Dear White Girl,
Now, I know we’ve all heard of cultural appropriation, and if you haven’t, where have you been? And, no, I’m not going to link articles because you’re a grown person and can do your own damn research. Moving along…
You might be either 1) a little offended by the title of this article or 2) mildly intrigued by it, so here you are now. Also, you might very well be a black girl (yay!), and in that case, welcome!
I’m going to talk about cultural appropriation in the way of something I know best because I’ve been living with it for my entire life: hair.
Somehow mainstream society (*cough cough* white America) decided that it would be appropriate and fun to start claiming traditionally black hairstyles and donning them as “new” and “fashionable” and a “new trend” … while they are being worn on the heads of white women. I’m looking at you Kylie Jenner and Katy Perry. I’m talking about Bantu Knots and cornrows. I’m talking about the fact that Lyupita Nyong’o wore her hair in an updo that Vogue magazine then dared to say was inspired by Audrey Hepburn when those of the African diaspora have been rocking similar hairstyles since before Audrey Hepburn was even an embryo. I’m talking about the fact that white people make “jokes” about black hair and its nappiness, unmanageability, and non-straightness, yet want to copy the first chance they get. Like, stop. Please stop.
Can you even imagine the daily frustration black girls have when we see the white mainstream stealing from our culture aspects that have been a part of our identity since we were little girls? We are stolen from, and I use the word “stolen” very deliberatedly because it is indeed theft when someone takes from you without permission or giving credit where credit is due. And the cruelest kind of theft this country can impose is forcing impossible white beauty standards down the throats of little black girls and telling them to go to the ethnic section to find haircare that works for them because they are not within the realm of “beauty” yet turn around and try to achieve the very thing that grows atop their heads. Black things aren’t beautiful on black people is basically what you’re saying. Black things aren’t even beautiful on white people, if we’re being completely honest, because white people don’t acknowledge that their music, pop culture, and trendy hairstyles are black. You’ve taken cornrows and made them boxer braids. You’ve stolen bantu knots and called them twisted mini buns. Somehow Katy Perry invented the look of baby hairs when women of African descent have been laying our edges since gel was invented. On a white person, locs are edgy and rebellous, but when a black person has them, they must smell like weed and be dirty (yes, Giuliana Rancis, I’m looking at you). And, no, you cannot curl your hair really tight and suddenly have an afro. Do you want to know why? Because the word “afro” is derived from the term “Afro-American,” as in someone who is of African descent, or of the African Diaspora, or – if you weren’t getting where I’m going with this – BLACK.
Ever since African peoples were brought to this country to be enslaved, the standard of beauty has always been of and for white women. Black people have been told our hair is too nappy or kinky or woolly or unkepmt, and this internalized hatred was passed down from generation to generation and perpetuated through our society. Five years ago, you wouldn’t even see a black woman or girl on TV with her natural hair. That just wasn’t a thing. It’s becoming more popular now, but black women on television are usually shown with hair that resembles the white beauty standard. And, no, I’m not saying that weaves or straightening hair is bad. What I am saying is that when black girls and women are only shown other black women on TV (the few that there are in the grand scheme of things) and they only see the straightened version of their hair, we begin to think that our natural hair texture (whether that be 3A or 4C) is somehow bad, undesirable, unprofressional, and – probably the worst of all – not done.
When I see black hairstyles on white models, the part of me that wishes racial baggage and the history of the erasure of the black body did not exist in the country wants it to not matter and to pretend it’s perfectly okay. The less idealistic part of me wants to scream out in rage and throw a chair across the room. You can imagine how these two opposing forces must stir inside of me. They’re always at war.
I could go on and on about cultural appropriation, what hair means to black people, and how seeing our styles snatched and then remarketed is just a blatant slap in the face, but I’m going to let you do your own research. Just know that there’s a reason why Black Twitter, black bloggers, black activitists, etc. become so angry and up in arms when we see the white mainstream wearing black hairstyles and trying to coin them as new. There’s nothing new about them. They were amazing way back then, they’re amazing now, and they’ll always be amazing, but they are anything but new. It’s just that black people and black culture are irrelevant when we’re not making the music industry and the sports companies billions of dollars.
Don’t look so surprised when I tell you that you can’t have everything you see. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when you’ve been spoon-fed every privilege on red, white, and blue cutlery – cutlery, I might add, that was forged by black hands. But listen when I say that an afro isn’t something you can create; it’s something already coded into DNA, and that DNA lies within people who are usually ignored, killed, and ridiculed for looking the way that we do.
So, in closing: America, get your hands out my hair.
Thoughts? Comments? Have you ever felt your hair wasn’t good enough? Leave your stories and comments in the section below and see you next week!