CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
In the Green Room

Writer, Photographer, and Fashion Historian Catherine E. McKinley

Americans Don’t Understand How Much We Have Inherited Intellectually from Africa

Photo by Aaron Salcido.

Catherine E. McKinley is a former Fulbright Scholar in Ghana and the author of Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World, among other books. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled “What Does Blue Mean?” she chatted in the green room about parrots, buckets, and her great-grandfather.

Q:
What do you miss most from your time in Ghana?

A:
The late afternoons and the sound of water and buckets, people fetching buckets. That happens a lot towards the end of the day.

Q:
What is your most treasured photo?

A:
I have a photo of my great-grandfather from my father’s side of the family. It’s the only photo that is remaining. He’s a very handsome man, Choctaw Indian and African American, and dressed in a suit.

Q:
What is the biggest misconception Americans have about Africa?

A:
They misread things and don’t understand how much we have inherited intellectually from Africa. How much, for instance, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was an intellectual and creative inheritance, and not just an extraction of labor.

Q:
What sound do you wake up to?

A:
A bird. My Senegalese parrot.

Q:
What’s the best film about fashion?

A:
There’s a little film, Mama Benz and the Taste of Money. It’s a documentary about cloth traders in West Africa.

Q:
French fries or onion rings?

A:
French fries.

Q:
What’s your favorite season?

A:
Spring.

Q:
What are you reading right now?

A:
I’m reading images. I’m reading tons and tons of archival images. And Instagram images. A lot of them are related to African fashion and photography.

Q:
What keeps you up at night?

A:
My children.

Q:
What salad dressing best embodies you?

A:
Sesame ginger.

Q:
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A:
If you believe any of it, you have to believe all of it.