Critique of Cultural Appropriation is Deeper Than Hair
As if it happened yesterday, my mother can vividly bring you to any moment she has had to put someone in check. One instance of this occurred in the late 1970s, when my older sister, then an adolescent, regularly donned a head full of beautiful, tiny cornrows with colorful beads that swung down her back. A school secretary, a white woman, innocently and ignorantly, referred to the hairstyle as “Bo Derek braids.”
Perhaps she thought it was a compliment and Bo Derek‘s high visibility at the time would explain why she referenced her. The “Bo Derek look” was a thing much like “Kylie Jenner lips1” is a thing now. Though my mother set her straight, the conversation was indicative of black women from whom the hairstyle originated being erased, except to be the butt of a joke. Insult to injury.
Cultural theft and erasure are just two of the problems with white girls and their cornrows, “mini buns2,” afros, feathers, bindis, etc. Theft and erasure while ignoring historical context. Theft and erasure while being hoisted further up the pedestal that is euro-centric beauty. Theft and erasure because they can. Because almost all will come to defend their sweet, innocent, ignorance.
The thing is, women of color — especially black women — would probably give less of a fuck what white women are doing to look like us if looking like us was valued ON US. This is one of the many points that young, brilliant Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg has tried to eloquently convey through video and writing this year3. However, her attempts have been met with adults lashing out at her and framing her poignant, fact-based observations as an “attack.4”
The most egregious example of this happened just recently after the 16-year-old informed a 17-year-old Kylie Jenner not only of her appropriation, but also of her silence — the very common “white silence” — concerning issues that affect the people she appropriates from. To that, Jenner replied, “Mad if I don’t, mad if I do.” But that’s just it: she don’t. And she never will because the bar for association with black American culture has been set as low as fucking black men.
With all the black penis The Kardashian/Jenners have been linked too how could people ever think they are racist?
— Charlamagne Tha God (@cthagod) July 14, 2015
This notion is no less disturbing and delusional than what is held by black women who have vacationed in Italy and think that white Italian men lusting them is equivalent to “loving Black women.”
While Kylie’s youth is used in her defense in regards to being addressed by Amandla, she is “nearly an adult” when her relationship with 25-year-old Tyga is scrutinized.
To no real surprise, some of the biggest defenders of white female appropriators are black men. The percentage of how many of these ashy coons exist is unknown but they too often find themselves in prominent spaces. And when they aren’t bashing black women, fetishizing all groups of women who only exist for their pleasure, or reminding everyone that “white girls are winning” over all other women, they partake in willful ignorance regarding the differences between appropriation, assimilation, and cultural exchange.
“The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is always going to be blurred. But here’s the thing: Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture that they are partaking in.3”
These black male protectors of white womanhood, who only care as long as they conclude the white woman in distress is worthy of their crusty black dicks, jump through hoops to seem clever or thoughtful. The result is intellectual dishonesty.
“Is it not also cultural appropriation when Justin Timberlake makes R&B?
Comparing white musicians who make “black music” overlooks that the primary criticism is aimed at the abundant monetary gains for white artists, who are supported by white gatekeepers in media who literally drool over the idea of these artists dominating a historically black music genre5. Art, music, and other cultural aspects are mocked until whites decide they want to own it, profit highest from it, get all undue credit for it, and sanitize it for “civilized white folks.”
“How about when Black women straighten their hair or add other women’s hair for weave?”
Then there’s the laughable suggestion that straight hair is cultural… and that only European women have it naturally. Further, since many of these men pride themselves on their obsessions with ancient Egypt, their gross antagonism speaks to how little they know of the women of that region who added extensions, wore wigs and dyed their hair 3000 years ago6. Falsehoods surrounding what black women do with their hair also neglect perpetual colonization and forcing of whiteness as the standard of humanity and beauty.
Amazingly, the same black men who are eager to bulldoze over black women to save white women can speak at length about white privilege and supremacy; the same white privilege is only acknowledged as far as it hinders black men’s ability to fully wield the same power as white men. It is then no coincidence that these men only mention black women’s bodies being historically treated as exhibits for the purpose of shaming their sexuality.
Past Is Present
While it is stated that now is the time to “let go” of past denigration, what is considered “past”? Do we stop the clock at little black American girls getting their hair cut off by school teachers7, Indigenous American kids being penalized for long hair8 or for wearing feathers to their graduations9, Black American boys/men still being lynched for sleeping with white girls/women10,11, or Aboriginal toddlers wanting to scrub their skin off because “Black is ugly”12?
Who protects outspoken and informed kids of color? Who defends Amandla? Certainly not actress and trans activist Laverne Cox or Andre Leon Talley who both sat their black asses on Andy Cohen‘s Watch What Happens Live cackling along as he attacked Amandla, calling her the “Jackhole of the Day.13” Laverne further derailed Amandla’s comment with the invocation of Bo Derek.
Black and brown people participating in upholding of white supremacy seems to be at a nauseating high. Even someone so steeped in knowledge and understanding of transphobia, transmisogyny, and transmisogynoir could not avoid the lure of coddling white aggressors’ feelings.
In response to all of the madness, Amandla once again took the opportunity to educate and remind us that she is not angry, though she has every reason to be. At this point, her emotional and intellectual labor needs to be compensated. See her words below.
End the "angry black girl" narrative. It's just another attempt to undermine certain perspectives. I have strong opinions. I am not angry.
— Amandla (@amandlastenberg) July 13, 2015
- How to Get Kylie Jenner’s Lips
- Dear White People: Bantu Knots Are Not Twisted ‘Mini Buns’
- Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows – a crash discourse on black culture.
- Amandla Stenberg Didn’t Attack Kylie Jenner, Leave Our Princess Alone!
- Forbes Says A “White Blonde Australian Woman” Runs Hip-Hop
- Ancient Egyptian Woman with 70 Hair Extensions Discovered
- Milwaukee Teacher Cuts Off Student’s Natural Hair & Throws It Away In Front Of Class
- Five-year-old Navajo Boy Denied Admission On First Day Of School Because His Hair Is Too Long
- Native American Student Wins Legal Battle To Wear Eagle Feather At Graduation
- Was teen lynched for having a white girlfriend?
- Married Cops Charged With Killing Daughter’s Black Boyfriend
- Aboriginal girl, 3, ‘tried to SCRUB her skin off’ after being told she couldn’t be Queen Elsa from Frozen because she is black
- BRAVO’s Andy Cohen Calls Teen Star Amandla Stenberg (And That Feud) “Jackhole Of The Day” On “WWHL” With Laverne Cox & Andre Leon Talley