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Appropriation and Antagonizing - Let Black Women Be

There is a phenomenon that happens when it comes to the culture of Black people, especially how Black women celebrate it. There's the way we wear our hair, the jewelry we wear, the way we wear our nails, and more. There is no denying that Black people are the blueprint of everything other than oppression in this country. Music, fashion, art...all of it. What comes with that, however, is how colonization shows up and wants to take instead of celebrate. The instinct that when you see something you like, your move is to grab it and run with it. The move isn't there to understand what it is that you admire. The choice to instead grasp it and say "but hey, you should want to share with us!" is the one that is often made, however, the sharing that's mentioned is rarely sharing in the way it is meant to be. 

Whiteness, and the inherent colonization that comes with it, turns what could be a sharing of something beautiful across cultures into instead a full appropriation of it. Let's use a fairly obvious, and current, example. Protective hairstyles worn by Black women have been a topic of conversation for decades. If you are unfamiliar with protective hairstyles, they are what is worn to protect the natural hair and keep it from being damaged by heat and other elements. This can look like wig installs, box braids, and other styles. Where the topic of these styles comes up the most is when the topic of professionalism is being discussed. If we're honest, Black hair in general is rarely seen as professional. Hair. The very thing that grows naturally out of our heads is something that is seen by some as unnatural and unkempt. The history of the discrimination of Black hair goes back to slavery. Part of the dehumanizing of Black people came from the way our hair was described. It was compared to wool and fur, implying that even the hair of Black people made us less than human. Couple that with the fact that enslaved Black people were allowed to take care of their hair maybe once a week, that belief became even more common. When Black people, especially women, decided to reclaim the power that is our natural hair, that set some folks on their side. How dare we decide that our crowns, and the natural way in which they grow towards the sky, is beautiful? How dare we embrace what was mocked and ridiculed as a thing of pride? These questions are what leads us to the appropriation of the cultures of Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color. It is much less about the actual appreciation of said cultural practices, and rather the shock and disdain at the reclamation of power. 

Back to the topic of Black hair and the appropriation of protective hairstyles, it goes beyond white women saying they "just like the style so much, they have to wear it, too." That would be one thing. That would spark a different conversation about the difference in appreciation vs. appropriation. The problem, however, is that it goes beyond just wearing the styles. What we also see is the very targeted antagonizing of Black women by said white women. The taunting, the complete lack of regard or care for explanations as to why the style is not only from a culture, it also is just not for the texture of white hair. And what is arguably the most egregious part, is the fact that when white women wear the protective styles of Black women, society calls it "edgy" and "fashion forward". The same styles that have gotten Black women fired from jobs, the same styles that have been linked to the critical stereotypes of Black women, those styles are celebrated when worn by white women. That in itself is not only a gigantic slap in the face, it's yet another reminder that everything that is created by Black people is not only stolen, but then rebranded to become "chic" for white people. 

In 2019, the Crown Act was created as a way to fight back against the discrimination of Black people for wearing their natural hair and/or protective styles not deemed professional or acceptable by places of employments, as well as in schools. Today, in 2023, there are 29 states where Black people can be denied employment because of their hair, and Black children can be denied education because of their hair. Their hair. And while this legal discrimination is happening, Black people are also faced with the responses and retorts of "it's just hair". We see white women, and men, put on our culture as a costume, mock us with it, and then when the heat gets too hot, they remove said costume and act as though nothing was ever wrong. They move on to the next shiny thing of distraction, while Black people are left to manage the feelings that came from the experience. 

It is not now, nor has it ever been or will it ever be, just hair. It is our crown, it is part of our beauty. And the sooner that it is acknowledged that the need and desire for white people to throw it on and mock us while doing it is a direct response to anger about Black people reclaiming the pride, the sooner that can be realized. The sooner it is acknowledged if the response to a group of people reclaiming what is theirs is to block them from resources and education, the sooner it will be acknowledged that it is not just hair. 

It is more than hair. It is part of the power that is being Black. 


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