“Mom, I don’t have good hair like you, Tori & Amina” is what Zee, my oldest daughter, said to me one day. This is something she had heard from people around her that she should have been able to trust to confidently build her up.
While I never said those exact things to any of my children, I have said things in the past like “whew… that hair is getting nappy” or “I see you got that gotcha happening in the back”. In my mind, I was joking and being silly but I didn’t realize, at the time, how I was impacting the way my girls saw their hair. As less than. As a problem. As unpretty.
I am not here to argue if natural hair is better than relaxed hair or weaves or wigs, it’s definitely a personal choice. Let’s unpack, however, how this shift in our hair came to be.
Black Hair, Crowning Glory…
When slaves were first brought to America, they had elaborate hairstyles like locs, braids and twists that reflected their African heritage, their unique and beautiful culture. Once they were purchased on the slave block, white folks started to criticize and humiliate the texture of black hair. Without all the natural products that were used back home and obviously with very few tools to use, such as combs and brushes, slaves were forced to use bacon grease, butter and sometimes kerosene to keep their hair moisturized. Remember, our hair is our crowning glory and we always want to protect it any way we can; so we used what we had. What you start to see is that the women & children; who could slick their hair down to appear more acceptable were often the ones that were deemed more attractive, received “better” treatment and were giving “easier” responsibilities.
This is where the social acceptance of black hair begins, in my opinion. It’s also where many will say the struggle between light and dark-skinned black women happens as often times, women of lighter hue have more socially acceptable textures of hair be that straight or curly.
Fast forward a bit and the hot comb, created across the pond, makes its way to the states and Madame CJ Walker (I’m not here to argue who created these products) develops a hair care line that encourages the press and curl look. Basically, straighten your hair and adding some waves to it to make it cute. Baby I loved a press and curl growing up, it made me feel so pretty!
And so, the story continues with new products being invented to create more European looks such as relaxers and weaves and also the opposite was rising as well where women, such as Angela Davis, were insistent on wearing afros, braids and locs reminiscent to our African ancestry.
This is an ongoing battle in the black community that we didn’t start. Our ancestors arrived proud of their hair, it’s texture and versatility. Black women were required to “tame” their hair in order to gain employment. This is where the issue of black hair in the workplace happens. White societal views were placed upon us as a measure of beauty and success and many of us still conform to that today. Most white owned companies have discriminatory hair policies that dehumanize black women, with wording like not having “unkempt or unruly hair” or “only wearing basic hair colors such as black or brown”. The CROWN act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) was created to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools.
Not only we conform to in our professional life but are required in our personal lives as well. Saying things like “I don’t like my natural hair” or “That style is ghetto”, meanwhile Bo Derek, back in the day, and currently Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Lady Gaga and many other white women; are making millions and being PRAISED for their braids, faux locs and more. Don’t get me started on these bodies they won’t give us credit for naturally having but they have to buy. Can that be cultural appropriation too?
Black Culture Can’t be Re-Presented by Whites…
Hair is the point that hits close to home as far as cultural appropriation but there are many other topics. Fashion is another biggie for me as black people have been style icons since the beginning of time. Every decade brought about a different fashion trend with Cotton Club attire of regal-ness and poshness to the seventies with bell bottoms platform shoes. We hop to the 80s and 90s where Hip Hop took over the culture in just about every way. Yet, white America continued to try and claim these fashion trends as their own. I did a little research and came across this article in Bricks Magazine, reminding me of other trends that were appropriated that just annoyed my spirit more and reminded me of how DOPE black people are. Nails (I know you’d think Khloe Kardashian originated the trend 👧🏾), Monogram Print, Trainer culture, Cooking(“Southern Cuisine") and so much more are all part of black culture.
Black music & dance is also something that has been appropriated over time. Many people don’t realize that Black dance, in its originality, was altered by white slave owners for events and balls on the plantation. What was normal dancing out on the plantation among our people, white folks wanted us to dance more “civilized” in front of their guests and we had to learn how to dance to European music in more “elegant” ways. Did you know that bluegrass music originated in black culture, including banjo playing? You later see this when white folks use black face to steal and claim this as well as depicted in minstrel shows. The list goes on but you see where I am going and for the sake of this blog turning into a book, I’ll stop here. (I may do a podcast episode on this because there’s so much more… hmmm)
Black culture is something that can’t be denied. The fact that credit isn’t always given for our contributions to beauty, fashion, technology, science and hell everything; is truly proof of this country’s ignorance to reality. Racists will loudly say they hate black people while simultaneously using inventions we created, watching games we dominate and wearing clothes we imagined with their hair in our likeness.
So What Do We Do?
3 ways we can stop cultural appropriation
1. White people must stop white people from white peopling – So, let white people talk to their people first:
2. Stop praising white people who culturally appropriate without acknowledging & paying reverence to us, the originators - An example when Kim Kardashian first wore her braid and gave credit to a “Bo Derek” inspired style. Bitch please. And I say that with the most disrespect possible.
3. We also cannot culturally appropriate other cultures - We most often do it with our Indigenous Brothers and Sisters. We shouldn’t be wearing “Indian” headdresses or wearing sexy Indian outfits. We also need to support the changing sports logo from Native images and symbols .
Embrace the beauty that America loves to hate. Our power is within us 🖤✊🏾🖤
Love & Light,