Can Hair Be Cultural Appropriation?

March 9, 2020

Whether it is on Instagram, T.V., the runway or just everyday life, finding non-black people sporting dreadlocks or cornrows is not unusual. Celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Zac Efron and Kylie Jenner have been accused of cultural appropriation for wearing these hairstyles as caucasian people. Many people think nothing of it as it is ‘just hair’, but there is a deeper problem underneath.

Cornrows, box braids, dreadlocks and afros are a few examples of ethnic hairstyles apart of African culture which can be dated back thousands of years. These hairstyles serve more purposes than just being aesthetically pleasing. The hairstyles are also protective styles, meaning they tuck the ends of the hair in to prevent damage. During ancient times, the styles could also indicate if a woman was married, their age and what region they were from. Later on, when Africans were being enslaved, their captors would shave the hair off of black women’s heads to deny and rid them of their culture. Mary Oriho, an African-American student at Waukee High School, explained, “Back [then,] black people would get tormented and mistreated about their hairstyles and be put into stereotypes that these hairstyles are ‘ghetto’ or ‘wrong’.”  Nowadays in the realm of employment, black women tend to straighten or relax their curls as opposed to styling them, as they are deemed ‘unprofessional’ by many employers.

Cultural appropriation of African hairstyles by non-black people has become somewhat normalized in society. In fact, it also happens right here in Waukee. “I’ve seen many white males wearing durags, and girls wearing very tight cornrows…it’s not made for their hair,” Mary described. Durags are a type of scarf used for kinky to accelerate the development of hairstyles like waves or dreads. Big names like Kim Kardashian and Marc Jacobs have been contributors to using the hairstyles as a ‘trend’ or ‘aesthetic’ without acknowledging the history of the styles.

The issue with non-black people wearing black hairstyles is evident in society today. Although most people can wear their natural or styled hair virtually anywhere they would like to, many black individuals are discriminated against purely because of their hair. In a Texas school, senior Deandre Arnold was suspended for refusing to cut his dreadlocks for graduation as it violated the district’s dress code. His mother later informed the media that his hair had not been an issue before. In Deandre’s Trinidadian culture, “men often wear long dreadlocks in professional and educational settings.”  This type of inequality with hair is why cultural appropriation is such a big deal with African hairstyles. Previously in workplaces, black women have been told their natural hair is ‘unprofessional’. In 2010, a black woman by the name of Chastity Jones was told to get rid of her dreadlocks because they ‘tend to get messy’. When she refused, the company decided to not hire her. Although new laws have been put in place to fight back against discrimination against ethnic hair, it does not erase the struggles African individuals have faced regarding their hair throughout history. 

The fact that non-black people can essentially wear black hairstyles without any of the repercussions, while black people are being oppressed for the same styles originating from their own culture, is the main reason why wearing the styles as a non-black person can be classified as cultural appropriation.

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  • C

    chantaiJul 4, 2021 at 12:20 PM

    Cant wait to see how f***ed up we are a couple years from now. We’ll probably be back to segregated schools.
    Not to say somethings didnt Need attention. But this is to far. When celebrities are apologizing for cultural misappropriation. It’s all art. Are everyones Always going to be offended by something it doesnt matter.
    We have way bigger problems then people wearing other peoples hair styles.
    Stop b****ing and actually put some effort into something that matters.
    (profanity censored by moderator)

  • H

    Humble BeeJun 28, 2021 at 3:40 AM

    This is a pretty hard topic to come to a conclusion for. With modern day changes and acceptance as well as history and the background. With hair/cultural appropriation it should be allowed that each race wears thier hair the way they choose to do so. Having said that please also take time to learn about the background of that style and it’s origins (just for respect). We can all share our cultures and traditions as we all have something in common and that’s being human. People who learn, share and are unique in thier own way.

  • C

    cheseJun 4, 2021 at 2:01 PM

    i really wish people who arent even black AT ALL, would educate themselves and not only that but i wish they would just stop speaking on black problems. its simple.

