Braids: Cultural Appropriation?
Updated: May 12
It's soon to be 2020 and the world is still dealing with racism, sexism, and cultural insensitivity. Now more than ever the label cultural appropriation is used to describe cross-cultural diffusion in clothing, music, art, and hairstyles.
Cultural appropriation is usually an accusation towards non-black people speaking, wearing, and using black culture for their benefit. The general meaning of cultural appropriation is cultural symbols and values of ANY culture being misrepresented by people that are not of the culture. In many cases, it is considered offensive to mimic or copy the culturally-specific identity of another ethnicity. The issue of non-black people wearing braids seems to be a controversial issue in current events. It is a topic that no matter your opinion, you will offend someone.
Firstly, black people did not invent braids. I repeat, Africans or black people did not invent braids. However, our styles of wearing braids and dreadlocks were very unique and symbolic to specific African cultures and traditions. Braids were worn to keep the hair neat and adorn the person with hair jewelry/beads on special or royal occasions. Braids were not just to protect the hair but to enhance and bring out a person's beauty with creative designs. This is the historical root of why many black people have a problem with non-black people wearing cornrows. The style of braid links black people to their heritage. It is also important to note that many black people who are offended by non-black people wearing braids do not know such historical facts.
Secondly, cultural diffusion is apparent and alive today more than any other time in history. Cultural diffusion is simply the spread of ideas, values, and practices of one culture to other cultures. They too, make these ideas a part of their own lives. With the rise of social media, the internet and American culture worldwide, individuals have effortlessly embraced ideas and things that are not originally from their own culture. The world is now a mixing pot where originality is rare. On the contrast, significant cultural symbols still exist and people incorporate it into their daily lives without thinking. So the issue of cultural appropriation should not be confused with cultural diffusion which means no offense while appropriation is offensive.
For example, celebrities show off clothing and the latest hairstyles because their stylist or a designer said, "It's on trend". Many do not stop to think about the roots of some of their trending styles. Some can argue that this is cultural diffusion by simply embracing cross-cultural fashion and style. However, Kylie Jenner and the rest of the Kardashian bunch have been famously reprimanded on their use of "black styles" and pretending it's their own original thoughts. Now the latter is an example of cultural appropriation: Obviously being inspired by a culture or its music yet not giving it credit or acknowledgement.
Nonetheless, many do not aim to offend, or steal cultural ideas as their own. They are simply expressing themselves. The beauty of the world that we have struggled to achieve is that people are no longer ashamed of who they are and are open to accepting others. With our interactions with one another, WE WILL LEARN from each other and introduce each other to things that are different than what we are used to. Even when we don't think we are learning or embracing certain cultural things, we are.
I am not offended by a non-black person wearing braids. I am offended when people make fun of people or shame people for expressing themselves in manner that is TRUE To THEMSELVES.