With cultural appropriation coming to the forefront of conversation en mass, everyone and their twice removed great Aunt is getting called out. Before most people woke up to what cultural appropriation actually refers to, the term was used most often in relation to colonialism and the robbing of indigenous cultures. As the term has become more popular and people are becoming more self aware, it is being used to shame anyone who is wearing things from, creating music, acting out the ritualistic aspects of, speaking like, or generally behaving like a culture that is not their own. If you'd like some examples, use The Google .
Now, we are all human and because we all get to live on this gorgeous earth there will obviously be some mixing of culture. With that disclaimer, I'd like to go on to say that I do think there is a line that can be and is often crossed. The most common form of appropriation that I have been privy to, in this country specifically, is that of black culture. If you're thinking along the lines of cornrows, box braids, and locs, then you are on the right track. Cornrows are probably the most commonly seen and called out. In this glorious video, Amandla Stenberg explains. Just... you should just listen to her.
The other day I shared that very same video on my Facebook wall and then proceeded to look through the comments on the original post to see what the bird's word was. Someone posited the question:
If as a white woman wearing my hair in locs is appropriating black culture then if a black girl wears a weave or straightens her hair, isn't that appropriating white culture?
I ignored the point that this person used the term black girl in reference to black women and used the term woman in reference to herself implying a superiority and moved on the actual question. Well, is it? For fun, let's start with a definition of cultural appropriation. Because most people use Wikipedia, I will too. Wiki says:
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people's cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.
If we split the definition at its comma then technically yes, a black woman wearing straight hair is is appropriation of white culture. Unfortunately, I don't believe in reading something half way through and stopping. The rest of the definition explains what I believe to the core of what everyone seems to be forgetting.
*especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people's cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.*
Here in the USA we are all reaching for a white standard of beauty.(I am using severe racial divides here in an effort to make this easy to digest. So I will only be referring to black women, white women and black culture, white culture.) Because the white standard is the dominant one, it is in no danger of extinction. Black culture, being -56000 on the scale of not white culture, is in absolute danger of extinction. Does that make sense? Yes it does.
When white women wear the hairstyles of black women it is erasure. There is no way that a person with white hair woke up one day and thought to themselves: my, my hair is mighty dry in all of this sunlight, I wonder if I placed my hair in small tight rows of braids if it would protect it from breakage and severe dryness. or wow, I've just placed moisturizer in my hair and it hasn't quite finished being absorbed so to protect my hair from the elements, I should wrap my hair in this decorative cloth. So why it so necessary for white culture to pretend like they invented these hairstyles? The only reason I can think of is fear. The fear that if black people begin to understand their beauty, they may also begin to understand their worth and then they will understand their power and then oh no!!! they will rise.
Is this erasure an accident? Absolutely not. It is noticeably deliberate. When black people who sport these styles are seen as worthless, unkempt, and bestial but when worn on white people these styles are attributed to their creativity and ingenuity. When black women wear their hair straightened, whether it be through heat styling tools, chemicals, or attachments, it is not threatening to white culture or white beauty standards. No matter how many black women wear straight hair, white beauty standards will remain at the the top of the not white culture to white culture scale because white people are in control of the current beauty standards in the USA.
The part that really befuddles me is why, if the goal is for everyone to look as close to white as possible, white women even give a shit about black women wearing straight hair. Isn't that what white culture would prefer? Isn't that more familiar?If anything, when black women wear their hair straight it should be a comfort to white women, right? Wearing straight hair obviously means that you are not feeding off the government, you live in a white picket fence with your nuclear family, and that you say the pledge of allegiance without pausing before saying "under God", right? So if the goal is to achieve a white beauty standard, a white woman who wears locs or an afro is bringing herself down right? Going in the wrong direction? Going down the scale? No!!! Way!!!! She's edgy! She's got attitude! Black women are just mad because white women are taking their black men with their look!
As for why black women give a shit, it is clear. Black hair is something that only people with black hair can truly know. Black hair is resilient and capable and it is no to be mocked or fetishized. It can be shaped into many different styles but still it remains black hair. I find it to be glorious.