Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Young Paris' Response To Zipporah Gene's Post About African Americans' Appropriating African Culture (video with transcription)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents a vlog of Young Paris's response to a September 2015 tweet and internet post by Black British blogger Zipporah Gene. In that tweet and that post Zipporah Gene indicated that African Americans are "appropriating" African culture. Gene's tweet and internet post appear to have been at least partially prompted by a photograph of Young Paris who is of Congolese descent with other people of continental African descent and one Haitian who were at the 2015 AfroPunk Festival in Brooklyn, New York.

I've transcribed that vlog because I couldn't find any transcript online. Additions and corrections are welcome.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Also, click for another pancocojams post that features Young Paris. That post includes biographical information about Young Paris.

This post is part of an ongoing series on AfroPunk music & fashion. Click the "AfroPunk music" tab below for other posts in this series.

Thanks to Young Paris for his comments. Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the publisher of this vlog on YouTube.

Zipporah Gene is a Black British female blogger of Nigerian descent. Here's a link to her internet post along with selected quotes from that article: Black America, Please Stop Appropriating African Clothing and Tribal Marks

... "Can Black people culturally appropriate one other?

It’s a nuanced question that seems to either set tempers aflare or create vacuums of silence in a room but, after going through pictures taken at the latest Afropunk Festival, it’s definitely one that I have to ask...

You take a cultural dress, mark or trait, with all its religious and historical connotations dilute it, and bring it out for occasions when you want to look ‘trendy’.

Ask yourself, how exactly is that any better?...

I understand that, for the most part, many of my own Black American friends are well meaning when they talk about African fashion, but the end result is still the same...

I’m not trying to start a war, but I would just like you all to realize the hypocrisy of seeing someone wearing a Fulani septum ring, rocking a djellaba, painted with Yoruba-like tribal marks, all the while claiming that this is meant to be respectful. It’s a hodgepodge, a juxtaposition, a right mess of regional, ethnic and cultural customs and it screams ignorance and cultural insensitivity...

If you’re not from an African tribe, please leave off wearing the tribal marks. Otherwise you’re participating in the very thing you vehemently speak out against.

Sure we may not wear Ichafus on a day-to-day basis anymore, but that doesn’t mean their significance to us is lessened. These things are reserved for funerals, births, weddings . . . significant rites of passage — vital points in our lives that we share with our community and people. It is how we express ourselves in the collective.

It is should not be a fashion statement to create shock or awe.
Black people or otherwise."
ADDED January 3, 2018:
Here are explanations for non-English terms that are found in this quote:
Fulani septum ring:
From - "septum piercings (piercing in between the cartilage and tip of the nose)"

Also read this article: Although the Fulani (Fula, Peul) ethnic group of West Africa aren't specifically mentioned, that article presents information about the history and meanings of lip piercing, ear piercing, navel piercing etcetera in Africa and elsewhere. For example, here's one excerpt from that article about lip piercing:
..."Only two tribes pierce the lips with a ring: the Dogon tribe of Mali and the Nuba of Ethiopia. Among the Dogon, lip piercing has religious significance; they believe the world was created by their ancestor spirit "Noomi" weaving thread through her teeth, but instead of thread, out came speech. All the other lip piercing that is practiced around the world is done with labrets, which can be made from a pin of wood, ivory, metal, or even quartz crystals. Among the tribes of Central Africa and South America, the labret piercing is stretched to extremely large proportions, and large wooden or clay plates are inserted in place of labret pins over time.


The Makololo tribe of Malawi wear lip plates called Pelele in the upper lip. The African explorer Dr. Livingstone asked a chief the reason for this; in surprise, the chief answered "For beauty! They are the only beautiful things women have. Men have beards, women have none. What kind of person would she be without Pelele? She would not be a woman at all."...

"The djellaba ... (Moroccan Arabic: جلابة, Berber: Aselham) is a long, loose-fitting unisex outer robe with full sleeves that is worn in the Maghreb region of North Africa. The word literally means attractive, from jalaba, to bring, fetch; its Semitic root is glb.

Traditionally, djellabas are made of wool in different shapes and colours, but lightweight cotton djellabas have now become popular. Among the Berbers, or Imazighen, such as the Imilchil in the Atlas Mountains, the colour of a djellaba traditionally indicates the marital status (single or married) of the bearer: a dark brown djellaba indicating bachelorhood."...

Ichafus= "The Gele or Ichafu is a head wrap used by Nigerian women for events and ceremonies. The head wrap is called Gele in Yoruba and Ichafu in Igbo." [That post includes photographs.]

Here's the link to Zipporah Gene's tweet that preceded her post about African Americans' "appropriating" African culture:
"@msbee_x: all I'm tryna find out is when did our culture become fancy dress. Not cool. goo.g/85E001"

Here's a comment about that photograph from ttps://, submitted by "IrbyTremor ᴛʜᴇ ʙʟᴀᴄᴋ ᴡɪᴛᴄʜ[S], October 2015
"Much as I loathe GodGazi, credit goes where it's due. All are African save for one who is Hatian.

