I have to start this blog with a TRIGGER WARNING. We will be discussing a controversial topic which includes mention of culture and race. It is a difficult subject for some, and may create feelings of discomfort. I of course don’t wish to cause hurt feelings or disdain with this discourse, however it is a topic that is being heavily discussed over both traditional media and social media platforms and I feel it is my duty as not only a Black female writer, but a long standing hairdresser to be able to present this topic in a way that uplifts and educates those interested in being educated and uplifted. I feel that knowledge is the light that destroys the darkness that is ignorance, and therefore it should always be shared.
Here at XtensionSpa, if you go to the About Us section of our website, you can see that we state that we stand for the strength of diversity in beauty and want to share it with you! We cannot stand for the strength in the beauty of diversity if we act as though we are not diverse! I sincerely hope that this blog points out the beauty of diversity, and brings forth the realization that our diversity makes us all individually special, and special within our cultural groups. That said, if reading about or discussing race or culture triggers you into anxiety or discomfort, I respectfully suggest a different article.
So what moves cultural APPRECIATION into cultural APPROPRIATION? Isn’t it just a hairstyle? Are people being too sensitive and is this even a real thing? All of these questions have been asked to me personally, and of course have been discussed on different platforms and we’re going to get right to it! As before mentioned, I am a Black female. I am also a hairdresser which I feel gives me a unique insight into this matter. I do NOT speak for everyone in the Black culture, but as a person with unique insight based upon who I am, and what I do.
Being a Black woman, this topic directly affects me, so you will be reading this article from my point of view, which is a member of the Black culture in America. Black culture is how I personally identify, although I do agree that race and culture aren’t always synonymous for those of you who may be wondering.
Soooo is it just a Hairstyle or nah?
To deny culture exists is to deny the unique beauty and differences that make up our world. Culture is where we express ourselves. It’s where we feel safe to express with each other within our own unique groups. Culture takes a lifetime to develop, and within each culture, even strangers understand each other without words. It is how we connect to our ancestral backgrounds and connect to everything we’ve been taught about ourselves throughout hundreds of years. In the Black community, hair has been a HUGE part of our culture, and point of contention for many of us for generations. It is that way because of the history of Blacks in America, which I’m sure whomever you are reading this… are profoundly aware of.
Hair has always been a grand way to express yourself in any culture, am I right? Take this beautiful Japanese Geisha. If you simply saw her picture you would know that she’s Japanese and a Geisha, but you wouldn’t necessarily know what she had to go through to become a Geisha, or the cultural connotation behind why she wears her hair in this elaborate style. You simply accept it as a part of Japanese culture. If I began dressing in a kimono, and styling my hair in this exact way, as a Black woman, most people would be confused… especially if when asked why I’m dressed like a Geisha I denied that’s what I was doing and called it hip hop.
Imagine that! Now expand your imagination further, and consider if, (for the sake of discussion) 15% of Black women began doing this, and calling it hip hop and from then on, that’s what it was known as. I’m certain quite a few Japanese people would be very angry and annoyed. Not because Black women are dressing as Geisha, but because in re-branding it hip hop, we would be denying that their culture exists!
Imagine someone denying YOU EXIST! That’s what cultural appropriation is. The denial of a certain culture’s existence. It’s re branding something special into something generic while falsely inflating its value above the original. There are laws to prevent this from happening to certain property. Trademarks. Copyrights. We’ve all heard of someone being sued over the theft of an intellectual work, or for plagiarizing something, such as a song or a speech. Why? Because being unique matters. Originality is the quality by which something special is measured, and respect must be given to the owner of that original work of art. Heck, people get mad if you take a meme from their IG and re post it without tagging them!
Most people would find it odd if a Black woman dressed as a Geisha WITHOUT calling it something else. That’s because Japanese culture isn’t seen as “there for the taking” unlike Black culture in western society. Black culture is one of the most imitated, emulated, appropriated and yet underappreciated cultures in the world. It is the idea of being “there for the taking” that would make anyone feel unsafe and angry, which is even what the “me too” movement is based upon. Everyone wants respect and to be treated as though they matter.
So what does all of this have to do with hair?
Many hairstyles and braids, but cornrows in particular hold a special cultural significance for Black people. Even if the Black person wearing them isn’t personally aware of their history. I have recently heard of them being referred to as “boxer braids” and other inappropriate names, or being named after a non-black celebrity wearing them as a controversial fashion statement. These intricate hairstyles are a labor of love passed down in Black culture for generations. Today, they display artistry, as well as promote our hair into growth by allowing it to rest and take a break from styling damage, but did you know that cornrows were an integral part of helping our enslaved ancestors to freedom?
Maps to safe houses and escape routes were patterned into the hair, sending silent messages between those who planned in secret to leave. It was punishable by death to discuss escape, and also punishable by death to read or pass notes. Cornrows were an ingenious and silent way to accomplish all of these things at once. Enslaved men and women also hid seeds, nuts, bits of gold, or small handmade tools inside their braids to help them along on their journey to freedom. Eating, picking a lock, or buying silence was the difference between life and death, and cornrows did their part in securing freedom for our ancestors. A deep ancestral significance is now what’s hidden within these beautiful patterns which today we still wear. Now that you see the cultural significance behind it, hopefully it shines some light on why it would be annoying and seen as disrespectful to re-name cornrows to fit pop culture, & to be tossed away as “just a hairstyle”.
