Hair and cultural appropriation

So a European friend of mine wanted to get braids in her hair, and I pulled that fake smile that old white women give you at Woolworths Food. I knew that my options were to ignore what she said, or address it. I chose to speak to her about the cultural significance of braids.

As an African born in Southern Africa, I am very sensitive when it comes to hair issues. Cornrows are as much a part of black history as the struggles we’ve had, and wanting a cute plait to be afro chic is cultural appropriation in my eyes. You wouldn’t have wanted cornrows during slavery or apartheid because they were a symbol of blackness, right? During the apartheid era, non-white people’s classification was based on hair texture. There was a gauge called the “pencil test” wherein a pencil was put into your hair; if it fell out, you were classified as coloured, which was a peg higher than black. Black hairstyles are entrenched in our history. Just don’t do it white people. Assimilation can be a good thing, however only if society can stop this practice of only ever rewarding the cultures of people of culture  when white people appropriate them.

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