Return to New York
(Anthony Knight, Atlanta History Center)
Upon my return from Venezuela in 1988, I noticed many New York City Blacks wearing this strange "African" cloth. I had lived overseas for a number of years and was shocked by the many "new things" I had never seen before -- late model cars seemed like space ships, new fast food restaurants seemed to hold a special lure. I was a stranger in my own land.
It was with this "foreign eye" that I now viewed this odd cloth -- Kente. I remember thinking to myself that it was loud, and being the sometimes-conservative person that I can be (at least in terms of clothing) I rejected it almost immediately. It seemed cheap, not elegant, "typical."
Seven months after my return to New York, I met Kevin. Kevin was a very fair-skinned Black for whom Africa and African identity meant much more than they had meant to me (at least at that time). Sure, I was proud to be Black (after all, I, too, had been raised in the 1960's and 1970's) but my Blackness was more rooted in the South -- poor rural Blacks who had been sharecroppers, whose grandparents had been slaves -- that is what MY Blackness was about. This Africa stuff, while important, was not the focus of my identity.
Kevin, however, made me think differently about that. As we got to know each other more and, eventually, dated, I noticed Kevin always wore his kofi hat on important occasions. It was made from Kente. I remember thinking it odd that I, a brown-skinned Black man, dated this very light-skinned Black man whose view of himself was African -- for clearly his family tree was much more "European" than mine. Nevertheless, he wore that hat to every important event we attended.
One day, I remember asking him if I could wear it. Many Black guys owned kofis and I was curious to see how it would look on me (I kinda knew it would look good). It was fantastic! I looked so royal, so regal, like I had been crowned. After that day, Kevin would let me wear his kofi often. The last time I remember wearing it was at my first New York gay pride parade since 1985. The year was 1989. Kevin and I walked with a number of other brothers behind the Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) banner. Kevin and I marched proudly down New York's famed Fifth Avenue -- I, with the Black Nationalist flag in my right hand, Kevin's hand in my left and his kente-covered kofi on my head. We must have been a sight, for someone took a picture and gave it to us.
A few months later, Kevin and I broke up. He kept the kente-covered kofi. I've not owned or worn a piece of kente since.