Congressional Democrats wore a traditional African cloth to announce Monday proposed legislation to reform police procedures, but were met with cultural appropriation accusations, targeting their publicity stunt.
The Democrats wore Kente cloth stoles handed out by the Congressional Black Caucus and knelt on the floor of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time George Floyd suffered under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has now been charged with his murder.
Rep. Karen Bass, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, defended the clothing choice to MSNBC.
“The significance of the Kente cloth is our African heritage, and for those of you without that heritage who are acting in solidarity,” Bass said at the news conference. “That is the significance of the Kente cloth. Our origins and respecting our past.”
Author, Obianuju Ekeocha, posting a video saying the move was “virtue signaling.”
“Excuse me, dear Democrats,” she said. “In your tokenism, you didn’t wait to find out that this thing that you’re hanging around your neck is not just some African uniform — it’s actually the kente material. The kente belongs to the Ghanaian people, mainly the Ashanti tribe.
“I’m sure they put around their necks as some kind of mark or show of unity or solidarity with black people,” Ekeocha said in part. “So, in other words…this colorful fabric they had around their necks as some sort of placating symbol to show that they are not racist and they are together with black people.”
Black commentator Hotep Jesus suggested Democrats were engaging in cultural appropriation.
“How is this not cultural appropriation?” he asked, alongside a photo of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
“If anyone can’t understand why Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and them dressed up like they’re trying to sneak into Wakanda is disrespectful and appropriative you have a great deal to learn,” Frederick Joseph, a former surrogate for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass said, referring to the fictional land where Marvel’s “Black Panther” takes place.
If the legislation, called the “Justice in Policing Act,” would ban chokeholds like the kind that led to the death of Floyd and no-knock warrants, linked to the Breonna Taylor’s fatal shooting. The details in the bill focus more on spending for mental illness than massive changes to policing.
NOTE ON KENTE CLOTH:
The Kente center of the world is the village of Bonwire, Ghana. According to Asante mythology, it was here that great trickster Ananse the Spider, ever skillful and cunning, spun a web of intricate detail in the jungle. When Nana Koragu and Nana Ameyaw, brothers and weavers by trade, came upon Ananse’s web, its immaculate beauty enchanted them. After studying Anansi’s handiwork, the pair returned to the village and began to weave Kente.
Textile production among the Akan and Ewe peoples began as early as 1000 B.C. Kente cloth with its rich bold colors among the Asante during the seventeenth century A.D.
Chief Oti Akenten established trade routes from the Middle and Far East bringing into the Asante Empire a variety of foodstuffs, gems, dyes, leather goods, and silk fabric.
The Asante empire was active in the slave trade in the 18th century. From the beginning of the 18th century, the Asante supplied slaves to British and Dutch traders on the coast; in return they received firearms with which to enforce their territorial expansion.