Is Black Beautiful in Africa ? (by David R.)

| New Internationalist | by David Rausch |

While studies are showing a growing trend in African American women “going natural” it seems that the same is not true for the African continent.

In  2014, the World Health Organization released findings showing that 77% of Nigerian women used skin bleaching products on a regular basis, while a recent study by the University of Cape Town suggests that  a third of  black South African women bleach their skin frequently. This trend is one that local doctors are calling an “epidemic” as the creams that African women use to lighten their skin often contain dangerous chemicals such as mercury that can lead to cancer, liver failure as well as skin pigmentation and diseases such as eczema.

Mounting evidence in the form of confessions by skin bleaching cream users suggest that the practice is fundamentally linked to an individual’s lack of self confidence, as women with lighter skin tones are…

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Four Finger Rule (by Lule K.)

noirpanther

There are noticeable asymmetries when it comes to dress code implemented among males and females. To many of the male students attending Rosslyn Academy, dress code isn’t even something that crosses their mind. As for the girls that do get called out, are there certain aspects to personality, relationships, or even appearance that may determine whether or not they were forced to cover their clothing with Kangas?

“I started noticing that my white friends weren’t complaining about dress code as much as my black friends were. I’m not sure if the two are related, but I did notice it,” said Angel Thairo, a 16 year old girl that attends Rosslyn Academy. For many women, dress code is, and will continue to be a factor of everyday life. Especially if you spend the majority of your time in a professional setting. The dress code at Rosslyn is seemingly simple. Most of the…

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A Trip of Expectations (by Angel T.)

A Culture of Us

Every year at Rosslyn Academy, the senior class goes on a trip to the beach for a week in March. The trip is meant to be a time of relaxation and debriefing from a busy year. However, it is often the case that feelings of excitement for the trip are overshadowed by great anxiety in having to meet social expectations and pressures that are present throughout the trip.

“I hear students talk about getting ready for senior trip all the time, saying things like, “I’m going on a diet because I want to look good for Senior Trip”and other comments like that,” remarks English teacher John Leonard, who has accompanied students on previous trips.

In talking with students, it is obvious that the expectations are clear to many. “There’s definitely expectations of how your body should look and what you’re going to wear,” says Njeri Thuo, a current senior. Junior students Jackie Lee and Kafura Thairo state that they are aware of…

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Melting Pot or Not

Interracial marriages and multiracial families are something that are no longer considered rare or unheard of in many countries. They are becoming common in countries such as America, which prides its self on being a melting pot of many different cultures, races, and people. In other places, multiracial children are viewed as exotically beautiful, having picked up the best traits from each race. However when multiracial families or interracial marriages are displayed on advertisements, they are often met with a slew of racist and derogatory remarks, which are detrimental to the progress that advertisement companies are making concerning miscegenation.

On April 29, Old Navy, a well-known American clothing store, released an advertisement on social media which depicted a multiracial family. Almost immediately, the advertisement was met with racist social media comments such as “Absolutely disgusting. What’s next? Gender neutral bathrooms? Pedophilia acceptance propaganda?! Never shopping here again.” This was not the first time an advertisement depicting multiracial families has been attacked. Companies such as Cheerios have been attacked for daring to depict a multiracial family in their advertisements.

The problem is that America has long identified itself as a country of immigrants, a country of many cultures, a diverse melting pot. However, can a country be a melting pot if multiracial families are not accepted in marketing, and business? Many African Americans carry the traits and genes of more than one race; no one seems to have a problem with this as long as both parents are black. The problem seems to stem from having parents that are of different races – miscegenation. The verbally abusive anti-miscegenation attacks that some American marketing businesses are experiencing are yet another sign that the fight against racism is not over. What is worse is that America prides itself on being culturally diverse, and yet cannot except miscegenation. Carolina Johnson, a junior at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi said, “I think it’s pretty insane at this point in time, in 2016, that people make those kinds of comments. I think that they show a face of society that we really have to try to diminish. To look at a family that is based on love, and say very demeaning things about them, that’s insane.” America has come pretty far in the fight against racism, but there is still a long way to go.

People often think that because slavery no longer exists in the shameless form it used too, slavery is over; it is not. And because segregation laws no longer exist, people can conclude that racism is over; it is not. Things such as racism cannot be solved simply by changing laws. Racism is a system of thinking in which a particular race is placed at the top of the chain, and this system of thinking drastically affects reality. Anti-miscegenation is only one example of the many problems that racism still brings.

