I know I don’t usually post on Mondays, but sometimes it’s nice to switch things up. And in the spirit of switching things up I’m stepping away from the usual stories about my adventures. Today I want to talk about a very touchy subject: cultural appropriation.
As my friend Maartje pointed out: discussing cultural appropriation is basically hit or miss. For some people it’s a very hard concept to understand, simply because they’ve never experienced it. To make it a bit easier to digest, I’ll tell you my opinion on the matter using one of the most recent examples of cultural appropriation: boxer braids.
First of all, let me just say that I am not against (white) people wearing their hair in boxer braids. I don’t think we create a dialogue by telling people what they can and cannot do. It creates tension before we’ve even started to explain the matter at hand. And in my opinion it only creates further divide. Usually, telling people they can’t do something is met with resistance, which makes the opportunity for discussion smaller. We only move forward if we really try to listen to what the other person is saying.
So what exactly is the issue here? I mean, we’re talking about a hairstyle, how bad could it possibly be? Well, the fact that non-black celebrities are praised for making a “new” hairstyle popular is making a lot of black people angry, since they were the ones to invent it. Natural hair has always been a sensitive topic, since it is often deemed unprofessional, or wild. The harmful methods of straightening natural hair have only been carried out in an attempt to reach the Western beauty ideal. Therefore, black women straightening their hair is not the same as white women, or non-black people of colour, adopting a hairstyle that was not created for them.
Isn’t it strange that white people (and in the case of boxer braids: non-black people of colour) get to choose exactly what parts of other cultures they like (hairstyles, music, accessories, etc.), while completely disregarding their origin? Or worse: ridiculing aspects of those culture that you don’t fully understand?
The essence of cultural appropriation is when a dominant group in society use things from a marginalised culture, without any regard for the history of that culture. The worst part is that it is usually because of that dominant group that minorities do not feel safe or comfortable expressing their culture. In this day and age, someone wearing a turban for religious beliefs can warrant all sorts of racist remarks, while, at the same time, it’s super easy to find “Arabian” style costumes on the internet. A culture is not a costume.
The same goes for boxer braids. Yeah, they look cute. And yeah, there are more important things going on in the world. The only thing is, acknowledge the history behind it. Give credit where credit is due, and do not disrespect black people for wearing the exact same hairstyle. Acknowledge the fact that people of colour have been continuously discriminated against for having a hairstyle which warrants praise when worn by white people. Be aware of your privilege.
I want to conclude my little opinion piece by saying that appropriating cultures usually comes from a place of ignorance, not blatant racism. But do not continue the practice after it has been pointed out to you that it might be perceived as offensive. Just because you don’t think it’s offensive doesn’t mean you’re not hurting people.
Talk to you later,
P.s. I use the term boxer braids to refer to what are otherwise known as cornrows. Not Dutch braids, or any other type of braids for that matter.