When US Democrats in Congress proposed legislation to reform the police following weeks of protests over the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of a white officer, commenters on social media only wanted to talk about one thing: what they were wearing.

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and other Democratic lawmakers were draped in scarves made from a cloth of colourful geometric Ghanaian designs called kente.

It turned out to be quite a controversial sartorial choice.

Why were they wearing it?

The kente scarves were given out to the congressmen and women by the Congressional Black Caucus, according to NBC News reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell.

This congressional group meets to pursue legislative goals around greater equality for black people.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) joins fellow Democrats from the House and SenateImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionFor the Democrats kente cloth is about African heritage

“The significance of the kente cloth is our African heritage and for those of you without that heritage who are acting in solidarity,” Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters on Monday.

“That is the significance of the kente cloth – our origins and respecting our past.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have worn kente at other occasions, including events last year to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to America and President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018.

Over the years, kente has been used in the US to reflect a pride in African heritage, including at graduation ceremonies for students in historically black fraternities or sororities.

What is kente and where is it from?

Modern kente is characterised by intricately woven and richly colourful geometric designs. You are most likely to see it in bold shades of yellow, blue, green, red and orange.

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