Understanding Cultural Appropriation Part 1: Black Hair

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Reminder: This is about Understanding Cultural Appropriation. If you’ve already made up your mind that cultural appropriation is ridiculous and absurd, then this post isn’t for you. But if you are actually interested in understanding what cultural appropriation means and wondering why it is such an important topic, then keep reading.

The definition of cultural appropriation according to  racerelations.about.com is: “cultural appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups — often with little understanding of the latter’s history, experience and traditions.”

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Starting at a very young age, black kids, black girls especially are taught that straight hair is better. We are taught that the closer our hair is to being straight, the prettier it is. No this isn’t made up. No this isn’t an exaggeration. As a little girl, all I saw on television were women with long, straight hair. So I would often envision myself as a woman with hair like that. It was rare to see a black woman with an afro, braids, or dreadlocks. I saw women with curly and wavy hair, but never kinky. I was being brainwashed to think that my hair wasn’t beautiful. There were often advertisements on television and in magazines about perms and weaves. To this day I remember the “Just for Me” perm kits that were made for little black girls like me to have straight, “pretty” hair. I remember having my hair blow dried and pressed every Sunday before I went to school. I remember the girls at my school whose hair was silky straight. I would get upset and wonder why my hair didn’t look like that. Girls in my class would ask me, “Why don’t you straighten your hair? Why don’t you get a perm?” I would go home to my mom and beg her to let me wear my hair like the girls at school. I would beg my parents to let me put a weave in my hair because anything was better than having nappy hair. I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with cultural appropriation. Believe me, it has ALOT to do with it. See this is what is called Cultural Assimilation. The definition of Cultural Assimilation according to medicaldictionary.com is: “A process by which members of an ethnic minority group lose cultural characteristics that distinguish them from the dominant cultural group or take on the cultural characteristics of each group.” Many people wonder why black women wear straight hair. Well some of them like their hair that way, and that’s fine. But, there are some black women that may feel that they have to wear it. That belief has been instilled in them since they were little girls.

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Now how do you think it feels to see the hair that was deemed unruly, unattractive, unkempt, and wild on you – being praised when its on someone else? It’s ugly when it’s on me, but when they wear it, it’s sexy? Not only is it now sexy, it is has a whole new name, and it is credited to someone else. Cornrows become boxer braids, and Kim Kardashian somehow is the inventor of it. Bantu knots are now twisted mini buns. It’s no longer a wild hairstyle, its high fashion. Baby hairs are now slicked down, gelled hair. And guess who invented it: High Fashion. Something that’s been in black culture for decades belongs to high fashion after discovering it thirty years later. Something we have been shamed for is suddenly beautiful because black people aren’t the ones wearing it ? And don’t tell me that it’s just hair. It isn’t just hair. It’s apart of a culture. It’s apart of a culture with a painful history behind it. So don’t you dare tell me it’s just hair. I find that to be a disrespectful statement.

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We still live in a day and age where black women are being told they can’t wear their natural hair in workplaces and schools. Recently, the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is not a form of racial discrimination to ban an employee from wearing dreadlocks. In South Africa, at the Pretoria High School for girls, the school’s code of conduct bans girls from wearing their hair in cornrows or dreadlocks. In 2016, black people are still being told that their hair is not good enough. Which brings us back to cultural assimilation. We can’t wear our hair natural if we want to keep a job. We can’t even wear our hair natural to go to school. This completes part one of understanding cultural appropriation.

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