“They Don’t Like Us, but They Want To Be Like Us”- Yvonnia

https://www.essence.com/hair/respect-our-roots-brief-history-our-braids-cultural-appropriation/ 

Black women are known for trying different things with their hair. From wearing natural styles, locs, weaves or maybe even a silk press, the styles are never ending. One of the most common hair styles amongst black women are braids. Braids are the “interweaving of three or more strands of hair” (yourdictionary.com). 

Contents

  • History of Braids
  • Popular Braid Styles
  • Braids and Cultural Appropriation

History of Braids

Although braids are a popular hairstyle for many, braids originated in Africa and have a long, powerful history. Braids can be traced back to 3500 B.C. in Africa which was thousands of years ago (Gabbara, Princess). Africa is not a small continent which means that braids are translated differently across each African sub-culture. Dirshe states, “A specific look could indicate the clan you belonged to, your marital status or your age. For example, a traditional style symbolizing heritage for the Fula women of the Sahel region consisted of five long braids down the back with a small tuft of hair gathered at the top of the crown. Hairstyles were passed down through the matriarchs of each generation—from grandmother to mother to daughter” (Dirshe, Siraad). For Mblantu women and girls, hair signifies the different ages and stages of life (Holloway, April).

Through the sub-cultures in Africa, we see that braids are important and hold different meanings which is why these hairstyles should continue to be respected. As seen today, black women are wearing similar braided hairstyles as those who came before them.

Popular Braid Styles

Braids can be done in several styles, sizes, and color depending on the desired look. Below are a few of the mainstream braided styles women wear.

Cornrows

https://www.popsugar.co.uk/beauty/Cornrow-Braid-Styles-42574193

Box Braids/ Plaits

https://styleuki.blogspot.com/2019/04/37-unique-triangle-box-braids.html
https://styleuki.blogspot.com/2019/04/37-unique-triangle-box-braids.html

Braids and Cultural Appropriation

As mentioned before, black women are known for wearing braids as well as natural hair styles but are often judged for wearing such styles because they deemed socially unacceptable. The part that is a bit difficult to understand is the fact that women of other races and nationalities wearing afrocentric hairstyles, like braids, as fashion statements and it being okay. Over that last couple of years, women like the Kardashians, have been celebrated and creditied for wearing braided styles, yet the everyday black woman is shamed for wearing those same braids. Gabbara states, “Black women have been told our natural kinks, coils, curls, waves and everything in between aren’t beautiful and should be changed to meet European beauty standards. Yet, when the Kardashian-Jenner clan or anyone non-Black wears hairstyles that first appeared on Black women, such as cornrowsBantu knots or a Yaki-textured ponytail, it’s considered “new” and “chic” in the mainstream media and renamed in many instances. However, these same hairstyles are often deemed as “ghetto” and “unprofessional” when the person is Black” (Gabbara, Princess). 

Another example of cultural appropriation occurred at the start of 2020, where Comme des Garçons had their models wear cornrowed wigs during a runway show. The decision to choose this hairstyle is not a problem; it’s the lack of appreciation towards blackness and black culture that had lot of people upset. According to Schild, “Despite the brand’s popularity with celebrities and recognition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Comme des Garçons has been under fire for lacking diverse representation in the past. Essence described the brand’s styling decision as a “step backward” in terms of inclusivity, citing the fact that in 2018, Comme des Garçons’ womens’ fashion show featured dark-skinned models for the first time in more than 20 years. According to ELLE, prior to 2018, the high-fashion label had not included an identifiably black model in its shows since 1994” (Schild, Darcy).

This is a problem because black women are despised and sometimes dismissed because of the choices made when wearing cultured styles like braids.  There is nothing wrong with celebrating other cultures, however it is a slap in the face for braided hairstyles to be praised when someone not of African heritage is praised and those with African decent are belittled and made to hate their own hair.

Other Related Texts:

https://www.allure.com/gallery/black-braided-hairstyles

https://www.thetrendspotter.net/cornrow-braid-hairstyles/

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/a11429634/box-braids-experiment/

https://www.byrdie.com/history-of-braids

https://www.elle.com/beauty/hair/a14380845/braids-tell-americas-black-hair-history/

References

“Braid.” Braid Dictionary Definition | Braid Defined, www.yourdictionary.com/braid.

Dirshe, Siraad. “Respect Our Roots: A Brief History Of Our Braids.” Essence, Essence, 27 June 2018, www.essence.com/hair/respect-our-roots-brief-history-our-braids-cultural-appropriation/.

Gabbara, Princess. “The History of Box Braids.” EBONY, 17 Dec. 2018, www.ebony.com/style/history-box-braids/#axzz4rJSA4WVj.

Holloway, April. “The Braided Rapunzels of Namibia: Every Stage of Life Is Reflected in Their Hair.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 14 July 2017, www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-ancient-traditions/braided-rapunzels-namibia-every-stage-life-reflected-their-hair-021501.

Schild, Darcy. “Fashion Brand Comme Des Garçons Apologized after Styling White Models with Cornrow Wigs at Its Paris Fashion Week Show.” Insider, Insider, 24 Jan. 2020, www.insider.com/comme-des-garons-accused-of-cultural-appropriation-over-cornrow-wigs-2020-1.


Yvonnia Bryant is a 21 year old senior at Old Dominion University finishing up her last semester as an undergraduate student. She is majoring in Communications, minoring in Women’s Studies. In her free time, Yvonnia has a podcast (Melanated Queens), is a LEC tutor, and is a part of the Old Dominion chapter of Queen In You where serves on the E-board as an events planner.