Don’t Claim Our Cornrows

By Savannah Howard
Web Content Contributor

In Black culture, hair has a rich, deep-run history. When you dismiss it as being “just hair,” you are belittling the sense of identity that has been passed down for hundreds of years. In the United States, from slavery, to the Civil Rights Movement, to present day, Black hair has been revolutionary, political and a representation of perseverance.

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Senegalese twists, a common style for Black people, are sometimes seen as inappropriate for school and work. Photo by Savannah Howard.

Although society has come a long way in accepting Afro-textured hair, there is still progress to be made. Hair texture discrimination is real and rampant in the workplace and in schools. In order to properly care for and maintain the health of their hair, Black people wear certain styles. Unfortunately, these hairstyles are sometimes deemed unprofessional, which results in students being reprimanded or sent home and employees being forced to change their hair or lose their jobs.

The thing is, no matter what is done to coily and kinky hair, it is always viewed as a problem. If we straighten it, then we are seen as trying to be more European and ashamed of our African heritage. If we choose to switch up our style and wear wigs, we are accused of being bald or having short, unhealthy hair. Even adding in extensions—a practice that is used by all races—somehow becomes lowly on Black bodies. Our extensions are referred to as “weave” which insinuates a negative connotation. And wearing our hair in its natural coily, kinky texture results in us being seen as lazy and unkempt for not “fixing” our hair. No matter what we do to our hair, it is never good enough.

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Kinkier hair textures are normal and does not mean that we don’t comb our hair. Photo by Savannah Howard.

Ironically, Black hairstyles are welcomed with open arms when they are used on other races. On non-Black bodies, our hair is accepted as trendy, alternative and “streetwear.” Designers use it on runways and in magazine spreads for fashion but fail to put the styles on Black people. If they want to use Black styles, they should hire Black models. The hairstyles that are worn by Black people, were created for the Afro-hair texture. Cornrows, locs, and box braids, for example, will sometimes rip out the hair of finer, thinner textured hair. Non-Black people will ruin their hair because they want to be “edgy.” Is it worth it?

The main problem is not that other races are copying hairstyles (although some may disagree). The problem is that the same hairstyles that we are called ghetto for are then put in this non-threatening little box, renamed, and pushed as a new trend—usually by white women. Why are white women called innovative or trendsetters for wearing styles that have been around for hundreds of years?

So, with that being said, if you’re not Black but still you want to wear the hairstyles (and ruin your hair), be respectful. Don’t wear them to look “hood,” don’t wear them and claim they look better on you than Black people, support Black businesses by going to a black hairstylist, and make sure to call the style by its actual name. For example, if you’re wearing Fulani braids, don’t call them “Bo Derek” braids. Ok, Kim Kardashian?

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These are bantu knots, not ‘mini buns.’ Photo by Savannah Howard.

As the world becomes more connected and we experience more from other cultures, it is inevitable that some things will be copied. That’s fine as long as cultures are respected and represented appropriately. The thing that makes the United States, and the rest of the world, so beautiful is our diversity and our openness to share some aspects of our cultures. One day, Black hair will not be as controversial as it is now. Black people will be able to express themselves and take care of their hair without the stigma that is attached to kinkier textures. Until then, respect the artistry and heritage that it signifies.

Oh, and another thing: Don’t touch a person’s hair without asking. That shouldn’t even have to be said, but just don’t.

Featured Illustration by Savannah Howard.

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