Dressing for the Culture

Last year Kyemah McEntyre, 19, wooed the world with her prom dress in homage to the dashiki. It had a beauty and vibrancy that refused be ignored. This year she has helped to inspire the class of 2016 to show up and show out in their own designs—and they definitely did. Fabrics from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Liberia were on deck to say, “Hey, what’s up? Hello. I came to senior prom to steal the show.”

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Kyemah McEntyre’s prom dress in 2015

The dresses and the complementary suits (I see you fellas) for some of us is a nod to our disconnected roots. For those who left their native Africa and settled in America this is normal turn up aseobi (Nigerian for clothes for the family) that is worn at weddings, and other celebrations. Now, we are seeing these textiles being worn at major (and unforgettable) events outside of the family events. These prints and motifs are the last imprints some of these seniors will make as the class of 2016.

I don’t think this is a fad and what’s “hot” right now. These younger generations are exhibiting and joining the culture of resistance that is taking place in America. The culture of resistance confronts repression (oppression) while creating solidarity. As we resist the injustices that have been permeating our lives socially, mentally, politically, and economically, we have been doing it together. We have been resisting not only the oppression, but also the hegemonic ideologies that come with it. We are going back to the “I’m Black and I’m Proud” days with our self-love and allowing it to manifest in the way we see ourselves, wear our hair and what we wear.

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A Brooklynite rocking his “Amour 54” dashiki. Behind him is the legendary Moshood, a Black owned Afrikan clothing store.

Earlier this week, Mott Hall Bridges Academy principal, Nadia Lopez, who is dedicated to teaching her middle school scholars their history and set the foundation for their future, wore an Ankara print dress to the Class of 2016’s graduation. It sent a message to her followers. The purple in her dress represents royalty and the fabric represents ancestral roots. The occasion was the completion of another stage in her young ones academic achievement. Her dress was her aseobi. Her Instagram post of her dress and her scholars was for the world to see with the hashtags that included #IamNotInvisible #AfricanPrint #Queen.

It’s personal. It’s social. It’s educational. It’s political. It’s cultural.

In the awe of it all, there is something missing when these fashion statements are mentioned: economic power.

Money, power and respect is not about making it rain in the club (sorry to burst that bubble). It’s about investing in ourselves to the point where others see us and can’t help recognize and respect our worth instead of being their cash cow—not to mention the appropriation. The Black buying power has never stayed in the community with the exception of Black Wall Street (and we see how that ended). It’s a paradox that Blacks the set the trend, but don’t see the profit. However, with websites like I Don’t Do Clubs and Zuvaa providing exposure to black businesses that steers the Black dollar back into the community. Moreover, Forbes identified Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. Someone has what you need. (Shout out to Koko D and 84 Gem!) Could there be a paradigm shift in economic power that we see in non-black communities? I really hope so. It’s long overdue and necessary for our culture.

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