Black Women Are Not Appropriating White Hair — It's Impossible

White culture is imposed upon — not adopted by — black people.
Publish date:
July 14, 2016
privilege, white privilege, cultural appropriation

I come across many excellent posts on cultural appropriation, but sadly even with all those great resources out there, people remain exceptionally ignorant on the topic. For example, there still seems to be a widely held belief that black women appropriate white hair.

This argument is one that largely overlooks the context of white supremacy, based on the presumption of social equality. But Whoopi's not alone in thinking like this. I've heard some extremely ridiculous things, from comments asserting that Africans appropriate English and Western-style clothing to those that purport that the Western fast food industry bulldozing through Africa is yet another instance of cultural appropriation.

M'kay. Though I'm of the opinion that folks from marginalized groups in society are not obliged to educate the privileged and/or the willingly ignorant (which just means that I don't have to school anyone on this topic), Imma still school you.

First, let's get one thing straight. In the current social context, black people can't appropriate white culture. It can't be done. That's it, that's all! The social structure and power dynamic situates black people far below white people, hence any cultural exchange happening on this figurative ladder exists in a context of superiority and inferiority. In other words, white culture is imposed on, and not adopted by, black people. The most ridiculous argument for black cultural appropriation goes to skin bleaching, which is also by far the most insulting of arguments. It goes without saying that the by-product of white supremacist beauty standard is the bleaching industrial complex.

For example, I bet you didn't even know that hair relaxers — the method through which black women straighten out their natural curls — saw its conception during the slave era, a period in American history when black people were literally dehumanized to animal-like conditions under white supremacy. Elevation from blackness meant, and still means, adopting white hair. The weave is a literal manifestation of this.

The mythology of black women appropriating white hair is just that, a myth, intended to silence and shame black women out of clapping back on cultural appropriation.

But we need to clap back.

I grew up with little to no positive and honest media and pop cultural representations of black women and fat black women that I could identify with. Because of this, I interpreted whiteness as that which was normal and human. I was actually convinced that bleaching was a way out of all the suffering. This is the disease of white supremacy. Little black children are conditioned to believe in their inherent inferiority to their white counterparts, just like white kids believe in their superiority to everyone else.

So, of course it was with great surprise that I heard the argument about Africans appropriating Western culture (LAUGH OUT LOUD).

Appropriation means taking from a culture without permission and without understanding the history behind the adopted practice. The person or culture doing the taking trivializes and exoticizes, and therefore insults and condescends to the practice. A great example of this is Western society's new preoccupation with yoga. Yoga is a practice that was historically prohibited under British colonial rule in India, its country of origin. How insidiously inappropriate that, years later, those benefitting from the British colonial legacy in India have recolonized yoga by appropriating it.

But, ultimately, there is a power dynamic asserting itself in instances of cultural appropriation within the post-colonial context. I truly believe it is virtually impossible for racialized folks to appropriate whiteness given the context of white supremacy. Whiteness has been forcibly imposed on black and brown bodies through colonization and imperialism. To fit into and engage with the global society, less privileged/marginalized people are required to adopt and practice whiteness/white culture in all its different facets, including both economically and culturally. This is to the point that there are fewer opportunities for people with non-white definitive physical features and names than there are for those with.

I've actually been shut out from spaces for rocking my natural hair. I've been told that a particular job I was gunning for had filled their "black quota." Even in Nigeria — a nation still witnessing the aftermath of colonization — white or fairer-skin individuals have far more access to jobs than the darker-skin natives of the country. Everywhere in this world, darker-skin people are exposed to these types of microaggressions, which basically sends us the message that blackness isn't valued or accepted under white supremacy and that adopting white features is necessary for survival.

English was violently imposed on Africans and black people. And so was Western clothing. And so was and is white hair and skin. These are not examples of cultural appropriation.

So when I hear the argument that black people appropriate whiteness or that Africans appropriate English and Western-style clothing, I don't bother clapping back at the person espousing such uninformed rhetoric. That person's privilege doesn't only shroud their perception and understanding of the nuances in this world, it's actually debilitating to their intellectual growth. They need help, plain and simple.