It is dangerous to place value and identity in the colour of skin. Our races are simply boxes that society tries to put us in. Race is not an identity. Character is.

Come Together

It’s that time of the year again, when millions of Europeans come together to celebrate music through the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a competition filled with nationalism, political controversy, interesting fashion choices and of course, tons of heartfelt ballads and interesting euro-pop performances that probably would sound quite bizarre in a different setting. And there has certainly been a few outrageous numbers in the competition that would have you exclaim ‘Only in Eurovision’, including old Russian ladies singing “Party for Everybody” while baking bread as a part of the choreography, a Romanian countertenor in black diamond embellished clothing. Oh, and Ireland´s Singing Turkey back in 2008.

However, Eurovision does not only contain crazy outfits and catchy songs. Politics often make their way into the arena. In the last few years, loud boos have echoed against the walls after Russia’s performances due to the outrage over the anti-HBTQ politics of the country, as well as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Interestingly, these negative noises have been censored in previous years, but Sweden – this year’s host country – has decided to not censor the show at all. Sergey Lazarev, this year’s Russian competitor, is one of the favorites and says that Eurovision wants to keep politics out of the show and should do just that by censoring the boos. He says that a prospering gay community does exist in Russia and that a Russian victory this year would support it further.

The motivation behind the start of this loved and cherished contest was to unite Cold War Europe. Today, the competition is a friendly one between countries that once were at bloody war with each other. Sometimes things can seem a bit too friendly, when countries put their highest vote on their neighboring country in order to improve the bonds between their respective countries. This leads many to question the fairness of the competition. And in last year’s dramatically close battle between Russia and Sweden for first place, politics might have played a large part. Even though Russia’s competitor expressed her open mind and support of human rights and love, she was faced with deep criticism because of the negative attitude against the country in which she was born. If Russia wins this year, will that victory come without controversy? Probably not.

The turbulence and conflicts that are realities in our world today conflict with other areas – like music – and it seems to be hard to look beyond politics when judging an artist in a competition like the Eurovision Song Contest. As a politically interested person, I know that it can be hard to ignore the political views that certain nation’s governments represent, even when it´s about music. But I think that we all have to remind ourselves that a person can represent only him or herself – not necessarily always a country as a whole. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have to worry about whether our actions and words are in complete agreement with the policies of our own countries in every aspect of life. We are all from this same world.

The theme of this year’s Eurovision is “Come Together”, and so perhaps we should do just that; we should forget the conflicts for once, and unite with the help of music and creativity.

Addicted to Pain

You know how it is. You go out. Have fun. Maybe get drunk. Black out. Wake up with a giant Pokémon tattoo on your back. Been there? Yes? No? Oh.

A tattoo is a form of body modification done with ink on skin. Tattooing has been practiced throughout the world for many centuries. Since the 1970s, tattoos have become a mainstream part of Western fashion. Even the Guinness World Records has an award for the world’s most tattooed person- currently held by Lucky Diamond Rich, from New Zealand.

The tattoo has undergone dramatic redefinition and has shifted from a form of deviance to an acceptable form of expression. The word “addiction” is tossed around a lot when it comes to tattoos. Some say that the drive to acquire body art is addictive, while others say it is simply a passion. When it comes to tattoos, there are several psychological, physiological and social elements which could contribute to an addiction. Adrenaline, self-expression, cosmetics, pain substitution, self-mutilation, attention, social interaction, rebellion, culture and therapy are attributes of tattooing that may be addicting.

Throughout its colorful history, many incredible designs have been unleashed in the tattoo world. It’s safe to say that the artists of today continue to defy expectations of what a tattoo artist can do with human skin. Years ago, many would have assumed that tattoo styles such as realism would not translate well on the human body, yet Nikko Hurtado, Bang Bang, and more, have defied the odds.

We’ve already seen watercolor, glitter and all-black eye tattoos, but now there’s a new trend in ink: Blacked-Out-Bodies. Singapore tattoo artist Chester Lee is going viral with his photos of the technique. “I had been suggesting the Blackout tattoos for massive cover-ups (an alternative to laser removal), and letting people see the beauty in black work,” Lee, 29, told PEOPLE. Some are even using the technique to create solid black canvases for “negative” tattoos that then use white ink to make whole new beguiling patterns.

