White girl rocks box braids: Cultural appropriation or Cultural Insensitivity?

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A few weeks ago, I heard about an article on lovebscott.com about a young girl who decided to get box braids for the first time. Since it’s an extremely popular protective style, I wasn’t surprised by this news until the person telling me about it mentioned one important detail: the girl in question was white.

​Not surprisingly, this changed the story a bit for me, and for a lot of black women. Social media exploded with comments about the girl’s hairstyle. Some (okay, many) immediately accused the girl of cultural appropriation or just generally being culturally insensitive. Others, black and white and every shade in between, argued on the young girl’s behalf, saying that everyone should be able to wear their hair any way they choose and that she doesn’t deserve all of the criticism because she didn’t get her braids done with any malicious intent. Either way, everyone had an opinion on her hair.

Now, the girl has since released a statement where she is quoted saying, “Sorry for perhaps making it seem like I am racist or ‘appropriating a culture’. I honestly just wanted longer hair and I saw a woman on the street with box braids and I really liked them. I had no idea that it would turn me into a ‘racist and stupid white girl’. I just wanted a hairstyle.” Her statement seems sincere, and I honestly doubt that a 12-year-old girl would go out of her way to get a hairstyle that she knew would offend an entire culture. When I was her age (wow, I never thought I’d use that phrase) I definitely had moments of wanting to recreate hairstyles that I saw in passing because they looked good on the other person. I did not, however, recreate something so drastically different and out of my comfort zone as this young lady did, but that’s just because I wasn’t the bravest kid.  Still, I can relate to her and see why she might be surprised at the reactions her pictures caused.

Personally, I buy her statement. I don’t think she meant to offend anyone with her hairstyle. She could’ve saved herself a lot of trouble if she thought first about the implications of the braids, but I wouldn’t expect too many young girls to think about that. I think the best reactionwould’ve been to try to educate the young girl about being more culturally sensitive, and some people did try to take that approach. So now here’s my real question: is this another case of cultural appropriation? Do those people on Twitter have a right to be angry? My answer is yes, especially if you put this event into context.

Imagine, if you’re not already, being a black girl for a minute. Your mom spends all of this time on Sunday evening making perfect cornrows in your hair—you know, the ones with the clips on the end that match your outfit. You go to school on Monday so excited to show off your hair to your friends, but the next thing you know, you’re in the principle’s office. Your hair has been deemed ‘distracting’, or ‘out of dress code’, and you’re forced to change it. Now pretend that instead of cornrows, they’re dreadlocks, or twists, or an otherwise perfectly shaped Afro. Little black girls and boys all around the country have to go through this every day, and it’s frustrating for child and parent alike.

Now pretend you’re that child again, but you see the 12-year-old white girl with long blonde box braids. You’re surprised, maybe a bit confused, and possibly angry. Why can she wear this hairstyle and be accepted by her peers and by almost any institution, but you can’t wear the same hairstyle and be as easily accepted? It’s unfair, right? That is the core of cultural appropriation, so I think this situation fits the bill. Again, I don’t think the young lady did this with any malicious intent. But I do think that’s what happened in this case.

Someone tweeted “You should be able to do whatever the f*** [you] want with your hair no matter what race you are f***!” You’re absolutely right, but sadly not everyone can wear their hair however they want to without being punished. So until everyone has that right, I don’t think we  will or should take events like this lightly.

I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

-Ashley


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Comments

  1. DanMarly says

    Honestly, anyone should be allowed to wear any hair style as long as it is not intended to be worn as a form of ridicule or degradation towards the group this style originates from. The idea of a hairstyle not being ok to wear because someone is the “wrong color” or anything of the sort seems to only stand as a means of separation between people and don’t seem to have any benefit. And though, yes some have been ostracized for certain hairstyles while others get away with the same thing, but making people feel bad for recognizing something beautiful and wanting to emulate it to themselves will not change that. We should take that fight to the source while letting those of differing cultures know about so that they can fight against that sort of injustice as well.

  2. Tiffany Rose says

    I am a 23 year old white woman who grew up in an extremely culturally diverse area of Los Angeles. The majority of my friends have always been black due to where I am from. I have always loved how girls look with box braids, cornrows and twists. When I was 16, I went on a cruise to the Bahamas with my mom and I got the ‘headband’ cornrows because I loved the look. (They’re the ones that only go to the crown of your heaf and the rest of your hair is down) When I returned home, I was ridiculed by my peers and administration me told to take them out. My peers said things like “she just wants to be black” and the administration at my school said that because this hairstyle was not typical of white girls, that it was eccentric and out of dress code. What bothered me the most about this was that the girls who had always been my friends up until this point are the one’s who were accusing me of “trying to act black.” When I first saw the story of the 12 year old girl, I sympathized with her. She was not trying to be racist nor was she trying to offend anyone. She saw a hairstyle she liked, so she got it. Just like me when I had my hair in cornrows. I don’t see a problem with how she did her hair. Anyone should be able to wear their hair however they want. If it weren’t for me being in the military now, I would love to get box braids or even twists. But what bothers me is that this little girls saving grace was that she’s young and didn’t know any better. So what if I were to be brave enough to try this hairstyle at my age, would I then be labeled as racist and culturally insensitive?

