Hair has always been a big part of feminine culture. From virtue and class to health, hair and hairstyles are part of a long history of female identity — particularly for black women. The texture of black hair is something that has long fascinated and befuddled people with other types of strands, and styling black hair has its own complicated, and sometimes divisive, history.
Amandla Stenberg recently released a video talking about the cultural appropriation of black hair and culture by white celebrities and mainstream society. Despite her age, Stenberg has arrived at a nuanced understanding about the intersection of black identity and cultural heritage: In the video, she drops knowledge about the importance of black hairstyles like cornrows, dreadlocks, twists, etc. as a grooming tool that helps black women keep our hair neat.
She also points out that as hip-hop culture picked up in the early 2000s and many black celebrities (Alicia Keys, Queen Bey, etc.) donned these hair styles, suddenly, white culture begins to borrow these styles. What was once “ghetto” became high fashion, in some cases. But an appreciation for black people didn't grow alongside the appropriation of black heritage by white artists. And that's a major social problem — for everyone.
The question Amandla raises at the end of her video is: "What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as we love Black culture?" It's an important one. The problem with cultural appropriation of any marginalized people is that the culture being "borrowed" doesn’t receive anything in return.
People may love to twerk; they may love rap music and sporting dreads; but will they support black women when they are being ostracized, assaulted, and being denied jobs because of their hair? So far, the answer to that question has been: Absolutely not.
Image c/o YoutubePrincess Weekes is a part-time bookseller and a full-time writer with a Master’s in English from Brooklyn College. A former intern at BUST magazine, she has since written articles for The Mary Sue, BUST and maintains her own video channel under the name Melina Pendulum, discussing the intersection of pop culture, feminism and race. She is currently working on a fantasy novel about black witches during the Jim Crow era, while attempting to purchase every liquid lipstick the world has to offer.