Recently, Allure magazine has come under some heat for one of their editorials in their magazine. One of their articles in their August issue was titled “You (Yes, You) Can Have An Afro”, and it depicted a white model wearing what they call a loose afro (it’s a twist out). Of course this has come under fire in the gaze of the black media, and there have obviously been those people who have argued that all girls can wear afros, and so we shouldn’t be getting upset about this. Which one do I align with? Let’s break this down.
One of the most common arguments against the calling out of these instances are that these are acts of cultural exchange rather than cultural appropriation. Cultural exchange and cultural appropriation are two very similar yet also distinct terms that are often misused.
Cultural Exchange: An exchange of things between to countries and/or two cultures to come to a better understanding of each other.
This is more of a mutual symbiosis where both parties benefit equally
Cultural Appropriation: the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture. Cultural appropriation may eventually lead to the imitating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices.
Like I said, these two are very different but often get mistaken as similar due to the inclusion of culture. So now that we have those definitions out of the way, let’s address this topic further. Cultural appropriation is often seen as something to be dismissed rather quickly by the public. Instead those who often call out these instances of appropriation often receive more hate than the one doing the appropriating. The most recent example that comes to mind also has to do with hair: when Amandla Stenburg called out Kylie Jenner for posting an Instagram picture with her in two jumbo cornrow braid with a caption that said, “I woke up like dis.”
In both that instance and in this current issue the problem is surrounding hair, specifically black women’s hair. Amandla was attacked so much for correctly calling out Kylie Jenner. One of the arguments concerning that was “well what about black women dying their hair blond or wearing weaves? That’s cultural appropriation.”
That is where I need to stop these people. Black women dying their hair blond or getting blond extensions is not a form of cultural appropriation. That assumes that only white people have blond hair, which isn’t true by far. It would also assume that these white people are being oppressed in part due to their hair, when they most certainly are not. Blond hair is the symbol of the norm, above the norm, actually, in the United States. And black women wearing weave is certainly not a symbol of self hate, but that’s another story.
As a young black woman, finding out about this article was a gigantic slap in the face. Black women still face struggles today with their hair, especially with the wearing of natural hair. This is because it has not and doesn’t fit into the sphere of whiteness, and as it is put into the Other category, it is seen as inherently less than. Growing up, and today still, I have faced a lot of scrutiny. Thankfully, I don’t experience workplace discrimination from my bosses because of my hair, but I am all too aware of many anti-black rules put in place by some established. The military only very recently got rid of rules that prohibited the wearing of cornrows or locs. Children have been suspended from school for wearing their natural hair, and many others face judgement from their peers. I have been asked this my entire life, and I know it rings true to many other black women in this country: “When are you going to do something with your hair?”
Black women’s hair is a very big part of the black culture, because of all the scrutiny we have faced due to our hair. We’ve been told that it’s dirty, unkempt, greasy. I could go on, but I really don’t feel like it. So amidst all this criticism, black women still have had to find ways to take care of their hair, afrocentric styles are a major part of it. I remember growing up, I would get so upset because I could never get my hair to be like everyone else’s. My hair couldn’t do the same things that every body else’s could. When I wanted have my hair straight, it would mean either a chemical relaxer, or frying my hair for an entire day until it fell limp past my shoulders.
Seeing these instances, it’s not about the hairstyle. If it was simply about what style one chose to wear their hair in, I really wouldn’t care. But the issue goes so much deeper, which is why so many people are outraged. In 2013, the Huffington post did a study to look at the diversity of cover girls in magazine. They looked at different magazines from September 2012 to September 2013, and they found that only 18 percent of cover girls were women of color. Furthermore, they ranked the magazines by statistics, and Allure was rather low, with only two women of color in the span of that year, only 15.4 percent of the cover girls.
It brings it back to what Amandla said to Kylie Jenner. It’s when you do or wear things that are associated with the black community, but do not try to represent or use your power to lift those who are still being oppressed for these reasons that you are appropriating culture, and that does so much more harm than good. Allure magazine may have been trying to pay homage to the 70s, but by doing this, they took something that is still scrutinized in the context of Otherness, and put it into the sphere of whiteness and call it something that’s cute and trendy and needs to be celebrated. We cannot do this and then say we are in a post-racial world. It doesn’t make sense, it isn’t okay, and it silences the voices and narratives of black women and perpetuates white superiority.