Zipporah is the blogger that wrote that article called “African Americans stop Appropriating African Clothing and Culture.”

This is the photo that drove her to write that stupid blog post. This tweet was written by her on the 1st and her blog was posted on the 3rd. The funny thing about this picture is….everyone in this picture in African clothing is African Continental….not “African American”…lmao.

Young Paris (Milandou Badila) is a world famous musician from the DR Congo.

Ntangou Badila is a famous artist from the DR Congo.

Kwabena Samuel Nana Ofosu-Ware is a world renowned fashion designer from Ghana.

This “reporter” saw a picture taken in Brooklyn and assumed everyone there was born and raised in america…

What’s “Not Cool” is her divisive tactics against African people. You see we are such One People that she couldn’t even tell the difference by sight."
Warning: That discussion thread contains profanity.

Note that Young Paris and his sister were raised in the United States, although it's true that they are of Congolese descent.

FEATURED VLOG- Are Black Americans Appropriating African Culture?

youngparistv, Published on Sep 30, 2015

Young Paris response to Shedoesliving Article
This video is no longer available as of (at least) January 1, 2018

"Hello everyone. [words in French?] My name is Milandou Badila, also known as Young Paris. And I’m a musical recording artist, creative director, and more recently I founded a brand called “Melanin” which is built around showcasing the beauty and excellence of People of Color.

Um today I want to speak about an article, specifically from a woman that chose to use my image while referencing to what it is for African Americans to appropriate African culture. Um, I’ll start out by saying “To go back to tradition is the first step forward”. I’ll say that again “To go back to tradition is the first step forward”...

Now, to get straight into what you were saying, you started the article by saying “When did our culture become fancy dress ball?” Now I’m gonna give you a little bit of the benefit of the doubt because with the title of the article and why I can understand as an African that it can offend you because when you see so much of appropriation happening throughout different cultures throughout the world, um, and you see something in reference to something that has such a pure base and ambiance to its origins, I understand why you can see something on a platform that looks so fancy and, um, approachable and wonder why, you know, I’m wearing the make-up that I am and different people in the photo wearing these traditions and these patterns, these, um, different dialects of the African Diaspora.

Now, um, I’ll just go in to a little detail about myself because I’m sure that you don’t know who I am. Um my father co-founded the first national ballet of Congo that unified many villages in the Congo and helped educate people with plays and performances and this kinda created a wave of information while Congo was fighting for its independence. So I come from a very strong Diaspora of what it is to be Congolese, what it is to fight for what you believe in, what it is to move forward as an individual and as a culture.

Growing up my father brought that tradition here to us and we carried on this tradition by…you know since I was a baby ..all my ten brothers and sisters were continuing to perform this traditional drum and dance. So we grew up knowing that we were very different than everyone. It’s like, being me as a kid being African, you know, in a school of African Americans I was always picked on, being laughed at- I’m sure that many Africans can relate. It’s also very interesting to see the type of respect that many Africans get today, which is honorably. But, growing up it wasn’t all the same. So I had to grow up with a lot of different pressures of what it was to be traditional and hold on to these different ideas.

Um, so anyway I going back to say what I represent is very pure and rich to me. I’ll go into a little bit of detail about my face. I’m wearing white because this is what we wear for spirits. And my father died nearly three years ago and in our culture when we wear white to show that we are carrying on the tradition of those that are our ancestors. We also wear yellow which comes from the sun that provides light and energy for us. We wear green that comes from the earth and gives us food. And we wear red for the blood of our people. You usually see me wearing white because my father passed recently and I actually gone through many deaths in the last several years. Un, so again, this just goes back to information and education.

I’m sure you just saw the photo and you saw beautiful people and it threw you off. But one thing I want to ask you as an individual, when you say “our culture” what are you actually talking about? What culture are you stemming from when you say “our culture"? And, you know, coming from someone who has these values and these traditions, you know, when you speak of appropriations, that comment, or that observation comes from someone who feels like their culture or their identity is being appropriated. But, essentially, I don’t know where you come from when you speak on these equations as an African tribal being. So, like, for example, um, if you ever visit different parts of Africa you go to these villages, they’re actually very welcoming. They will be the ones to actually put the paint on you. And they’ll put their garments on you to show you that this is their culture and this is what they find beautiful to them. And it’s just interesting to see how, you know, we’ve gotten to a place where some feel like just because this is sacred to certain people it becomes sacred to them. But you watch how these people receive other people wearing their works or wearing their traditional garments or how they carry on those traditions. You just don’t really have the place to say, you know what your observation is when it comes to this topic because you don’t come from there. So, if anything, those who are being appropriated are the ones who have the opinion because you know, they come from this culture. So, for example, people feel like in music, you know, whether it’s hip hop or jazz or rock, you know you see what many Europeans have done overshadowing the genius of Africans who have created all of these different platforms for people to thrive that don’t come from the culture. But they have the roots and the source to actually speak on this issue because they come from that culture. They live within that culture.

