African fashion gimmickry

February 21, 2018
A family dressed in Wakanda-inspired attire arrive to see Black Panther in the United States.
Chadwick Boseman in a scene from Marvel Studios' "Black Panther."

Hear mi nuh peeps, today I want talk 'bout a thing called mimicry!

Mimicry is the action or skill of imitating someone or something, usually with the intention to provide entertainment for others or to ridicule or mock the person or entity being imitated. Of course, mimicry is also a common feature in child-play.

Yeah man, most of us can remember childhood days when we played out scenes based on observations of the adults around us or influenced by what we picked up in the media. Unnu memba?

Groups of boys would put down some serious mock fights, imagining themselves as 'Cowboys and Indians' or 'Police and Thieves' while they acted out the scenarios they watched on TV. And girls and boys would pretend to be mama and papa, and even do some 'naughty' things as they mimicked the actions and behavior of adults while playing 'house'. Me nah lie, I used to love that!

My work as a stand-up comic also started with mimicry. Yep! One of the earliest routines in my repertoire as part of the 'Bello & Blakka' duo was a skit called 'What is culture?' That sketch was first performed in 1985 and comically deconstructed the various definitions of culture. It included a spoof on folk choirs and cliche island songs, it poked fun at some people's obsession with Eurocentric notions of 'high culture', like ballet and classical music. It also involved an impersonation of Professor Rex Nettleford's verbosity.

Of course, that kind of mimicry worked as comedic content because it involved playful parody of a revered expert. Those are some of the ways we can view mimicry. Academics also study and write about mimicry as a theory in literature and cultural studies, especially in the context of places like the Caribbean where everything from political systems and structures, to tastes in fashion and so on, are basically imitations of what's prescribed or forced on us by our former colonizers.

So when mimics who nuh rate African fashion suddenly want to wear it, not as a regular clothes, but as 'costume' fi go watch movie, I see that as mimicry, plus gimmickry, buck up pon mockery!

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