As of late, the internet has been inundated with proclamations of cultural appropriation with the latest rants (interestingly enough) coming from outside the communities being victimized (see non-Indians accusing Bey of cultural appropriation while performing at an Indian wedding… in India). These calls of cultural appropriation seemingly come from the individuals who are still upset at the fact they were called out for donning a feather headdress at Coachella two years ago. *rolls eyes*
Their unnecessary outcries take attention away from the very real and very problematic conversations around the topic of appropriation. While many were up in arms over the recent exposure of blackfishing Instagram models, another ugly monster reared its ugly head, moving along somewhat unnoticed. Lurking in the comments section, nestled next to quips of “let’s all love one another,” “borrowing is flattery in the highest form,” and other kumbaya nonsense was an evident generation of misguided individuals inside the Black community posing a rather demonizing question over and over again – “Why can’t White women tan their skin and wear braids when Black women wear weaves and dye their hair blonde? It’s the same thing.” The sentiments continued with similar phrases like, “And this is coming from someone with a straightened weave in her hair.” Sigh…
To merely suggest a Black woman wearing a weave to look white is the same as a white woman excessively tanning and adopting Black hairstyles to appear Black showcases a clear misunderstanding of cultural appropriation and the history of beauty culture in America.
First off, the question is essentially null and void. Cultural appropriation is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own (typically a minority culture), especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture while benefiting from it. Dr. Zinga Fraser, Assistant Professor in Africana Studies at Brooklyn College adds cultural appropriation “dehumanizes” the culture it takes from because honestly wearing another culture’s traditional garb and face as a fast pass to “cool” is mockery people.
Moreover, a white woman can tan her skin and braid her hair when it benefits her and drop the look when it’s not working in her favor. The same cannot be said for a Black woman who wears a weave, bleaches her skin, and lives in culture where she’s systematically told her looks are not desirable. Speaking in the context of hair, Fraser says “Whether one indoctrinates forms of hair accessories to their hair or not, one cannot look like a white woman. [The idea] doesn’t operate in the same way.” In layman’s terms that means weaves, coloring, and so forth cannot make a Black woman look like white – periodt.
In addition, “There is no significant benefits specifically for African American women who wear a variety of hairstyles. There is significant impact on African American women who wear natural hair, their change of styles of hair. There are significant repercussions,” Fraser adds. These natural hairstyles including cornrows, afros, curls, faux locs and twists have led to Black children being dismissed from schools, Black adults denied employment opportunities and unnecessary issues surrounding military duty. The same cannot be said for whites wearing their own natural hairstyles.
“There isn’t any evidence of any white women or white children who have been dismissed for doing their hair in a certain way even if it’s the appropriation of Black hairstyles,” Fraser expands. “We can’t equalize Black women’s and Black girls’ experiences in terms of hair and beauty in the same way that we look at white women’s hair and beauty culture,” says Fraser. Historically, adornments, braids, weaves, extensions, wigs and the like have always been a part of Black beauty culture. Dating back thousands of years, early African artifacts depicted African women with braids. Various tribes in Africa differentiated themselves by braiding patterns, feathers, cloth, and other decorations into their hair. In America, African Americans created their own beauty culture. In the early 1900s, Madam C.J. Walker created hair and scalp treatments (not the straightener or perm) for African American women when there weren’t any products – let alone a market – for African American women’s hair care. “We operate in a culture that tells us we are less than and then we create a culture of beauty for ourselves, whether it be lotions for our faces and skin, our hair… all of those things that allow Black women to feel connected and to feel beautiful isn’t about appropriation, it’s about developing something [for ourselves] in a very hostile, white supremacist society,” Fraser further explains.
And let’s be real. Black women are not the only groups to wear wigs, extensions, and clip-ins, but we are constantly demonized for it when White women are not. There are groups of white women who wear wigs due to religious practices and others who do so for some inches. “No one asks the question if they are appropriating to be something. I don’t think that it should be relevant to ask the same thing for African American women,” Fraser points out.
So, to those confused individuals within our community (and those outside of it too), educate yourselves. Any argument trying to validate cultural appropriation by policing Black women dressing up or dressing down our hair in any way we so please just doesn’t hold up. Black women have and will continue to drive our own beauty culture. Unfortunately, it will continue to be plucked by others for cool points, but know the aforementioned and let the ridiculous counter argument die along with 2018’s awful fishtail brow trend.