I have grown up in a world where my natural appearance doesn’t fit beauty standards. As a child I was fooled into believing that my round nose, see tough hair and large lips were not beautiful, and in order to attain this beauty I had to change. However, this isn’t a recent phenomenon, for centuries black men and women have been manipulated into believing that in order to get that great job, or to be a respected individual in society, you had to conform to an unrealistic beauty standard…The European standard. Black men and women have gone to extreme lengths such as using dangerous chemicals and excessive heat, to loosen their kinky curls and appear more “civilised,” “clean” and “professional.” All so that they can be accepted in a world that still doesn’t truly accept them.
During the colonial period, propaganda material in the form of leaflets and posters were distributed across Europe, to show the “uncivilised African.” This material mocked and shamed Africans for their natural features. Though this material is not widely used and distributed today, the misconception that afros aren’t beautiful, professional or appropriate for the workplace, still exists. It is this reason why many black men and women have resorted to wearing weaves, wigs and using harsh chemicals to straighten their hair.
Despite all of this, black people have been accused of appropriating European culture, due to the popular use of straight weaves and hairstyles. Fashion designer Marc Jacobs, was accused of cultural appropriation when he casted predominantly white models to wear dreadlocks on his runway. He responded to this criticism by saying that, it’s “funny how you don’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair.” But he’s right, we don’t or shouldn’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair. Black men and women have been fired from jobs and discriminated against because of their natural hair, and their use of traditional African hairstyles. So what little choice do we have other than to conform to the European norm?
Marc Jacobs isn’t the only person who has accused black people of cultural appropriation. Whoopi Goldberg stated that, “if we’re gonna go with cultural appropriation, wear natural hair. If we’re wearing white lady hair, isn’t that appropriation as well?” Both Whoopi and Marc are completely missing the point, and have failed to educate themselves on the history behind black people and straight hairstyles.
In wearing straight hairstyles, we aren’t appropriating culture, we are trying to conform to an unrealistic beauty ideal that wasn’t created to include us and our black features, but to exclude and isolate us from the white world. It is important that people recognise this, and stop accusing black men and women of appropriating European culture.
Written by Adesuwa O.