basic western and African aesthetics, opens itself up for others to engage with us as we belong to and are influenced by both cultures.

As Nigerians in the diaspora, we have gone to many weddings where some guests who do not share the culture of the couple were invited to do so by wearing traditional clothes as guests in that context. 

chinese man in traditional African print wedding attire

This is appreciation and respectful engagement with cultural symbols and aesthetics that are not your own as opposed to desiring it and taking it without regard for the context and culture being co-opted.

Cultural Appreciation requires; respect, knowledge of the culture and context, and an invitation. As such, we invite everyone to our space, to engage with and buy our products whilst paying homage to our culture.

twitter mum in Nigerian traditional wear

#1 Be invited 

  • Do not feel entitled to take 

#2 Pay homage to the culture of origin

  • Acknowledge that is its not your own,
  • Raise the profile of those who created it
  • If you are making a profit give back to the communities of this culture

#3 Engage with culture on more than an aesthetic level

  • Understand and respect the meanings and context

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Thank you for your article about cultural appreciate vs appropriation. It’s sad to say but I was never exposed to the beautiful cultures within Africa until recently. As an elderly white woman in the US I wasn’t exposed to African American culture until the 60s and 70s. Through this exposure I have recently had more access to African culture. Most USA information about Africa is in the news regarding war, poverty and disease. Thank you for sharing your beautiful art and clothing.

Vina Manghera-Jones October 01, 2022

Lovely post to distinguish cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation. I too was wondering whether it was appropriate to wear the clothing offered by nkiti designs and this makes it clear that it’s okay :)

Tara Rane Mandemaker September 05, 2020

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