Live media literate.

Join Understand Media to get access to our forums, the latest media literacy news, member-only articles, early access to our journals, and much more.

We will never give your info to anyone!

By Nylah S.

Consider for a moment that Black people, let alone Black culture are not monolithic. Specificities within a culture are something that can always be argued especially by members of that culture. However, when speaking specifically about African-Americans who can trace themselves back to African roots, they all have something in common: their hair. Most African-Americans have thicker, tighter, kinkier curls and often times coarser textured hair than other races.  Historically, African-American ancestors were once partakers in building the motherland of ancient civilization, Africa. These ancestors all had similar hair textures thus the creation of hairstyles such as braids like cornrows with creative designs, in order to protect their hair while keeping it out of their face in a somewhat artistic fashion. Hair holds a great deal of importance within the black community and is valued as equally as it was in Ancient civilization. Unfortunately, the reality for many Black Americans is that they are being pushed to limits of assimilation because their natural hair is seen as unappealing to Western beauty norms. Many Black women excrete the proteins in their hair through the process of assimilation to appear more attractive or beautiful according to the status quo appointed to society by Europeans, who have held dominance in America since the discovery of the “New World.” Due to our societal subscription of the White Supremacist ideology, Black women neglect, abhor, and assimilate their hair to comply with Western Beauty Ideals in order to not only be seen as beautiful but also to receive opportunities such as employment, while their non-Black counterparts are able to systematically dismiss the cultural importance and sensitivity hair holds to the Black community.

Cultural appropriation is the concept of a person with more influential power adopting sensitive aspects of another person’s culture and claiming it as their own; this typically is done without any recognition to the original creators from the culture. The dangers of cultural appropriation go beyond just simply offending another person. As explained in Interrupt Magazine, a fashion and culture magazine by Author Muhammad Fayaz, “appropriation continues patterns of disempowering groups that are already marginalized” (Fayaz). Often times, the fashion or hairstyles particular to culture is not widely accepted or considered popular until it has been adopted by the dominant European culture. Cornrows, a traditionally African hairstyle that has been worn for hundreds of years was never seen as a widely accepted form of styling your hair until 1979. When white actress Bo Derek wore cornrows with beads at the end in the movie 10. Practically the same hairstyle Black actress Cicely Tyson wore almost a decade earlier. “ By 1980, on the pages of Time and Newsweek and in the lexicon of the population at large, cornrows had come to be known as “Bo Braids” (Byrd). Some reporters went as far as to say that Bo Derek was responsible for the acceptance of multicultural beauty in America. She was overly-praised for a hairstyle Africans had been doing for centuries and got chastised for when they were brought to the Americas. Similarly, during the summer of 2015, white seventeen-year-old pop culture icon, Kylie Jenner posted a picture on Instagram displaying herself wearing culturally sensitive cornrows. Hundreds of blogs and media outlets were announcing Kylie as the “cornrow creator” and she wrongfully was given surpassing amounts of praise for a hairstyle that has existed for hundreds of years. Cultural appropriation highlights the hypocrisy embedded within Western Beauty Ideals and leads Black people to feel continually disconnected from their own culture. By Black women and not being allowed to rightfully express themselves culturally in environments like the workplace whilst their white counterparts are given praise and acclamation for hairstyles that were not designed for them nor their hair textures.  

Multiple critics of cultural appropriation argue how it is infinitely impossible to “steal a culture.” John McWhorter a political commentator and linguistics, music, philosophy and American Studies teacher at Columbia University wrote a blog post for The Daily Beast, a pop culture online magazine. McWhorter argues that our current definition of cultural appropriation, “has morphed into a parody of the original idea. We are now to get angry simply when whites happily imitate something that minorities do.” He alongside many others believe America is a mixing pot of cultures, and instead of placing our hands in front of the flame that boils the pot, we should embrace this flame. What McWhorter and other critics fail to acknowledge, is the systematic injustices that these marginalized groups whom’s cultures are being appropriated have been facing for centuries due to White Supremacy. By insisting that we should embrace this mixing pot of cultures, we are insinuating that the cultural injustices that have been a result of White Supremacy are, as of late, trivial; now that marginalized cultures’ practices have been recognized by White people, society but more importantly Black people should seize the present and ignore the centuries of dismal (Fayaz). As simple as that may sound, in reality, Black people, more specifically Black women endure endless amounts of appropriation and dismay toward their culture. Making it extremely difficult to reason why they of all groups should be the first to welcome non-Black people to embrace their histories and culture.

  

Bibliography

 

Byrd, Ayana D., and Lori L. Tharps. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.

New York: St. Martin's, 2001. Print.

 

Fayaz, Mohammed, and Browntourage. "Appropriation vs. Appreciation." Interrupt Magazine23 Sept.

2014: n. pag. Web. 

 

McWhorter, John. "You Can’t ‘Steal’ a Culture: In Defense of Cultural Appropriation." The

Daily Beast. 15 July 2014. Web.