Tag Archives: photography

Congolese dandies and condescension

The person who tweeted this  amazing photo gallery of a fashion-conscious Congolese subculture wonders whether these dandies are an example of  “Western influence at its worst.”


Really? Snazzy suits represent the West at its worst? Or is the problem the conspicuous consumerism that contrasts so starkly with the grinding poverty? Or maybe it’s the eternal enemy, “Western cultural imperialism,” which has brainwashed a new set of victims to reject their simpler yet more virtuous modes of dressing? (I know. I’m reading a lot into a tweet.)

Whatever the reason, I think she’s wrong. To me, these impoverished Africans, with their incongruous elegance,  might represent what’s best about “Western influence” — audacious individualism. They’re asserting the right to make their personal world special, and they look pretty fantastic doing it.

Furthermore, they’ve reached halfway around the world,  snatched away an aspect of another culture and merged it into their own — and what’s wrong with that? In a way, they’re not dissimilar from Vampire Weekend, whose music mimics Congolese soukous. Yet something tells me that VW, being pretty much the pinnacle of Stuff White People Like, isn’t going to be dubbed an example of “Congolese influence at its worst” by the Internet’s cultural curators.

And that’s how it should be. We need more snatching and mimicking. As far as I’m concerned, all things of value created by human beings anywhere are the birthright of all people everywhere.

The condescending idea that these style-conscious men are betraying some static standard of “authenticity” really represents the West at its worst. You get the sense that the author would have been happier if they were photographed wearing rags and pounding cassava.

Then again, maybe she just didn’t like the clothes.