American Apparel should dismantle its “makeshift Vodou” display and not associate African spiritual traditions or religions with Halloween, Shantrelle Lewis argues at Ebony magazine. Lewis is concerned about the “bastardization of Vodou as a formal religion” and describes how many of the first black communities in the New World were practitioners of African spiritual systems.
Vodou, which has come to be known as “Voodoo,” has been bastardized in popular culture and subsequently demonized within Black communities throughout the African Diaspora. If you visit New Orleans, every other tourist shop in the French Quarter is fully stocked with so-called “authentic” Voodoos dolls meant to seek revenge on one’s enemies. This commercialized Voodoo is one of many grossly inaccurate faces of one of Africa’s most ancient traditions thanks to ridiculous stereotypes created first by French planters who escaped alive from the revolutionary uprising that took place on Saint Domingue in the late 18th century and later, sensationalized accounts of travelers to Haiti in the 20th century.
What many do not know about the Haitian Revolution — which inspired enslaved Africans everywhere from South Carolina to Curacao — was that the earliest revolts were led by Vodou priests.
In a contemporary context, it is indeed in territories once ruled by the French, Spanish and Portuguese — Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Brasil — where you see the largest adherents of practitioners of African religions. Complex religions that were brought over in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade by millions who were from different nations — the Bambara, Fon, Bakongo, Fulani, Yoruba, Ashanti, Ewe, Dongon — and adapted to the needs of Black people in the New World …
Now this isn’t the first time that American Apparel has engaged in problematic practices concerning the treatment of other people’s cultures. Nor are they the only company to profit off of misappropriated cultural dress during Halloween. It baffles me as to why a store would make the decision to mis-appropriate a sacred spiritual system that is old as time in Africa itself. Alas, we know that even hipsters — for all their self-congratulatory “progressive” ways — can be just as bigoted and racist as any one else.
Read Shantrelle Lewis’ entire piece at Ebony magazine.
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