Becoming An Afro-Minimalist To Really Be Free
Becoming An Afro-Minimalist To Really Be Free
Recently I was listening to an episode of “hey, girl.” and the self care podcast piqued my interest with an episode on minimalism. The guest speaker Roe (@brownkids), previously had a shopping addiction and was giving her two cents on black materialism:
Especially as people of color, with so much being taken away from us. It almost feels sacrilegious to not go for the next biggest thing, because it’s the way that we honor the struggle of our ancestors in some kind of way.
When confronted with such a candid insight, I had no choice but to look inward. Questions started to slowly seep from inside me: Did I have something to prove based on the historic treatment of my community? Was my identity as a consumer a coping mechanism for the constant stereotypes of black people always having less?
Was I a “single black female addicted to retail”?
My questions led me to the library. An article “Materialism, conspicuous consumption, and American hip-hop subculture,” from the Journal of International Consumer Marketing yielded unsurprising results. African Americans scored higher in materialism compared to non-African Americans and hip-hop music fans scored higher in materialism than non-hip hop listeners.
The implications are simple. As black people, we considered ourselves in a lower social strata than other races and felt that possession of material goods would signify upward mobility. Also, these possessions helped to comfort and pacify us from the institutionalized racism that had tirelessly blocked us from achieving the American Dream. This is why you see the people in poorest rungs of our society going into debt to afford designer sneakers and Italian leather handbags. This is why the narrative of rap music is centered around hedonism and the luxury brands that coincide with such reckless and conspicuous consumption: Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Versace, Gucci, Chanel, etc.
As a community, how can we release ourselves from the shackles of materialism? The answer is simple: minimalism. I’m going to get a lot of weird looks by telling people of color to throw things away and give things away. But the answer for black people as a community is to materially have less, so we can intellectually have more. For one, a lot of the brands that we worship don’t care about us. They are notoriously racist and colourist, appropriate our culture and do not give back to our communities. Think back to when Louis Vuitton was sued over claims that a store boss called black people “slaves who eat dirt off the floor.” Think back to Marc Jacob’s Spring/Summer 2017 fashion show where he sent models down the runway in faux locs and didn’t credit or acknowledge black people at all. Think back to when Oprah (yes, the Oprah Winfrey) was turned away and told she couldn’t afford a handbag by a racist Trois Pommes shop girl. The more we acquire, the more we put money in the pockets of racist who deplore us and our skin color.
Being minimalist is not that hard. In fact, many may find it to be a more authentic way of life than the one that was pushed upon us by our colonizers. The ideas of hedonism and individual ownership were not African core values. In many African communities, self centeredness was shunned and there was a focus on humanity instead of materialism. In Zimbabwe the word for this was Ubuntu. In Ugandan it is Abantu, in Tsonga it is Bunhu and in Swahili it is Utu, and so and so forth. Instead of thinking of minimalism as a departure from your way of life as an African-American, think of it as a return to ancient well balanced principles and a transition to intentional living.
There are very simple techniques to enter a more sustainable lifestyle with less clutter, less stuff and a dramatically less materialistic mindset. You can go into your closet and turn around the hangers of the items you actually wear. The hangers that are untouched are clear signals that you have dead weight in your closet. Pack up those clothes and send them to an African charity like SHARE Africa or a local shelter in a low-income African-American community. Alternately, you could also sell those clothes and with the profit, sponsor a child through an organization such as World Vision.
The next step to entering a minimalist mindset and shedding your need to constantly shop is one liberating question: do I need this and will this really make me happy? If the answer is no, leave it in the bargain bin. The only way you’re going to be financially free is by accumulating the things you need and saving for the things you want to pass on in your legacy. Do you dream of home ownership or buying the 40 acres and a mule your ancestors were promised? The truth is, it’s not sacrilegious to have less, it’s sacrilegious to have a house full of things and nothing worth owning.
In my opinion, being an afro minimalist means centering yourself through freedom and separation from “things.” Often times, our community has a fixation on belongings and objects and there is the push for more. Being an afro minimalist means evolving your truth and leaving behind the attitude that less material things means that you are impoverished. Also, afro minimalism is a reclamation of black buying power from Eurocentric companies that do not respect us as patrons or people.
Penny for your thoughts? Please tell me in the comments what your feelings are on Afro minimalism!
Article by Amiah Taylor