Not a Trend, A Revolution: Cultural Appropriation and the Black Girl Aesthetic

I have a weird relationship with shopping. It’s something I’ve always loved. Trying on clothes and seeing the way they sit on my body, hug my skin, drape off of me. I love that moment when you try something on, turn to the mirror, and just think YAAAASSSS!

I’ve always loved shopping.

But going to Asia skewed my relationship with consumerism. For starters, I only ever backpacked in Asia, and you can’t take your whole wardrobe with you in your backpack. So I lived off three or four outfits. And sometimes I lived like that for months at a time.

I remember after my first trip to Asia, after almost 3 months there, I got home (*Germany*) and went into my room to drop my back pack off. I was completely overwhelmed by…. my walk-in closet. I went through the clothes — most of which I’d forgotten about — and was stunned, and slightly nauseated, by how much I had.

Experiencing that feeling is one of the reasons why I love backpacking, and a major reason why I don’t shop so much anymore at home. I don’t need anything. The Telegraph reports, “Growing cotton is a toxic business; it uses a lot of pesticides – putting in peril the lives of women, men and children in cotton farming communities. 77 million cotton workers suffer poisonings from pesticides each year.” The clothes we buy are hurting People of Color across the world, so I skip most trends and stick to the essentials now.

So what trend made me walk into Zara that day last summer?

Welp, it was this shirt:

two's a trend

Two’s A Trend

At first I was like WOW! I love the aesthetic. I love the big hair. I love the bell bottoms. Two’s A Trend. And then I got angry. Two’s A Trend? Big hair and bell bottoms?

And I realized that I loved this shirt because I was seeing this:

Black women

Especially that girl in the middle.

And I was angry because that’s not who the shirt is depicting. The shirt was depicting white girls with Black girl aesthetics. What I now know to be typical white-people syndrome, but as I stood in the store that day, I was horrified. I was looking around me at other people there waiting for someone else to be like “Wow! That’s so weird! White girls in bell bottoms looked like this:

 

bell bottoms

Not that!”

So I bought the shirt.

I thought to myself. I’m gonna make this shirt right. They just forgot to finish this shirt, that’s all. So I got some fabric paint, went home, and painted the girls brown.

giphy-6.gif

That’s better.

Except something still felt off, but I didn’t have the language to express the unsettled feeling in my stomach. So I put the shirt on, and wore it to a big weekend retreat for Afrogermans and siblings of the diaspora. My girls gave me feedback.

“I’m trying to figure out what your shirt means? Is it about lesbians?”

I told them the story. “Ohhhhh!” They replied. “I didn’t get it because of the ‘Two’s A Trend’ Part. But maybe it’s just the language barrier!”

But it wasn’t. I had felt that too.

Even with brown girls on the shirt now, the words felt wrong. Two Black girls rocking their natural look is a trend… for who? For white girls to steal? And if we didn’t want to interpret the shirt that way, then it was some statement about lesbians? What?

I realized that the shirt still wasn’t finished. But I still didn’t have the language to fix it. Then I left for Thailand (again) and the shirt remained… untouched.

Until I found it again.

By this point, months had passed by. In that time, I gained more important learning experiences that gave me better language. I spent more time with people who look like me. And I realized that I had felt the disrespect of cultural appropriation.  Black girls spending time together, enjoying life, and their natural appearance isn’t a trend, it’s a revolution. To tilt our heads back in laughter despite living in a world that has only prepared to see us suffer…. is revolution. Even when I’m out with just one other girlfriend, we feel stronger and the world feels that too. Our friendship is revolution. Our laughter is revolution. Our self-acceptance is revolution.

Don’t minimize that to a trend. Don’t market our movement.

So I finally fixed it.

Photo on 2-17-16 at 2.56 PM

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Not a Trend, A Revolution: Cultural Appropriation and the Black Girl Aesthetic

  1. I love it!

    I just came across your blog this evening and it is really powerful.
    I have learnt a lot from my sister across the pond.

    Thank you.

    Like

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