LatestOp-EdCultural Appropriation Versus Cultural Inspiration

When we talk about cultural appropriation, many assume the term “cultural appropriation” is an attempt to exclude the rest of the world from exploring the expressions of cultures outside their own.

“Blackness” has a long history of being commercialized with non-Black faces, removing its originators as the admirers and fueling white supremacy. We see many aspects of Black culture perforating society on a global level, and social media has only maximized that.

“Cultural appropriation is the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” – Oxford Languages

Can Black hairstyles be culturally appropriated?

Many popular hairstyles today such as braid variations, locs, and the incorporations of weaves were identity signifiers back in Africa, often used as a way of communicating their lineage and as a symbolic reference. In Africa these cultural expressions are seen as honorable, creative, and royal. Whereas in America, Black hair is often plagued by the reputation of degradation, often seen as distasteful, and other dismissive labels that are supported in the media. It is common for Black people–particularly Black women, to be turned away for their hair, as word from white employers spreading the idea of its “lack of professionalism” spread into the workforce, resulting in its own form of cultural oppression weaponized against the Black community. 

Cultural appropriation became a term to highlight the dismissal of cultural originators, not to police how people are inspired or desire to express themselves.

Louis Vuitton RTW Spring 2010

Time and time again we have seen Black women particularly be dismissed in their cultural expressions by the masses, yet the inspiration taken by non-Black counterparts from these Black cultural expressions be wildly romanticized and favored when a white face is behind it. This is cultural appropriation and it is a form of oppression that psychologically affects the minds of our young Black community–often leading to insecurities and mental health issues. 

Here are some prime examples of cultural appropriation. Commes Des Garcon is a widely known Japanese high fashion brand founded in Paris. In one of their fashion shows, they had their male models rocking fulani braid wigs instead of just hiring Black models–which explains why this brand has been under fire for lack of racial inclusivity when casting… Louis Vuitton (pictured to right) has been addressed on multiple accounts of cultural appropriation, also hiring a predominantly white models for fashion shows.

Another example are the Kardashians, who are some of the top earners via instagram. Kim is seen here wearing fulani braids which originate from the West African Fula Tribe. Kim Kardashian and her sister Kylie (who also regularly wears braid variations) rank in over $1.45 million dollars on instagram. Neither acknowledge their connection to the origins of the hairstyles, and make more than even the highest paid Black beauty accounts.

Speaking of Black beauty accounts, in this list of “Best Black Beauty Influencers,” we see 11 out of 14 of the Black women rocking straight hair… This is a clear depiction of what’s defined as the “best” in terms of Black beauty in America, which I touch on a more on here

Drawing inspiration from cultures would be okay if it didn’t fuel white supremacy and economic disparities as a form of oppression, but in many cases does. When non-Black people are profiting more off of Black creations more than Black people themselves, we have oppression and ultimately exploitation. 

We, as Black people, do not need to change ourselves to be beautiful. We are beautiful. We are inspiring. We are culturally rich. We are trendsetters. We must reclaim and honor our cultural imprint amongst the masses, whilst not tolerating dismissal. We will not be dismissed from our creations.

“Hair was once wefted into fiber skull caps made of durable materials, like wool, felt and even human hair to reuse for their traditional garb and rituals. Cowrie shells, jewels, beads and other meaningful items adorned box braids of earlier women eluding to their readiness to mate, emulation of wealth, high priesthood and various other classifications.” – OnChek.com


 

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