Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Zebras, "tribal" prints: It's Afrika!

So, over on Feministing, Samhita wrote an article about the new Afrika line of clothing by American Apparel. Under the headline: "Jungle prints are back," the blogger wrote:

And this time to add to the classiness, they are being marketed as the "Afrika" collection. Please get ready to see self proclaimed, post-racist, ironic hipsters near you wearing this fall trend. You know because this isn't totally racist or anything. This company will never cease to amaze me, in every way.
I'm siding with Samhita on this one. While I would not use the word racist to describe what American Apparel has done wrong, I would use exotification, "othering," cultural commodification and, well, stupidity. Plenty of Feministing commenters disagree, however, with lots getting stuck on the idea that wearing animal print is inherently racially offensive. No one is saying that. The problem is not zebra print. The problem is distilling a continent of many countries, cultures, languages and peoples down to its wildlife and faux tribal print. There is a tired "dark continent" stereotype at the heart of the American Apparel clothing line's name and marketing. And THAT is a problem.

What other continent is viewed this way? When was the last time you saw a fashion collection of brown bear fur and Celtic prints labeled "Europe!" No one would buy a pan-European marketing ploy that blended Irish culture with prints from animals found in upper Scandinavia and Russia. Such a thing would be foolish. But no one can be bothered to know the difference between Zambia and Mauritania. Africa becomes just a mush of dark tribal folk and wild animals, and suffers the indignity of insensitive marketing all the time. Asia, too, but that's another post. (Someone needs to stop Gwen Stefani before she appropriates again.)

What do you think? Is American Apparel's new Afrika line simply an homage or typical hipster cultural tone deafness? (Be sure to check out the comments over on Feministing. A link is at the top of this post.)


Elly said...

lol - when I first saw the photos with this article I thought they were an SNL joke, you know like "Mom Jeans". I don't know that this "fashion" is racist, but it's certainly ugly!

JenX67 said...

Wow. I had never considered any of this before. What I have thought, always, however, was how absolutely ridiculous animal prints look on women. It is almost embarassing to see some women parade in these things. They're clearly *trying* to look sexy, which makes them look anything but sexy. It's really silly. I don't like it and I have NEVER worn them. Always, there has been something that has made me uncomfortable about them, and now I wonder if isn't something in my subconscience that has resisted it.

I definitely don't like the Afrika (with a K), but most people are so unaware, they won't know why anyone would ever have a problem with it.

Anonymous said...

Hipsters have started a commidification of everyones culture. From the scarves Muslims wear (I forgot the name) to Indian nail polish.

PioneerValleyWoman said...

The blond one brings to my mind an Afrikaner woman: a woman coming from a community of appropriators. I wonder whether Afrikaners spell Africa this way, Afrika?


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