Until those who are a part of society that is in the majority understand that adopting ideas from minority cultures within that same society is inappropriate, this phenomenon will never dissipate.
By: Sewit Haile
Something I tend to notice more and more in our society is normalized cultural appropriation and subtle racism. Cultural appropriation is not a new issue. The term was coined in the 80s and includes the perverse adoption of customs and ideas of a minority part of society by a predominant part of the same society. From wearing Native American headdresses as Halloween costumes to blackface to businesses selling traditional Japanese kimonos as bathrobes, it is something that seems to sometimes be ignored. Far too often, large companies and well-known people (in the public eye) are guilty of perpetuating cultural appropriation and mostly receive minimal criticism or get off scot-free.
It’s not new to see people, including influencers and celebrities, sport hairstyles and clothing that are culturally inappropriate. Time and again, fashion designers often style their non-black models with cornrows and laid baby hairs, which is nothing if not problematic and subtly racist. But perhaps you’d like to argue that it’s no big deal; if they’re judged by their fans harshly, that’s punishment enough.
For a moment, let’s pretend like that statement doesn’t erase years of struggle and pride in African/Black culture. For a moment, let’s argue that it’s not a big deal. Who cares? It’s just a hairstyle, right?
The issue here is how black people are viewed and treated while wearing these exact hairstyles — the ones THEY created. In the workplace, for example, dreadlocks, braids, and Senegalese twists (the list goes on) are often seen as “messy,” “dirty,” and “untidy.” A quick Google search reveals hundreds of black workers who were fired for keeping their natural hair rather than perming or straightening it, so as not to look overly “cultural.”
On her third day of training, 20-year-old server Akua Agyemfra was fired from a Toronto-based restaurant for wearing her natural hair in a bun instead of perming it down. However, when revered celebrities or influencers wear those same cultural hairstyles, they are described as “fashionable” and “exotic” and credited as trend-setters. The irony is rich.
It’s important to acknowledge the deep roots and history that come with particular hairstyles and clothing. In no way am I saying that they’re meant to be gatekept, but everyone needs to be aware. No traditional hairstyle is just a hairstyle; no traditional garment is just a pretty piece of cloth. They should be respected.