So essentially, if you’re not in these tribes or living in these villages or living in these traditions or practicing what we practice, I don’t understand where your platform [is] [why] you felt the need to say all these different opinions about what we are. Because I feel like at the end of this video I’m not gonna say it super long, at the end of the day when you come from this and it’s real to you, this is you. This is me. This is me every day. Almost every day I wear this paint because I’m always responding to the traditions of my father. I’m always carrying tradition. But if you don’t come from this, I mean, essentially, if you come from this and this is your life, you know what it is to you. You know what it means to you in your heart when you’re praying by yourself in that room and you’re speaking to God or the universe and the energy around you, that’s your relationship.
So it can make you uncomfortable to see people that don’t understand the Diaspora of what it represents but when it’s real to you that’s you.

So there’s nothing you can really remove from me or who I am or what I represent because I live this, every day I live this. I live this weekly. I live this monthly throughout the year to carry on this tradition. To show people and young Africans what it is to feel beautiful, what it is to be an African. Because we already have so many pressures coming from European platforms and supremacy on its own that tells us we can’t be associated with something as rich and pure as back home that is our original ambiance and our original essence as beings. But to be so, to be such a contemporary assimilated being where you feel like, you know, you’re so comfortable in this European Diaspora that you don’t even want those who don’t come from the source of this information to not even show that they… You know they know that they’ve been stolen here as slaves and brought to this other place. But, instinctually, they know that they want to be connected to something that is more rich and realistic to them at, for their life experience. So who are you to remove that from them-to tell them that they can’t relate to something?

Now, one observation, and one objective that I would put up from me coming from this culture that I have been seeing and why it could make me uncomfortable and why I have the place to say this is because I come from it is when people do take, you know, things that are spiritual to certain beings and replenish them and re-showcase them to the public because they feel like it’s beautiful, or they just feel like, you know they’re not very informed and they, to them they just feel like they have a platform to do that. Um, essentially it’s not something that you can really stop because people are going to be inspired because we all are inspired by life. But at the same time I think we, the strongest thing that we can do is educate, and teach people why we do what we do. And then they’ll take the initiative. But again, it goes back to the saying. This is me. This is my life. This is what I’m always going to do so no one can remove that from me.

But again, peace to you Queen. I hope that can find all the well wishes that you desire. Sorry, my face has been cropped for most of this video, but I don’t do vlogs. This is my first vlog ever.

Peace to the public and to everyone who is supportive of me and my family’s journey. We see everything you’re doing and if I still can’t respond to everything you do I still have the love there. Once again this is Milandou Badila also known as Young Paris signing off. And this all stems to say “Educate yourself before you make your opinions". I’m actually glad that you posted this [article] because it brought up a conversation. Thank you to the Yoruba movement and Ngazi and all the other people who have shown love and who have spoken on my behalf, but I feel like it was important for me to just touch base on this and speak to the public a bit. Alright. Peace and love, y’all. Ashe.
Transcription by Azizi Powell. Additions and corrections are welcome.

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  1. Here's an excerpt from a biography of Young Paris that I think is pertinent to this subject:
    "YOUNG PARIS, aka Milandou Badila, is parading into the industry like a breath of fresh air.... Since he’s been chosen to perform at AFROPUNK Fest in Paris, he’s been getting a lot of coverage for his unique blend of formulated melodies that vacillate between rap and electronic dance music mix with traditional African drumbeats. Paris and his ten brothers and sisters are the progeny of Andre and Pamela Badila, world-renowned Congolese dancers, and together, they pay tribute to their heritage by donning traditional dress and body-paint, updated for modern impact."
    I added italics to highlight this sentence.

  2. There are LOTS of internet responses to Zipporah Gene's post on African Americans' "appropriating" African culture. And most of them take the position (which I agree with) that when African Americans and other people from the African Diaspora wear traditional African fashions or African inspired fashions we aren't appropriating African cultures. Instead we are re-claiming those cultures - and, often (as is the case with the musical artist Young Paris) adding our own flavor to the mix.

    Here's one response to Zipporah Gene's post:
    "I disagree with the original author. I feel like when black people wear cultural stuff it's because we are grasping at straws trying to have some, connection to a history we will never know.. We want SOMETHING, ANYTHING That will make us feel a connection to a place we KNOW we're from we just can't prove it. We diaspora folks are the only people who can't trace our history, even Jews still know there fam history before the holocaust. Now I'll admit some folks do just wear stuff for trend sake but majority black people who I've encountered and myself included, it's simply not the case and I really feel it's our way of connecting to our history. It's still ours despite lack of paper evidence. I think if we start on a trend to call African Americans out for cultural appropriation it's just another black division of us vs them carved deeper"
    k, Open Thread: Can Black People Culturally Appropriate One Another?