  • M

    MelMay 23, 2021 at 8:28 AM

    Okay so i’m conclusion this article is wrong after reading many comments saying African Americans didn’t invent this. Also Kpop Idols with these hairstyles is not cultural appropriation thank you

  • S

    SeanMay 7, 2021 at 12:52 PM

    Cornrows were just as popular with the pre-Slavic people and Scandinavians, men would braid their hair to keep it from being used as something to grab during warfare. It’s wrong to call these things AFRICAN when they are actually a product of American culture. Try box braiding with no hair bundles….so find out who sells the hair and you’ll find the root of the culture which is commercial rather than some divine African right.

  • M

    MiaApr 18, 2021 at 11:46 AM

    After reading this article, I am still struggling to understand how white women wearing black hairstyles such as cornrows, box braids, etc, is cultural appropriation. You can see some black women wearing blonde wigs, straightening it, or using a relaxer to make their hair straight. But this isn’t “appropriation?” I’m not saying all, but a majority of the black people that I know or have seen do not have naturally straight, or blonde hair.

  • M

    Morgan Parker-CarneyMar 3, 2021 at 11:51 PM

    To the point of dread locks : “Roman accounts stated that the Celts wore their hair ‘like snakes’. The Germanic tribes and Vikings were also known to wear their hair in dreadlocks.”

  • I

    ianJan 11, 2021 at 9:11 AM

    This article does not once mention that BLACK CULTURE DID NOT INVENT DREADLOCKS. Indians and Minoans had dreads long before black culture did, yet you fail to mention that anywhere.

    Cultural Appropriation is defined by stealing someone else’s culture and it’s hard to read this racist article and not think Maanya is trying to steal from other people’s cultures.

  • S

    SeraNov 26, 2020 at 5:20 PM

    As a European decent Australian, I recently (yesterday) had braids done in my hair. While yes I have wanted the style for many years because I like the aesthetics of the look, I also spent a week researching the style and how to look after it. While doing this research I found a great deal of information regarding WHY the styles were being used and quite frankly, I felt humbled and honoured that the African/Black society would share these styles with me so openly. This is sharing culture! This is living in harmony. Appreciation for the differences that each of us individually and culturally have is what should be celebrating as humans. Embrace the differences we have brings the diversity we need to bring balance to our decisions and lifestyles. Does it matter that one race has more culture than the other? No it really doesn’t because each race brings something to the table that is unique and valuable.

  • A

    AjNov 22, 2020 at 3:41 AM

    As a black person I honestly feel like its the very definition of racism to discriminate against someone because they arent wearing a hair style that “their race made first”. There is absolutely no reason to complain about it in the first place. I know plenty of black women, and occasionally men, who straighten their hair… are they racist for doing so? The fact of the matter and the point im poorly making is that NOBODY owns artistic ideas truly. We all have hair and can style it as we see fit. That’s like saying black people can’t play a saxophone because a white man made it.

  • K

    KimSep 22, 2020 at 3:01 PM

    Wigs and weaves are worn by black women for protective reasons. The only reason non black people wear BLACK hair styles is because black people are trend setters and everything they do or say non black people HAVE to say it. There are black people with naturally straight hair, blonde hair, red hair, and yes brown hair so they doesn’t only belong to white people. Only a White person would say “let’s exchange cultures” because they don’t HAVE a culture. You wouldn’t understand. NEXT.

  • Z

    ZackAug 31, 2020 at 2:32 PM

    Discrimination of any kind os wrong. People shouldn’t be discriminated against for any cultural or racial reasons. That being said, the best way to gain acceptance might be to share your culture with others. Grow understanding and awareness. In America I don’t know how we expect society to blend and become more mixed and open if we tell people they can’t explore other cultures. Especially when those things are commercial commodities that can be bought. In that instance is it the consumers fault? Or is it the fault of the seller or manufacturer? Obviously there is a ton of frustration and resentment but how do we past this?

  • J

    Jamiir AliJun 1, 2020 at 1:10 AM

    Ok so the easy way to solve it is white women give the cornrows back and black women stop wearing non African hairstyles( straight or euro weave/wigs). And since both groups wear wigs we will limit blacks of the diaspora to weaves/wigs of the west African hair type while the whites will be limited to their natural long loose curls/ straight blonde/red/ brunette or Scandinavian styles…
    So there we have it…no more cultural appropriation complaints….