Untangling Black hair’s cultural appropriation and racism problem

By Anjelina Booth
April 9, 2021

ORANGE COUNTY- The lack of an the African American enclave in Orange County is a driving force for the need for more black spaces and black services within the county. Within the black community, there are many challenges that seem never ending. The lack of education and ignorance people have of black history seems to be never end, and cultural appropriation of black women’s hair is an example of this ignorance in its finest.

What is cultural appropriation? In a post made by PBS, they define cultural appropriation as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

One of the earliest references of cultural appropriation can be found in the book Subculture: The Meaning of Style by sociologist Dick Hebdige.  According to research done by PBS, the book directly examines how the white society borrows from other cultures, in particular, marginalized groups.

“Cultural appropriation is like taking a test and getting an “A.” And then someone copies off of your test and gets an “A” plus extra credit.”

Franchesca Ramsey

Black women, in particular, have had to fight against discrimination for centuries due to their hair and hairstyles. Black women are more likely to change their natural hair in order to fit a more Eurocentric look that meets societies expectations. Minority groups have had to assimilate and adopt these same Eurocentric standards in order to survive, and black women, along with the rest of black people, have assimilated their hair.

Dr. Kristin Rowe teaches in American and Women and Gender Studies and is fully aware of the journey of black people and their hair, and notes that need to assimilate, but also the fight to survive on their own. “During enslavement, we see, so often, black people, having to have their hair covered, and having to craft their own styles and products with what little they had,” she said.

Moving through time, from slavery to the present black hair is not just a resistance for black people, it is also a way of life. This is the way of life is a way in which black people are and have been oppressed in this country. Branching out not too far to Long Beach, there is more diversity, but still that need for acknowledgement of history and culture. Salon36 in Long beach is owned by Jodi Williams, who has wanted to do ever since she can remember. She believes that one may appropriate by the lack of knowledge and realization that everything came from Africans.

A black hairstyle can be done on a black woman and they may get kicked out of school or fired from a position. On a white person, it is fashionable, urban, and accepted, unlike the prior. While it may be unacceptable for black women to wear their natural hair in their workplace, many other races take from these styles and turn black women’s oppression into fashion.

“I think the problem is, getting the hair styles to be cool; because it’s popular, and then naming it something else,” says Briana Travis, a self taught braiding specialist.

“Were popular, it’s the popular thing to do now.”

Briana Travis

Briana attributes her view that this popularity is making people see cultural appropriation for what is, from the more broadened platform that people can see and have access to, such as social media.

Social media platforms have paved a way for conversations to give opinions about cultural appropriation by both black and non-black people. Many black hair stylists have been speaking up on the debate between white women copying black hair styles and being accepted, if not praised, in the public eye. This continues as black women face oppression for the same styles they wear, created by their ethnic ancestors.

In the current age of media and influence, celebrities are at the forefront of our interests and fascination. Celebrities are watched so closely and being in the public eye, are susceptible to judgement, being watched through a magnifying glass. Celebrities are some of the most notable people to appropriate cultures that are not their own. Those known to continuously appropriate black culture may get praised or they may get ridiculed from the public.

Miley Cyrus, is one of the most well-known musicians of this generation. Her career has had many ups and downs, as well as changes. Fans and the public may be familiar with her sudden shift to a more adult and wild music. Cyrus also was accused of cultural appropriation. Not only was she accused of this by in her music but also her style. She has dawned dreadlocks, and vibrantly colored box braids, hair styles, mostly worn by black people and black women. When celebrities receive accusations that tarnish their image, they normally come out with an apology or a statement acknowledging the accusations at hand. In the case of Cyrus, she put out a public apology more than five years after she appropriating.

In a comment posted under a Youtube video, Cyrus states, “Simply said, I fucked up and I sincerely apologize. I’m committed to using my voice for healing, change, and standing up for what’s right.”

When you look at Kim Kardashian, as one of the most influential people in the world, she can slip past an apology, put out a “wise” statement, and yet continue to be successful.

“Hi, can I get zero fucks please, thanks.”

Kim Kardashian

The actions of Kim Kardashian sadly show that she does not see a problem.

Credit to Tee Noir on YouTube

The controversial topic of cultural appropriation of the black community has been discussed by many in the community. Those within the space, having their culture and history being stolen from them, especially being the minority, are essentially the only people with the right to decide whether it is alright or not the appropriation is taken place.

Those skilled in the art of black hair, go through hours of training, education, and dedication put towards their craft. Black women within the hair industry do have much to say and are open and willing to have the conversation, and share their opinion.

“Personally, as an African American, I don’t think that it should be, because of the inventor, and that they are the only ones that could or should have the opportunity to explore and experience the type of hairstyle.”

Freida Travis, Orange County based braiding specialist

The lack of diversity within Orange County represents the need for black spaces, and these black spaces will help cultural appropriation to be discussed and not a taboo.

In 1989, Felecia Wright opened up Felicia’s Pamper Palace in Fullerton. Since then she is one of the top people sought out in Orange County to do black hair styles.

As a business owner and trained beautician, she is willing to not let the negative stigma of cultural appropriation affect her craft, and welcomes people of all backgrounds to her services. She in turn, sees it as a way to education and give clarity to clients who may have the wrong idea about black hairstyles.

“Now I am gaining more of other ethnicities, more than I ever have, buisness-wise. I find that now people are really searching to know, because people like what they like,” she says.

If people see something they like, and can afford it, there is no reason they shouldn’t have it and get it. But often times we stereotype people and we cant say we’re the only people that can have it, because we don’t know them.

Felicia Wright

Dr. Kristen Rowe believes that cultural appropration is very much talked about. When comparing the two sides, “It is so high stakes, that it is like materially what are you talking about?”

High stakes as in the emphasis on 1. cultural appropriation is not a thing, and 2. it is a thing and we must protect these hairstyles at all costs.

Dr. Rowe, in turn, does not pay attention to the cultural appropration debates, but instead, pays attention to seeing repercussions of cultural appropration disappear, like stated earlier, being able to see black woman being treatetd fairly in the workplace, and able to wear the hair that grows naturally from their heads.

These are all valid arguments from both sides and the fact of the matter is that there always will be these arguments. People’s engagement to this topic, whether they agree or not, draws attention to the problem that black women face with their oppression. The individual engaging in this is then held to decide for themselves what to believe about cultural appropriation.

Is cultural appropriation right or wrong? That can be only be decided from one’s own view.

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