That Black Hair Magazine Cover and Cultural Appropriation
Cultural appropriation is a tricky one to explain, see to know when it becomes a form of oppression rather than a celebration of other cultures can get confusing. If I want to wear a bindi for a festival do I have to go to India and study it’s cultural background? Technically by the rules of cultural appropriation these days I do. I believe taking from another culture becomes a form of oppression when it was formerly seen as distasteful, or even looked down upon in its organic/ original form, until it becomes ‘diluted’ with a more socially acceptable culture and then gets the praise. Our culture is our unique identity so it is more than just copying a style, it is essentially stealing a part of our identity, it works both ways.
As cheesy as the phrase “nobody can be a better you than you” is, it is so relevant in what I’m trying to explain. If you are born with certain traits and teased about it and you start to doubt your own unique beauty, then one day a caucasian girl with thick legs, bright blue eyes and dark hair, gets a perm and is now praised for it, the hurt isn’t that she is getting the praise; it’s not about jealousy. The issue is about that individual not feeling like they can possibly be the best version of themselves because they are not accepted as they are but when someone else imitates a particular trait which they can turn on and off when ‘appropriate’ it is accepted.
So Blackhair magazine ‘accidentally’ put a white model on their cover… they’re very sorry though… so it’s all okay right? Not really. The troubling issue behind this mistake isn’t that the girl was featured wrongly but, in my opinion, it was the apology/excuse that Blackhair magazine gave their readers.
“We often ask PR companies/salons to submit images for the magazine, specifically stating that models must be Black or mixed race. We can only take their word for it, and of course, try to use our own judgment”
Being black/mixed race is not objective, ‘Try to use our own judgement’?! Either you are black or you are not, nobody can be employed to look at pictures of models and use their own judgement to analyse weather they are black or not. I find that too insulting.
I understand that Blackhair is a hair and beauty magazine so looks is something that has to be discussed when picking a cover model but being black is not just about looks, hair texture or skin tone. I feel like there was a much bigger issue that their apology didn’t quite cover; a light skinned, straight haired, green eyed, black girl may even feel she isn’t ‘certified as black’ from a statement like this as it is clear that the afro is what convinced them to pick the image. There are different shades and variation within being black/mixed race but there is most definitely not different levels of being black, which I think is what this mistake denotes.
As for the model, I don’t see her as the main issue. She is simply a model who modelled and her picture got submitted for the wrong thing. I do have an extra level of respect for her for the lengthy apology she posted on Instagram, she wasn’t directly the one who made the decision but showed she is now clearly socially aware of the appropriation behind it. I have always believed that if you ignore the oppression you are part of it and I respect her for being aware of that and apologising for the mistake.
I would deeply and sincerely like to apologise to every one for this, and black women especially. I would like to clarify, I believe this shoot is from when I was around 15 and didn’t understand cultural appropriation or the impact it has on POC. I was uneducated, which obviously is no excuse, ignorant and immature. Growing up in a very very white city, I had no idea the struggles black women face and how often they were persecuted for their hair. I didn’t understand how black women are constantly told their natural hair is inappropriate/unprofessional for the work place, or how young girls are told they can’t go to school with natural hair. I didn’t understand that shoots like this support the very Eurocentric beauty standard that the mainstream media focus on which reinforce the idea that black features are only ok on white women. I didn’t understand that as a white passing woman I’d be praised for this hair, but if I was a black woman I’d be persecuted. I didn’t understand cultural appropriation. ? I do regret doing this. I hold up my hands, I’m so so so sorry and I’m very sorry this cover was taken away from a black woman. This image is (I think, although I’m not 100% sure) about 3/4 years old, it was never intended to be on the cover of this magazine. If I had known it was going to be published, I would never have condoned it. I’m upset and angry I was never asked by the photographer/hair salon/anyone if this image could be used for the cover Black Hair. ? I’m so glad I’ve educated myself and surrounded my self with people to teach me what is right and wrong. I constantly am learning and becoming more and more informed. It’s important to come forward and be honest with ourselves about our past mistakes, otherwise we will never learn. Again, I’m truly, deeply sorry to anyone I’ve offended and I hope if nothing else this post can educated others so they don’t make similar mistakes. (also please let me know if I’ve said anything wrong or offensive in this post!!! or anything i can add!!!! i love u all sm and the last thing i want to do is offend or hurt any one, i really hope you don’t all think im a massive twat ?)
“I didn’t understand that shoots like this support the very Eurocentric beauty standard that the mainstream media focus on which reinforce the idea that black features are only ok on white women.”
It is important to not look at her as just a colour. Having read the story she is not just a white girl who wanted to look black to make money, she was a young model trying to break through into the industry so if you are looking for someone to blame (which we always are) maybe seek out the creative director of the shoot and find out his intentions, don’t just blast the model for doing her job.
It is very disappointing that a magazine that was created to empower and give black women a platform to be showcased made this mistake and that the model was the one to know how to apologise appropriately:
“I’m so so so sorry and I’m very sorry this cover was taken away from a black woman”
On a positive note Queen Erykah Badu is presenting the soul train awards on Sunday. There’s going to be a whole lot of #blackgirlmagic going on that night.
Written by Zainab Hassan
Edited by Leomie Anderson
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