Braids, cornrows, twists, and locs. All these hairstyles have recently become popularized all over the world, and are worn by both ordinary people and big stars such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and countless more.
Members of the African ancestry and also those with a more European ancestry also wear them. The latter however receive what many have branded as misdirected ‘hate’ for their use of African hairstyles and for culturally appropriation.
noun: cultural appropriation; plural noun: cultural appropriations
- the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”his dreadlocks were widely criticized as another example of cultural appropriation”
If you look at the history and meaning behind these braiding techniques, its easy to understand why people from non-African descent are accused of cultural appropriation. The origin of braiding started in Africa in about 3500 BC where braids were not only worn by women for beauty reasons or merely a protective style, but had a significant cultural and social meaning to it. In general, hair had a large significance in African culture, it revealed someones social class, their marital status, their tribe, overall African hair proved to be a large part of African identity. When a woman’s husband passed away, she had family members cut off all her hair for cleansing and a new beginning – a ritual that is still practiced today in several African countries.
This took a turn when colonialists cut off their hair to actually strip off individual culture and identity, leaving a mesh of Africans which one couldn’t differentiate. With the rise of colonialism and slavery in Africa, Africans added new meanings to their hair. To avoid starvation due to the meager amount of food received from their slave masters, some braided rice into their hair to hide it from their masters and eat it at a later time. Braids were also used as a means of communication by displaying secret messages and maps that their masters wouldn’t understand.
Years later, after colonialism, after slavery, apartheid, and legalized racial discrimination, Africans still had to face obstacles pertaining to their locs. Although technically racism had been abolished, systemic and institutional racism still persist. Africans and African descendants still had to fight a battle just to wear their hair with it being deemed ‘unprofessional’ or ‘ghetto’, making it difficult to wear our hair without facing discrimination in both the professional and social world at large. Both schools and workplaces basically deemed any African hairstyle inappropriate and unprofessional – including the natural hair that comes out of our hair, a simple Afro being branded as ‘distracting’.
At 16 years old, South African Girls High School student, Zulaikha Patel, fought for the right for her and her peers to adorn their natural hair without it being an apparent problem for her studies, going on to become a prominent human rights activist in South Africa after successfully winning the fight and changing the policy at her school. This unfortunately does not reign true in all schools in South Africa as since then, there have been other incidences of students being reprimanded and discriminated against due to their hair, illustrating how even in Africa, the fight is not over yet.
Thankfully, in this day and age things have changed with shifts in regulation such as The Crown Act . This is however not to say racial discrimination and systemic racism have magically disappeared, we still have a long way to go which makes it easy to see why exactly some may be bothered by Europeans wearing African hairstyles and using their techniques without actually being a part of the culture and living through the oppression. Or even merely living through it.