    • says

      Cultural appropriation isn’t just about being racist. It is about the abuse of power to put very simply. I see it as the most significant issue. Thanks for commenting.

      • Tiffany Rose says

        I understand that and I’m just trying to gain a better understanding. I don’t know how that girl was raised. However, I do know how I was. As a young white girl in a community where I was the minority, often times, I don’t identify with white culture. I don’t even consider my family to have any cultural traditions, etc. of our own. I loved spending time with my friends of all different cultural backgrounds and learning their customs and traditions. Now as an adult, I tend to associate myself to what is familiar to me; which is probably true for most people. In my case, that usually means that I hang out with black people and date black men. Does that, then, mean that I am guilty of cultural appropriation even though this is how I grew up?

        • says

          You still have “white privilege” so the answer is yes. It is a social structure not based on an individual act. Perhaps one day society will be different but until then….

      • Jennifer says

        You consider braids or the wearing of an “abuse of power?” Gimme a break. Also, wouldn’t a white woman getting braids be considered one who is showing respect (if you REALLY want to read into it)? I’m white, getting braids, and have sympathy for those of you to consume yourselves with judgement and anger. Do white women say anything to all the black women who get extensions? Are they ‘trying to be white’? Geez.
        Besides, aren’t there more pressing issues in the world which would be far better served with a that same energy?

    • Charlie says

      Let me start by saying, I’m not black so I can’t be like, “If you wore braids, it wouldn’t offend me at all,” BUT, if you decided to throw your daughter a quinceanera, I’d tell you to go for it. My father is Mexican and my mother is French, but since I’m very pale, it’s always assumed I’m just white. It doesn’t matter that my mother was adopted, so I don’t know any of my european relatives, and it doesn’t matter that I spent most of my time with my father’s side of the family and identify with that half of my genetics. I was one of 5 white kids in my class, and I was always the butt-end of racist jokes. It literally took my father being seen having lunch with me at school for it to stop. Suddenly, I wasn’t a “gringo” or “that white girl” anymore and I was left alone for the most part. There’s absolutely no reason why you should be ashamed of being white and liking things from other cultures. It took me a long time to come to terms with that half of myself, because there’s so much negativity associated with it. I was scared of having my own quinceanera, because of how touchy the cultural appropriation topic has been for the past ten years. But being mixed race, I’ve been discriminated against by people on both sides of the argument, and I learned to just get over it. Angry people are always going to project on others, period. As long as you’re coming from a place of respect, most people aren’t going to care if you show appreciation for another culture.

  3. Ababo Ayasha says

    Well hey, I’m a 18 y.o latina that would really like to install havana twists. My problem is that I really got concerned about all this cultural appropiation issue, therefore, I’ve been feeling a little reluctant to install them: I’ve always had a big interest on black culture and since I’ve started looking forward installing braids I tried hard to get as much information as possible about Black history and traditions, in order to really be able to say that I wear them because I aprecciate your culture. But still, and even if I’m pretty dark skined, I’ll never be black, so I kinda keep feeling that this wasn’t meant for me. Could someone from here tell me if it’s really inaproppiate?

    Thank you so much!

  4. sad-but-true says

    Let me start by saying I’m a black woman. And English is not my mother tongue so I apologize in advance for my mistakes.

    It’s curious for me how we, humans, react in some ocasions. Black people have being diminished, segregated, discriminated since forever due to our skin color. It hurts us so so so much that we some times don’t realize how much we do the same to other people too. Because all this “white girl stealing OUR style” is just that. Lot of people showing hate to a 12 year old girl cause she got a black-ish hair style. Cultural appropriation, they called it. Hah. EXCUSE ME????? We own nothing. Not style or way of being belongs to us or to anyone. And this case is really outreageous cause we have being copying white ladies in lot of aspects! We have curly, black hair. Well, we put on relaxers and dye it to seem blonde. We suffer from shrinkage, then we put butt-long straight hair extensions cause we can’t deal with the whitey being the only privileged in that matter. White girls invented the pin-up style and lately a lot of us decided to put ribbons on our head and increase our lips with red and embrace the whole “We can do it” pin-up thing. And so on. There are sooooo many examples.
    And yes, ladies, we have received a lot of complains and insults for doing all that. But we kept doing it, cause we are strong and we have to fight discrimination, and right now society is just ok with that…. But when some one from the other side do something that you erroneously think it belong to us then we explode, we insult, we discriminate and we become in the same who have being attacking us during our entire existence. Lets not forget our favorite double-standard: We black can do whatever the heck we want, cause we were discriminated so is our right but white people have to refrain themselves of copying us or we might condemn them to the seven hells. Let that sink for a minute in your head…..

