A hair story with a history

Essence BoydCopy Editor

As acceptance of natural hair in the black community continues to grow, so does the population of fraudulent culture. Queens such as Solange, Lauryn Hill and Erika Badu (the list goes on) have taught me not only how to appreciate my hair, but have educated me on the power I hold in each un-tamable coil. Now, I understand that the hairstyles may seem trendy and the jewelry that we attach to our hair may be unique. However, that does not give you green light to impersonate it. Before you sit down in a salon chair and weave centuries of silenced “hairstory” to your scalp, please take a moment to truly understand what you are taking on. Are you prepared to take on years of shame, judgment and struggle, or is it all for an Instagram photograph? Before I offend anyone, allow me to clarify that I do not agree with the statement that there are hairstyles designated only for black people. You must understand and respect that this fad, for you, is embedded into blood and rooted in my culture. Understanding the culture of black hair means not only knowing the life of, but respecting the first American self-made millionaire, Madam CJ Walker.

Understanding means not labeling a white woman brave and chic for braiding half of her head and labeling my “fro” disturbing and unprofessional. Most importantly, understanding means knowing what questions, actions and statements are appropriate. “Can I touch your hair,” “how did you grow your hair so fast,” and my all-time favorite “is that all your real hair” are not and will never be an acceptable question to ask anyone. If you contribute to the slander of black women, you cannot take part of any aspect of black culture, as without us, there would not be a culture to appropriate. To adore black culture with little to no knowledge, care or advocacy for black issues and history is nothing short of disrespectful and will not be tolerated.

As a black woman with natural hair on this campus, I have seen the glares of disgust, confusion and embarrassment thrown my way as I walk around. I have also seen white women on this very campus with cornrows, dreads, and box braids receive praise for following a Kardashian-Jenner cultural appropriation tutorial. The frustration not only comes from the invasion of cultural privacy but the entitlement that comes attached to it. Not only is our culture taken from us, but once it is constructed to fit societal standards, black women are taunted for wearing the styles that were made for us, by us. So please believe when I say anyone who believes cultural appropriation is not real or does not need to be addressed can leave the discussion.

Black hair is an extension of one’s personality, beliefs and rights. The hairstyles that appear on your social media feed and are plastered across the pages of magazines have been based on for generations. When wearing the hairstyles, you are attempting to place yourself in a culture you were never a part of. Anyone who has the privileged to dip in and out of black culture needs to be mindful of history behind the styles they choose. For most of us, our culture does not get erased once we take out the braids.

Photo Credit: August Pelliccio

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