How I, as a Black American, connect to Africa through Fashion

When I was dating a Nigerian man we had a conversation about where his family is from in Nigeria. I was always fascinated that he knew exactly where his family came from and what tribe. I also felt a little twinge of jealousy as well. I think it’s something a lot of Black American’s can relate to. Never quite knowing where our roots are or where our ancestors walked, talked and slept. I’ve tried to trace my own history and got as far as my ancestors who were share croppers, barely removed from slavery. Sharecropping became a way for freed slaves to make a living from land owned by someone else. The landowner provided everything to tend to the land and the sharecropper received a small share of the crop at harvest. That’s as far back as I got. My grandmother passed away before I had the chance to ask her more about her parents and her grand parents. I’ve looked into my last name and slave owners and always come up empty handed or with too many options to ever quite narrow down. I’m always a little taken aback when someone asks me where I’m from and I say Durham, North Carolina. Because 50% of the time, especially here in New York City, the land of immigrants, the follow up question is: No, where are you originally from? And I never quite know how to respond to that. Durham, North Carolina is all I know and I’m just black is usually my answer for those seeking to know the specifics of my ethnicity.

Photography by Rose Lazard || Editing by Monroe Steele

Aya Morrison Uvira Midi Pencil Skirt use Code: monroe15 for 15% Off | Rainbow Top | Tibi Mules | Cult Gaia Ark Bag get affordable version Here | Fenty Stunna Lipstain | Indigo Pony Earrings

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I’m currently reading Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston and I am just fascinated with the story of the last known slave, Cudjo Lewis. Reading about how he felt caught in a space between a home in Africa that he once knew and the home in America that was forced on him, brings up a lot of questions within myself. He didn’t quite belong to either place. I wonder if Black American’s feel this way today, I know I sometimes do. I love indulging in African culture. I listen to West African music and buy a fair share of clothing from the African diaspora. I’ve always gravitated towards vibrant patterns and colors.
This skirt is a beautiful piece from the Aya Morrison collection which is an African luxury womenswear brand. The brand is inspired by ‘Ntoma’ prints of Ghana. Aya Morrison is focused on representing an African luxury ideal in a less traditional manner, representing femininity, class and a Diaspora narrative. Aya Morrison was Founded by Helena Aya Aidoo-Morrison in 2008 while she was still a sophomore at CUNY Baruch College. Her pieces are functional and resonate deeply with well-traveled, lifestyle-focused women. They are also stitched in Cape Town, South Africa.

Of course I could go get one of those DNA Ancestry Test that tell me I’m 58% Ghanaian, 4% Egyptian (in my wildest dreams) and whatever else. I chose not to do that. Honestly, I don’t know how much I believe in that testing. I remember watching a 60 Minutes show about DNA Ancestry Testing where a woman got different results from many different testing centers. You are pretty much at the mercy of the database of DNA at whatever company you choose. Currently, there is still no way I can say definitively that my ancestors are from this tribe of this country. A physical place where I can go and see with my own eyes. A place where I can go and put my bare feet on the earth. It’s nearly impossible to trace everything from both paternal and maternal DNA. I also feel a distain from never having the chance to know my ancestry because of slavery and then having to pay to find out something that probably isn’t even the whole truth. I think sometimes the yearning to know so badly is what drives people to buy those tests and to grasp onto whatever results they get. There’s peace in knowing. Not everyone is so privileged. I may never know where I’m originally from, but I can still wear garments that tell a meaningful story. I can adorn myself in clothing sewn with heritage. I can wear a piece of Africa. That’s the beautiful thing about fashion.

xx

Monroe

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This post is in collaboration with Aya Morrison. Thank you for supporting the brands that I love.

6 Comments

  1. Faith
    June 18, 2018 / 7:45 am

    There is some peace in knowing where you are from. My parents are from Ghana and I was born in America. I never really thought about how lucky I am to be able to know that I am Ghanaian and that is where my family comes from. It’s unfortunate that so many don’t know where they come from but at the end of the day, black Americans are my brothers and sisters.

    Loving your look!

    • monroesteele
      Author
      June 18, 2018 / 8:52 am

      Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to respond. I appreciate you.

      xx
      Monroe

  2. Rashida Mims
    June 18, 2018 / 2:37 pm

    Hi Monroe,
    First of all thank you for just being you. Your sense of style is impeccable and your work ethic is unmatched.

    I know you do your research, after all you do have a PhD. So in the interest of research I would like to suggest you look into African Ancestry (DNA). Even Chadwick Bozeman recommends it for those of us who want to know the specific ethic group (s) where’re a part of. You have something very special- keep inspiring us.

    • monroesteele
      Author
      June 18, 2018 / 3:12 pm

      Thanks so much Rashida,
      African Ancestry is actually one of the DNA testing I’ve looked into. It’s still the same. You’re basically at the mercy of whatever they have in their database, which isn’t everything. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate you.

      xx
      Monroe

  3. Atiya
    June 19, 2018 / 7:45 am

    This article sums up everything I feel being a black woman in America. I hate those “originally” questions because I have said Jamaica or something like that it still doesn’t tell me where in Africa my ancestors were from. It still isn’t a complete story. One day I plan on doing my ancestry, but I will start in Georgia for my fathers side and the Virgin Islands for my mother’s side, as that is where my family came from in the past couple generations. I do want to do a DNA test because hopefully all those pieces will somehow fit together!

    Thanks for sharing your insight and you look great!

    • monroesteele
      Author
      June 19, 2018 / 8:31 am

      Thanks so much for reading. I do feel weird every time I get that question and I’m glad I’m not alone in that feeling. I think thats a good place to start on one side and bring everything together and perhaps one of the DNA test can give you further insight. Just make sure their databases include what you already know to be the truth from your research.

      xx
      Monroe

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