The sickening trend known as sacrificial branding has become popular among body modification fans. Multiple tattoo parlors and piercing studios are offering people the chance to go under the knife rather than have traditional ink markings. Luke Tauras, 27, took his love for body modification one step further when he had an artist use a scalpel to etch an anatomical heart on his chest (which took an hour to complete) at the Australian Tattoo Expo on March 13 2016. What do you think about this gruesome bloody trend – yes please or no thanks?

On her blog entitled “Needles and Sins”, blogger Marisa Kakoulas mentions tattoo sources, trends, and recently lots of Prince tattoo tributes. She writes, “For many people who just want a tattoo, source material for a design is a tiny printout of a picture of the latest trend from Instagram or Pinterest…’Look how many Likes that tattoo has. I want lots of Likes! I’m going to get that tattoo.’ And there’s always some shop out there willing to oblige. There’s nothing wrong with looking to social media for ideas, but there is much more artistic inspiration beyond our cell phones. It can be found in tapestries, museums, and ancient texts.”

The thing with trends is that they are often short-lived, but tattoos are permanent. Now maybe you wouldn’t want to end up with a meaningless painful marking – like a carved scar – that was once trendy. Or maybe you would.

There is no doubt that the tattoo artists of 2016 will continue to reshape our ideas of what a tattoo can and cannot be. Will tattoos continue to gain popularity? What new trends will come? Are we addicted to this painful artform?

What Are You Wearing?

Shop till you drop! For many, trying and buying clothes is an enjoyable way to pass the day; for some people, clothes shopping helps to make them feel good and relax. These days, thinking ethically while shopping for clothes is getting more common and trendy, because a sad reality exists behind the glitzy world of the clothing industry. In a blog entitled “The Conscience Collective”, blogger Stacy Hope combines views on fashionable style with a more ethical and sustainable focus. According to Hope, “Who made my clothes?” is a question shoppers should find very important.

The unethical ways of many textile producers within the fashion industry include unfair working conditions and exploitation of poorer countries, as well as unsustainable treatment of land and soil and excessive environmental damages (such as excessive water drainage and use of harsh chemicals). Tracking clothes back to where and how they were produced shows the true face of the clothing industry; child labor, low salaries and factories where human rights are ignored. Some “Western” clothing brands use the sad realities of poverty in many countries to their advantage, gaining cheaply manufactured clothes in order to rake in huge profits. Though this “tracking” is hard work, to those concerned about ethical clothing and sourcing, it is important.

“The Conscience Collective” proves that great fashion and style can be combined with sustainable production. If a person is interested in both fashion and environmental and ethical concerns, it is important to make wary choices as a consumer. How can we choose wisely?

Here’s a “starter list” of some good tips for finding great sustainable and ethical outfits:

  • When you buy your clothes, skip the plastic bag! Bring your own fabric shopping bag – already, you have taken one important step on the path to reduce your global footprint.
  • Wait for one more wear before you clean your clothes! Often, we feel that a shirt is “dirty” after one use; this could use some rethinking. Changing the attitude on this issue can be hard for a lot of us, yet the benefits to the environment are worth it! And, there are other wash-related steps we can take, like using eco-friendly detergents and air-drying the clothes as often as we can.
  • Choose local! Locally produced clothes have obvious environmental advantages and often ethical ones as well, since the control over a smaller business is much greater than in mega-factories, and you as a consumer can know more about the production.
  • Don’t trash it! About 21 billion clothing items are thrown out in the United States every year and numbers are high in many other countries as well. NEVER throw clothes away if they are usable. Rather, donate, trade with a friend, or sell your gently used duds.
  • Shop second-hand! I absolutely love second hand clothes and so should you! It´s a great way to find unique clothes without supporting the wasteful industry of today.
  • Do some research! When it comes to finding ethical clothing you need to ask questions and be curious. Regardless of how stylish and cheap their clothes may be, Primark, Forever 21 and H&M (except their Conscious line) do not use ethical labor methods. In a jungle of companies who exploit workers, it can be hard to make conscious decisions. But when you are wearing something that both looks fabulous and is fabulously produced it will be worth it!

A Kenyan Coachella? Yes Please!