    We,people in general, are so fast at judging. Oh yeah, we really enjoy a Twitter trial. We really recreate on people disgrace as they bite the dust. Ohhh yeah. We will judge even the smallest mistake as a horror. But hum…. I don’t think some people feel the same judging when they relax their daughters hair just to look like their blonde little neighbor. Or when they do it themselves. Do you? And you won’t. But it’s just another thought to let sink there in our black head.

    You wrote: “…sadly not everyone can wear their hair however they want to without
    being punished. So until everyone has that right, I don’t think we will
    or should take events like this lightly.” An eye for an eye. You don’t let me do this, then I won’t let you do it either. You hurt me, I will hurt you back. Yeah, that’s the right way, people! Let the hate win!

    I NEVER had problems for going with any crazy hair style to school. If you did, sorry, but don’t base your hate on that aspect and on your only experience cause the world is not just you. You have no idea how this girl school deals with that matter. And if a black girl can wear box braids then a blonde one can too. If you want to fight this discrimination in schools go and fight against it properly and like an adult, not questioning the decision of a kid.
    Cause then, there is THAT huge point. She is a kid! Just a kid!!! Plenty of white women have done this and I don’t remember some black mama kicking her ass off because of that. But this was a 12 years old kid on social media. And she shouldn’t be caring about the implication of her hair style and you have no idea what racial education her parents are giving her. She just copied something she liked and we became monsters cause we took that as an offense. From a twelve years old, you know…….. I wouldn’t be surprised if after this she develops as a KKK member, cause yeah, we gave her plenty of reasons.

    There are really bad people killing, raping, kidnapping, intimidating and most of us do nothing about it. Not a word. But a 12 years old sweet girl copies our hair style and we tear her skin apart instead of celebrate the fact that, even if she didn’t do it with that purpose, white people actually embrace our culture.

    I am a proud black woman. But sometimes I just feel ashamed of my people.

  5. Leroy says

    I think you’re wrong. Anyone should be allowed any hairstyle, safety or hygiene excepted. As an educator of decades, I never once heard of a Black student being disciplined for a hairstyle, during my career. I admit there were crazy reactions to Afros back on the 60s and 70s, which were stupid and misplaced. My long hair during those years was equally criticized, to the point of me being attacked in a Texas restaurant. Here’s my take on cultural appropriation – is the “thing” we’re talking about attached to a cultural belief system (Native American war bonnet) – or is it simply the way the cultural group does what we all do? We all have evolved clothing styles – if I want to wear a Dashiki, it’s a piece of clothing. You can go ahead and wear Levi’s. White culture doesn’t own Levi’s, they just were invented here in this country, and they worked out to be pretty useful. Braiding hair is pretty useful, and it has been practiced in many countries for centuries, at least. True, Blacks have created an incredible variety of ways to achieve braiding, but have you seen pictures of Hopi girls from a century ago? Their hairstyles, while not all braids, are strikingly similar to some African styles I have seen. Now if you start wearing a yarmulke (the little cap Jewish people wear) – that’s appropriation. If you start carving sacred or symbolic African carvings, that’s appropriation. If you decide to wear a Catholic Bishop or Pope’s hat, whatever it’s called, that’s wrong. They shouldn’t be produced in camouflage or tie-dyed versions, it’s disrespectful. I know this is a touchy area, and I’m venturing into dangerous territory, but that alone expresses part of what I feel. Should I live in fear my clothes, or words, or gestures or whatever could be considered offensive to someone? That’s not how I want to live. Give me a sound reason to not “appropriate” something and I’ll totally go along. But because you got shit because of your braids, my daughter should be pilloried? No way. You should never have been given a hassle, and I’ll fight like hell to defend you. I just think the whole framework of this “conversation” needs to be limited to those things that are either rooted in a belief system or are otherwise so meaningful and so defining of a group, that wearing or doing them could be seen as a form of ridicule. No one that I can imagine would braid their hair to ridicule, they do it because they admire it. Ok, now go ahead and tell me why I’m wrong. I know my daughter will.

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