It’s Still Not ‘Just’ Hair| Being Black S2 E5

Welcome to Black History Month! This month is a period of time for black people to be celebrated, have our achievements acknowledged and our culture appreciated, not appropriated.

Cultural appropriation | noun

  1. 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.
  2. A term which can seem so trivial if you don’t take the time to understand it.

Black culture is one of the biggest sufferers of cultural appropriation. A culture which has been consistently persecuted throughout the years, deemed as unsavoury or thuggish, has suddenly re-emerged as a tool for people outside of the community to experiment with.

Some of the most prevalent trends are attributed to the black community: extravagant nails, hoop earrings, trainer culture, street style, the language we use and perhaps one of the most controversial things, hairstyles.

“But it’s just hair!”

I can hear them screaming at their devices now. It is easy for them to say but hard for me to forget that it isn’t the truth.

For years, I had watched people favour Eurocentric features that had always contradicted my own. That is, until all the hairstyles that I had seen on myself and people who looked like me, were suddenly fashionable – as long as they weren’t on our heads.

Stone paintings from thousands of years ago showed women with cornrows in North Africa, not only as a societal norm representing age, marital status and tribe but also for fashion. So why all of a sudden were people popularising black hairstyles on white people when growing up, I had been side-eyed like some kind of walking exhibition?

In 1786, women of colour were obligated by law to cover their hair because it was deemed too enticing for white men. Today, whilst my hair can no longer have me arrested, it can be the difference between me being hired or never hearing from an interviewer again. Arguably same concept, different chains.

Of course, there is always someone who has to present the argument that the wigs we wear don’t mirror black hair texture. I’ve come to realise that the historical judgement of black hair and mundane acceptance of straight hair means that it’s actually straight hair which should be brushed aside as unimportant because for me and everyone who looks like me, our hair will never be “just hair.”

Beyond all the history and the facts. Braids are a form of art created through centuries of innovative black people. Even with my background, my fingers still fumble whenever I try to attempt a style myself. I can’t help but wonder if the presumption of unimportance would be mirrored if it were a centuries old painting being ripped off a thousand times by multiple artists. Would it be “just the painting?”  

This is definitely not to say that black people are the only culture that suffer from appropriation. Appropriation is a problem that plagues our society and infiltrates several minority communities but the expectation that black people have to carry the burden and start the conversation for every racial injustice on behalf of every minority community is both unrealistic and selfish. Besides, it is Black History Month and without sounding insulting, it’s simply not about everyone.

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