The concept of cultural appropriation has become a frequent topic of conversation, but still, the fashion world continues to make the most painfully obtuse, racially insensitive editorial decisions.
If it's not a white model photographed in blackface, it's an article declaring baby-hair and cornrows as the latest "trends" -- even though those black styles have been around forever. This week, Allure magazine drew criticism for posting a brief article teaching "straight haired girls" (ie: white girls) how to get an afro.
On Aug. 3, black women on Tumblr and Twitter called out the tutorial for being racially insensitive and also inaccurate -- white model and actress Marissa Neitling is pictured rocking corkscrew curls, hardly an afro. Twitter user Eileen Dautruche observed:
"Black Twitter" said it once, but let's say it again: It is not cool for white women to wear black hairstyles. It is not cute. It is not flattering.
When white women wear black hairstyles, it's a slap in the face to black women.
There are so many reasons why it's not okay for white women to rock styles traditionally worn by black women, including Afros, braids (no, not French braids, calm down), dreadlocks, and baby hairs. Black hair is not just hair. There's history and context tied to these styles that cannot be ignored, a historical legacy forever linked to the ongoing cultural remnants of slavery and institutional racism. A white person who wears these styles dismisses that context and turns black hair into a novelty, a parody, a subtle form of blackface.
Box braids and cornrows can be traced all the way to ancient African civilizations. The practice of loc-ing hair (which, no, doesn't entail simply not washing the hair for several months) has religious ties to Rastafarianism.
The Afro came to prominence in the 1960s as a statement of pride and self-love in direct answer to white supremacy. And in the last five years, the natural hair movement, with its twist-outs, bantu knots, and wash-n-gos, has brought about a resurgence in self-acceptance among black women.
Black women have had our hair mocked and degraded, we have been called "nappy-headed-hoes," and we have been socialized to believe that our hair is "bad" because it is not straight. When we do rock our natural hair, it's called unkempt and unattractive.
In the professional world and in academia, having this so-called "unkempt" hair is often a liability. Meanwhile, colorful or elaborate weaves are called "ghetto" and "ratchet." On the flip side, white women with unnaturally colored hair or offbeat styles are deemed quirky and alternative -- a double standard to say the least.
As Annah Anti-Palindrome (a white women who used to wear dreadlocks) observed on Everyday Feminism,"Without any regard to personal qualifications, even with an incarceration record and no college education, I was often given responsibilities [at work] that put me in positions of authority over my co-workers of color. Despite my... appearance, I enjoyed a level of tolerance from authority figures and society at large that can only be attributed to my whiteness. "
White women are able to wear black hairstyles without the stigma of actually being black.
So, finally, no. No. When Black women straighten our hair, or dye it blonde, we're not "appropriating white hairstyles" -- it is not the same thing. The word you are looking for is assimilation. White hair is the norm. It is the default. It is the societal ideal. There are many reasons why black women today wear their hair either natural or straightened, but for the most part, the practice of straightening black hair came from a real necessity to conform and survive, and to better emulate societal beauty standards that oppress women of all races -- standards that just happen to be based around white beauty.
It's important to remember that when black women call out articles like the one featured in Allure, or criticize white women like Kylie Jenner or Rita Ora for wearing black styles, it's not simply out of this need to deny access to something simply for the sake of it. To you, white women, it's just a cool hairstyle. To us, it's something we've fought to be able to fully embrace. There are other ways to admire or celebrate black hair without coopting it. But understand -- black hair can be deeply political, deeply spiritual, and deeply personal.
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