Sooo then WHY do Black Girls wear wigs/extensions and blonde hair? Isn’t THAT cultural appropriation TOO?
Great Question! As a matter of fact as I write this I’m having a bit of a giggle, as the irony of a blog about cultural appropriation involving hair, on a website that promotes and sells hair extensions is NOT lost on me! Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking… “REALLY?! You’re promoting fake hair for Black girls, including blonde hair and you’re talking about cultural appropriation involving hair? What a joke!”
The reality is, we promote and sell wigs and hair extensions FOR ALL PEOPLE who want to enhance, lengthen, or change their style! Wanting MORE hair isn’t culturally exclusive, nor is changing your hair color! Hair texture isn’t culturally exclusive either, even though Afros, (for the most part) are racially associated with Black people, there are many Jewish people who have beautiful natural Afros as well! Changing ones hair has long been a source of beauty, style and expression for every race, gender, culture and creed, so the answer to this question is NO! It is not cultural appropriation for Black girls to wear wigs, weaves, or even blonde hair because again, these things aren’t culturally exclusive.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Black women wearing wigs dates back to ancient Egyptian times and was a way that Egyptian royalty distinguished themselves from commoners?! (and yup, wigs were expensive back then too! Ha!)
Of course, times have changed, and in modern western society, we now wear wigs and extensions for different reasons including protective styles, change of mood, or simply because it’s fun! For many Black women though, it started with generational forced conformity.
Even today (though it is slowly changing), Black hair in its natural state is frequently labeled as “ghetto” or “unprofessional” and has been a way that racists in positions of power block Black people from getting jobs or from being taken seriously. I have PERSONALLY experienced this. I have worn my natural hair for many years, (though I LOVE wearing wigs for fun). I had locs at one time, and tried to get a job at a bank. I was told flat out that I would have either have to cut my hair, or make it straight in order to be hired! You might think that what was said is the awful part, when REALLY it was the implication. That is, “If you look like yourself, you’re not allowed to work and feed your family.”
The fight to wear our natural hair is something that continues to this day. Would you trust your male doctor if he had cornrows? Would you think your lawyer was professional if she had locs? If not, ask yourself why? If you take those same cornrows and locs that you consider “unprofessional” or “ghetto” and put them on someone who isn’t Black, and you consider that stylish and trendy, then that’s where the seed of the problem lies!
Soooo what do you do about wearing a style you like from a different culture? Just not wear it?
Let’s say you’re a person who wants to wear a style from a different culture. How do you go about it? Do you just not wear what you want? Asking your friend to re-post their meme is easy… but how do you ask an entire culture if you can wear their style? Well, the truth is you can’t ask… and of course you’re free to wear what you want, but here are some steps you CAN take to make it cultural APPRECIATION vs Appropriation.
- Respect the culture!
Act as if you are a guest in a person’s home. NEVER engage in racist statements, jokes, memes, stereotypes or insults, and check people in your circle that do! Never use another race or culture as a costume, mascot, or to play dress up for social media! “Black Fishing” and other types of racial / cultural scams for fame is the nastiest kind of cultural appropriation, and even crosses a barrier into CULTURAL MONETIZATION. Pretending to be Black or anything else for money and recognition when you’re not is just vile to be honest. Just say NO! Be mature enough to realize not everything is there for the taking simply because you like it!
- Learn about the culture!
Nothing is worse than engaging in something while knowing nothing about it, and willful ignorance is super unattractive! We are soo blessed to have a wealth of info at our fingertips with the internet! Do your research and find out if something in particular is sacred to a culture before trying it. It’s usually NOT a good idea to do things that are sacred, so if you can avoid trying that particular thing, avoid it. If you decide to try something, remember not to copy without credit! Also, keep in mind that while some members of the culture you’re borrowing from may not find offense, some still might even if you take all the steps to do so respectfully. Be mindful not to take an attitude of entitlement or judgement. Everyone has different tolerance levels, and a persons level of tolerance probably directly corresponds to a personal experience.
- Protect the culture!
At the end of the day, we all share this planet together. We have to protect each other at all costs, and we do that by recognizing the beauty in not only ourselves, but the beauty in others. Just as they are. Help to stomp out racism by calling it out and disengaging from people that do it. Cultures are safe spaces. For some, it’s all they have, so be of great care when attempting to share!
I hope this blog was helpful to you and maybe even gave you clarity and/ or information that you didn’t already know! We love you here at XtensionSpa and thank you for reading this far on a topic that may have made you uncomfortable. I truly believe that if we aren’t made to feel uncomfortable from time to time, we wouldn’t grow. XtensionSpa is here to Xtend your beauty in EVERY way possible, and KNOWLEDGE is the most beautiful thing we can wear!
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Until next time Beauties!