For two weekends every April, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes over the small desert town of Indio, California. The word ‘festival’ may conjure up images of sodden fields and mud-splattered boots, but over at Coachella, it’s a classier affair. The two three-day weekends of the festival (this year it spanned April 15-24) consist of flower crowns, daisy dukes, non-stop music, fashion and fun.

For those who missed it this year – because they were busy with school, work, or live on the opposite side of the world – the highlights included: Guns N’ Roses performing with AC/DC’s Angus Young; Halsey hosting a mini Panic! At the Disco show; Lorde and Sam Smith singing with Disclosure; and “Sia’s concert performance of a generation.” Not to mention the surprise appearances by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kesha and even Bernie Sanders.

Off-stage, the fashion and revelry are as much a part of the festival as the sounds. Most celebrities and supermodels attend Coachella, so the chances of meeting your favorite famous people are pretty high. Gabriella Opagi, a student in Kenya and a fan of the festival said, “I love the idea of the celebrities mingling with non-famous people without it being a big deal, it’s like an unspoken word to not freak out-as everyone is trying to have a good time. It would be cool to have that in other places”.

So far, it all seems pretty glamorous, right? But how much does it cost? For the 2016 festival, general admission tickets were $399, or $459 with a shuttle pass included. VIP admission is $899, and VIP parking is $150. But scoring tickets to the festival is only the beginning of the challenges that await potential Coachellers. Essentials like travel to the festival, lodging, and dining during the weekend usually command the larger part of a festival-goer’s budget. “By the time you get into the show, you’re broke,” says Ross Gerber, CEO of LA-based financial firm Gerber Kawasaki and a long-time festival attendee.

When we think Music Festival, we might imagine non-stop music and partying with thousands of strangers crowded together, like at Coachella, Tomorrowland or Lollapalooza. We also might think of the “West” (i.e. America or Europe). We do not often connect music festivals to Asia, Africa or even Australia, unless they are focused on traditional or cultural music. But, there are non-cultural music festivals that take place in countries like Kenya, for example, they are just not as popular and publicized.

“Sunglasses At Night” is the brainchild of 6:AM Entertainment Kenya Ltd. It’s the one party of the year where the venue is washed in some of the most sophisticated lighting ever seen on the Kenyan scene. The bright lights make the sunglasses necessary for the ravers as they enjoy the colorful effects of the professional light installation. Other music festivals in Kenya include –Beach Life, Kikoy Culture and Earth Dance. All cost around 1,500/- 3,500/, which is about 15-35 USD. Relatively cheap, right? However, there is a slight problem. To be able to attend, you have to be over 18 or 21. This is a problem, as teenagers want to go, and as they can’t, they get fake IDs and get in illegally. It is actually sad that kids have to go to such lengths to have a fun night out, as there aren’t any “teen-friendly” non-cultural music festivals for them to attend.

What would it be like to have a “Coachella” in Kenya? Opagi, on the benefits of a music festival becoming a reality in Kenya said, “If you would Africanize Coachella, because not many Africans listen to all-American music per se, people would go and have fun, and learn more about American music. It would also be a great opportunity to showcase Kenyan talent for all ages”.

Promoters out there: are you listening?

A Head of Half-Dreads

What do you do to feel empowered?

To some people, empowerment can take the form of metaphysical expression. As aspects of distinct cultures uncoil and fade away in the modern world, individuals still ascribe to physical expressions of culture. Ideally, these echo the spirituality of the cultures they descend from, but, more often than not, they simply become a “hipster” trend.

If you’re like Amanda Daggett, you may feel empowered by wearing your hair in dreadlocks. She views her mane of blonde dreads as a “unique journey” that is different from those of others who decide to also experiment with hair traditional to mystics, warriors, and sailors in many cultures. Amanda Daggett states that her dreads are not a cultural statement, but rather a method of self – empowerment.

On the other hand, Tessah Schoenrock, a blogger on Thought Catalog, describes Caucasian dreads as “frizzy pieces of dog ****” that present a cultural offense. While caustic, her article stems from a topic that needs more awareness in the West: cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation occurs when elements of minority culture are adopted by a dominant, oppressive culture for materialistic reasons. The societal, and, in some cases, spiritual roots of these elements are ignored or manipulated in order to make one appear more “interesting.” As members of a dominant society, it seems as if young Caucasians want to disassociate with oppression. We hardly have any cultural or physical identity that lies beyond the favored territory of the West. We want to be more “ethnic,” and this desire navigates to the broken record of Western materialism. In a context of racial discrimination, “white” dreadlocks sometimes are tokens to buy societal ground under capitalistic regulations.

