Yesterday, Elle Canada ruffled quite a few feathers when their team tweeted that Dashiki’s– a brightly colored garment worn for centuries in West Africa–was a new ‘it’ item.
Of course, the internet was not here for it.
The original article, titled, “Is Dashiki the New Kaftan?” is pretty harmless. It’s little more than a slideshow of 10 stars wearing the traditional garment, with the curt caption (that has undoubtedly been edited since the uproar), “Originating from West Africa, this tribal printed shirt is on our style radar. See how celebs are rocking their dashikis.”
This is obviously not the first time magazines have suffered from foot in mouth disease when it comes to writing about pieces firmly entrenched in minority and/or black culture. Who could forget the hubbub when Elle USA dubbed Timberland boots, “The New Fashion Shoe for Winter“?
Marie Claire was one of the first to infuriate when they gave Kendall Jenner credit for making braids/cornrows ‘bold,’ ‘new,’ and ‘epic.’
The issue most take with fashion magazines is their Christopher Columbusing of items that have been part of black culture for decades (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s when people claim to discover things that were already there and thriving). Of course magazines can write about dashikis, cornrows, or even Timberland boots. But it’s about how they package them to seem as if they’re new, when they are in fact, steeped in history.
Since this insiduous problem keeps creeping up, I’m willing to delve into some solutions. You’re welcome to offer your thoughts as well. Because it seems magazine writers are just not getting it.
First Idea: When it comes to black culture, do your research. Instead of slap an article together about Dashikis, include a bit of context to show deference to the culture that created it. Nothing excessive. 1-5 sentences is fine. Hit the Google Search button and go.
Beware of the uninformed tweet. Most of the above situations were exacerbated by irresponsible tweets. Know that the minute you press ‘send’ the twitterverse will be on you.
And while, in fashion, everything old becomes new again, when it comes to cultural items, make sure that your awareness of this is clear. Using the phrase ‘again’ ‘modernized’, ‘updated’, ‘renewed’, etc will show readers that you know where a garment comes from, and you know how it’s being embraced anew today. Bonus if you show people of color actually wearing or modeling the item that originated in their culture.
Remember the Uproar over Teen Vogue and Senegalese Twists?
We have to be very careful with how we choose our words and images.
But what do you think of this whole situation?
See the original Elle Canada article here.