NYT: In Congo, Complete Dysfunction But People Look Good

In the NYT (where else) is a piece on Congo titled “In Goma, Lights May Flicker but Looks Stay Sharp”:

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the birthplace of SAPE, a loosely organized cult of dandies known as “les sapeurs.” SAPE is an abbreviation of the group’s name, which in English translates as the Society of Ambience and Elegant People. The contrast between the extravagance of their attire and the hardships of their lives has the effect of highlighting the dignity of their code. Indeed, dressing well is part of the culture there.

“Everybody wears these amazing colorful clothes and are so eager to show who they are,” Ms. Harris said of the people in Goma.

Ms. Harris was in Congo on a fellowship documenting energy poverty.  She wanted to capture how people, many of whom don’t have reliable electricity or access to water, maintain pride in their appearance. In Goma, 14 of 18 neighborhoods in the city experience rolling blackouts on a daily basis.

Their society is in complete disarray, but hey, at least they look good! This reminded me of the wonderful passage from Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, where during a sojourn to Washington D.C., wrote:

“I took great interest in studying the life of our people there closely at that time. I found that while among them there was a large element of substantial, worthy citizens, there was also a superficiality about the life of a large class that greatly alarmed me. I saw young coloured men who were not earning more than four dollars a week spend two dollars or more for a buggy on Sunday to ride up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in, in order that they might try to convince the world that they were worth thousands. I saw other young men who received seventy–five or one hundred dollars per month from the Government, who were in debt at the end of every month.”

In the NYT piece, we also learn that the Kult of Kim Kardashian has quite the influence in Congo:

Nadia Wete Mwami is a model. “This is not an African style,” Ms. Mwami said of her look. “To me, this is like an American style. I get my inspiration from Kim Kardashian.” Ms. Harris wanted to show what it means to be a young person in Congo who is borrowing ideas from other parts of the world. “She said again as a point of pride, ‘I copy from Kim Kardashian, but the Congolese people copy from me.’”

So, let’s see…. Young women of the Congo are getting their fashion cues by culturally appropriating the look of ‘white’ Kim Kardashian, while Kim Karshashian herself is being accused of culturally appropriating American black fashion trends.

This ‘cultural appropriation’ stuff gets so confusing.

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