I’ve thought a lot about committing to dreads for a cultural statement. What if I decide to bear dreadlocks in order to diminish my own white privilege? By choosing to promote a non – Caucasian trend, won’t I revolutionize society? And, because so many white men and women already sport dreadlocks, won’t my dreadlocks reflect both “ethnic” culture and mainstream culture?

The hard truth is that I am still classified in the Caucasian range. No matter if I mold my embryonic dreadlocks into a head of glorious Medusa snakes or how many times I am told I could pass as “Romani,” I still breathe the tacit privileges of a white woman. That is where the boundary of cultural appropriation lies.

Sanjana Sharma and Stephanie Mithika recognize cultural appropriation as a valid issue. Mithika says that cultural appropriation stems from “deeply rooted stereotypes that bleed into everything” while simultaneously questioning as to “who has the right to cultural artifacts?” Similarly, Sharma questions that, while “we listen to ‘black’ music,  what makes it ‘black?’ Isn’t [imitation] a mark of respect?”

I don’t think it’s wrong for people to empower themselves for the right reasons. Forms of physical expression, removed from cultural shackles, echo the spiritual pursuits of the ancient. When they succeed in doing so, are they transcendent of the laws of cultural appropriation? Does cultural appropriation crystallize the fluidity of culture?

And, the fundamental question: is it always appropriate to culturally appropriate?

Dressed to Impress? or Transgress

We see it all the time. At music festivals, in fashion shows and magazines, in music videos and out on the streets. People wear jewelry, clothes and symbols that belong to another culture, one that they do not belong to. We don’t even flinch. We didn’t react to Lana Del Rey wearing a Native American headdress in one of her music videos. We probably just thought “Oh, that´s pretty” and kept on watching.

I own Kanga-skirts (Kangas are traditional garments from the Great Lakes region in Africa), dream-catcher earrings (that I love), and a blouse with an embroidered ‘Om` symbol – which belongs to Hinduism. I have never thought of the cultural significance and ancient meanings that are inherent in the heritage of these items. Yes, I was, and I am still, ignorant. But, does being ignorant excuse offense?

The trend of white people wearing Native American headdresses at festivals, like Coachella, has garnered a lot of attention lately. The Native American headdress is connected with a deep spiritual meaning, and only certain people in a tribe are allowed to wear it. So, when non-Natives put it on, what they’re doing is really “playing dress-up” with something holy. It’s like applying “Blackface”; we dress as another race and, in so doing, end up promoting stereotypes, and degrading serious traditions.

The thing about this type of racism – yes, I’m calling it racism – is that it is much more elaborate than we first might think. In her article “A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism”, Lindy West talks about the phenomenon and how common it is. She brings up an example of the hashtags like #thuglife that we use without question and often without consequences. West mocks the (potential) reasoning of white people that post pictures of themselves singing hip-hop covers and holding gang signs, by captioning their thoughts in the moment, like this: “See, it’s hilarious, because we aren’t thugs—we are darling girls, and real thugs are black people who do crime!”

What I think it all comes down to is a question of entitlement. Perhaps, the ancestors of white Americans felt that they were entitled to degrade other cultures, and thereby could degrade other people. They may have felt entitled to take land and to ignore ancient cultures and their traditions. Today, it seems like we all feel entitled to wear whatever culturally significant clothes we want, even though these clothes or symbols are not culturally significant to us. We don’t care about that fact. What does it mean when people whose ancestors slaughtered Native Americans now are wearing the feathered headdresses of that culture?

Who decides when it is fine to wear something? Can it sometimes be honouring to wear a culturally significant item? Or, is “borrowing” cultural symbols and clothing always? And what about the people who are trying to be “Counter-Cultural”? Is there a difference between a white person who has grown up in Kenya wearing Maasai jewelry, and a person who has never set foot in Kenya wearing it? Or does it matter?

The issue of cultural appropriation is obviously a lot larger than we might initially anticipate. The questions about its merit and degree of offensiveness grows the more you look around, because cultural appropriation seems to be everywhere – it is becoming mainstream. Perhaps we need to think more about the messages we send – and the potential transgressions we make – when we dress to impress.