Dear Pop Culture, Stop Erasing The History Of These Black Hairstyles
Social media queen YesJulz tweeted a legitimate question last summer: "Why is it a problem when white girls braid their hair?"
Why is it a problem when white girls braid their hair? — Julz (@YesJulz) August 31, 2015
At first, I viewed the tweet as a purposefully ignorant inquiry. Cultural appropriation of black hairstyles has been discussed at length, so I was annoyed by her inability to do a proper Google search.
Within seconds, other non-black women tweeted along with her in utter confusion, and I realized there's still a great cultural divide on the issue of black hair. What's worse, white publications continue to agitate the problem by Christopher Columbus-ing black styles.
Women's mags such as Allure cloud the cultural importance of black hairstyles by featuring white women wearing inherently black looks. Black women and girls are kicked out of school and asked to leave their job for the same natural styles white women are celebrated for in mainstream culture.
Granted, as of late, the public perception surrounding natural hair and braided styles has moved in a positive direction, but ignorance of their cultural beginnings still reeks of racism, colorism and discrimination against blackness.
It's as if the styles are only good enough on non-black women. Trust me, Marie Claire, there's no "new epic level" of cornrows black women haven't already achieved. Even if model-of-the-moment Kendall Jenner seems to think so.
Kendall Jenner takes bold braids to a new epic level: http://t.co/IMPn41xorh pic.twitter.com/Cgp7X8CfNg — Marie Claire (@marieclaire) April 2, 2014
To answer Julz's question, yes, of course all women can wear braids or a large curly 'fro. However, the lack of credit given to black women for their woven creations and innovative styles is troubling.
Still, some white publications are not giving credit where it's due.
1. Cornrows made a comeback as "boxer braids," thanks to MTV UK.
Boxer braids have gone viral since Kim Kardashian sported them on Instagram.
Publications and YouTubers have credited the Kardashians and UFC fighters for the style, even going as far as to say first daughter, Sasha Obama, was inspired by the braided 'do.
Newsflash: "boxer braids" are f*cking cornrows.
The woven look originated in Africa and the Caribbean and has been both an artistic and cultural expression for years. Aside from the fact nearly ever black rapper or ballplayer in the early aughts wore this style, top 40 queens Beyoncé and Rihanna, pulled off this look well before white women caught on.
Give me a break. The fact that mainstream culture renamed the style then credited white women for its popularization is the definition of appropriation.
2. Allure used a white woman to teach us about afros.
Months ago, Allure magazine used a white woman to demonstrate how to recreate an afro.
The misguided tutorial (willfully) fails to explain the cultural importance of afros. The natural coif is not only a hairstyle, but it's also a symbol of black pride.
In the '60s and '70s, afros were a political image of black liberation as African Americans sought to reclaim their identities from white supremacy.
Thanks to celebrities like Solange Knowles and the overall resurgence of natural hair, this style is currently on-trend. Instead of educating the readers on the history of black hair, however, Allure chose to erase its roots.
Honestly, to dress up a white women in a look so black is basically like blackface for hairstyles.
3. Teen Vogue used a light-skinned model to showcase Senegalese twists.
Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth, got Senegalese twists in Rwanda and wrote a moving essay about the "cultural experience."
In lieu of Zendaya faux-loc controversy, Wentworth explained how adopting black hairstyles can stand as "a form of activism."
Though Wentworth eloquently explained the cultural importance of the look and had incredible pics to match, the publication still used a very fair-skinned model in their print version to showcase the go-to style for natural-haired black women. It's a prime example that even when black women are included, our literal blackness is washed out.
Don't get me wrong, all shades of black are beautiful. However, white mags perpetuate colorism when visibly black models aren't added to the conversation.
Were there no darker models available?
4. Lucky Magazine didn't realize "slicked-down tendrils" are just baby hairs.
In 2014, Lucky's social media pretended LaToya Jackson and Chilli from TLC never existed. These queens of baby hair had every little black girl buying hair gel and toothbrushes to lay down their wispy edges.
Showing homage to black hairstyles on fashion runways is remarkable. It's something that may not have happened if not for the recent popularity of natural styles. However, it's not OK when those looks aren't traced back to their originators, or even given their proper name.
Unfortunately, there's nothing new to see here.
Black culture is a large part of pop culture and black women are happy to share our hair innovations. But, in case you don't know, we take our hair and heritage pretty seriously.
With the growing number of models of color and knowledge of black history, white publications have no reason to recreate, tweet about or discuss black styles without crediting black culture.
Truthfully, they never did.