Zendaya Gets Real About Braids And Cultural Appropriation

by Alyssa Spizzirro

Whatʼs the difference between calling someone out and calling someone in? Iʼm not the authority on this, but I think itʼs intent. Calling someone out doesnʼt foster community or reinforce values, itʼs meant to shame someone. Calling someone in is recognizing that they are a human being who makes mistakes, just like you, and is meant to educate rather than humiliate someone. There is a way to engage in productive, meaningful conversation.

Zendaya recently opened a dialogue in an interview with POPSUGAR regarding cultural appropriation.  When asked how to deal with the stealing of intellectual property, tradition, and expression of culture and the exploitation of minority groups, she gracefully responds, “Talk to women of color and hear their personal experiences. Get to know the background, understand why people are offended by it, and [learn] how we can be more sensitive of other people’s cultures — how we can enlighten ourselves.” Her wisdom and gentleness work to progressively change the way that criticism of cultural appropriation is approached.

The triple threat superstar has been using her fame and influence as a means of educating others about the harmful repercussions of using stylistic elements, such as “boxer braids” (hinting towards celebrities like Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian). Zendaya said, “Braids are not new. Black women have been wearing braids for a very long time, and that’s another part of the frustration. We’ve been using that as a protective style, as a hairstyle. That’s been in our culture and our community for a very long time. So it’s not this new, fresh, fun thing. Another problem is it became new and fresh and fun, because it was on someone else other than a black woman.”

In short: this is not a new and revolutionary style and by treating it as such, you are erasing the culture of a minority group that continues to be oppressed in our society.

Screenshot 2016 03 22 at 11.47.03 AM

Not only does Zendaya discuss how cultural appropriation contributes to the marginalization of a culture, but she explains why it’s so problematic: “People want to be around for the positives and the things that we bring as far as culture, but they don’t want to be around when we have problems or when we’re getting shot in the streets…You can’t just decide when you want to be a part of our culture.”

Zendaya’s willingness to open up and discuss the nature of cultural appropriation is calling those who blindly follow trends in. Her activism marks a change in the conversations we should be having about race in America and its relationship to stylistic elements.

Images via Instagram/Zendaya/Kim Kardashian

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