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Posted under: Opinion

Why the importance of black hair can't be ignored

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Sound the alarms! We have another case of cultural appropriationIf you haven't already seen or heard, Amandla Stenberg called out Kylie Jenner for wearing cornrows, a historically black hairstyle, while failing to use her privilege as a white woman to help bring light to black issues. Kylie Jenner is not the first person to appropriate culture and will most certainly not be the last.

Cultural appropriation is not a new phenomenon.

Katy Perry did it. Miley Cyrus did it. Avril Lavigne did it. Iggy Azalea did it. And the list goes on. For those of you who might not know what the term means, Amandla does a great job of defining it in her video about cultural appropriation and black hair, "Don't Cash Crop on my Cornrows".
"Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high fashion, cool, or funny  when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture  that they are partaking in."
And this is very true. Time and time again, white women are celebrated for having stereotypical black features while black women are deemed ugly, ratchet and ghetto for having them. Magazines all over celebrate these celebrities. We saw it with Iggy Azalea when she was praised for bringing the booty back. We saw it with Kendall Jenner when she made braids look "chic".  The list goes on.

What frustrates me the most about this recent situation is how willing her and others are to stay ignorant.

This is not the first time she has been called out for cultural appropriation and will most certainly not be the last. Like many others, she refuses to acknowledge why it is problematic that she as a white woman wears cornrows, dreads, or any other typically black hairstyle. As I was reading the comments of articles and pictures about what happened, I started to notice some similarities. People were making comments like "wow white people can't have braids now," "If a black woman can wear weave and have blonde hair then a white woman can wear braids," and my personal favorite, "it's just hair."

The problem is not that White people cannot have braids.

It's that white people are being celebrated for having these braids or any other black hairstyles. Magazines will put Kylie on the cover with dreads before they put a black woman with dreads on their cover. Also, in the case of Jenner and others like her who try so hard to be black with their tans, lip injections, booty injections, etc, when it comes to making statements regarding black issues there is radio silence. So yeah, white people can wear braids, but it is important to be conscious of how they are praised while black people are not, and how they take elements of black culture while completely ignoring black issues. A black woman wearing a weave or having blonde hair is NOT the same as a white woman with braids. The two cannot be compared. The two are not equal. First, white people are not the only ones with straight or blonde hair. There are black people who possess these features, believe it or not. Also, news flash, white women wear weaves. They call them extensions, but it's all the same. Referring back to the earlier point, the problem is not so much that white people, especially white women, are wearing braids or other black hairstyles, but that they are given praise while black women who do the same thing are not.

It's not just hair. It never was just hair. And I honestly don't know if it will ever be just hair.

How can it be just hair when a black women's beauty and more can be so dependent on it? When black people, especially women, can be shamed for daring to wear their hair natural. When not too long ago I felt ashamed and ugly because of my natural tresses. Even though I've grown attached to and now love my hair (as I wrote in a previous post), it's still hard sometimes. Every time a friend tells me I look better with straight hair. Every time a family member makes a comment about how "nappy" my hair is. Every time I stare in the mirror and begin to caress my curls and wonder how much easier it would be if they were straight. So excuse me if I cannot think of it as just hair.  Hair is an important part of the black community. It can bind black people of various ethnicities together, from African to Caribbean to American. There are so common black experiences and many of those involve hair. I know that I can easily strike up a conversation with another black person about hair products. Youtube connects me to multiple other black women with my hair type and other hair types that can show me ways to style it, protect it and wear it. Complimenting other black women on their hair is commonplace when walking down the street. So no, it's not just hair as much as Kylie Jenner, Justin Bieber and anyone else want to claim it is. My hair is an aspect of my identity, something near and dear to me. For someone to just blatantly ignore that is insulting and disrespectful. I refuse to allow Kylie Jenner and others to simply walk away and act like it doesn't matter. I refuse to allow black women to be ignored for the way they dare to wear their hair — natural, relaxed, straight, dreads, or whatever, while white women are praised for the same styles. I'm not going to stand by while cultural appropriation is committed time and time again. I will take a stand and you all should, too.  

What do you think about Kylie Jenner's braids? Let us know in the comments below or share on Facebook.

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