Updated: May 1
An exploration of appropriation and how it correlates with a lack of respect for black spaces
My person is not your playground, and while my body might not have been free in the past, it is in the present, so please give me arm’s length distance. There is an invisible bubble around me that I hope you would respect as I am not obligated to give of myself for your enjoyment. This ain’t no minstrel show, and I ain’t Step N’ Fetch.
In one of my previous pieces, I talked about cultural appropriation and was promptly asked why can’t we (black people) just allow others (specifically whites) to wear black hairstyles and take things from black culture so that it does not further segregate us. Within this same post, I was told that “we should want more white girls to wear cornrows, so it’s not exclusively a black style therefore not looked down on by the younger generations of black and white kids.”
I’ve found that this piece really struck a nerve within the white community, so rather than answer each and every response, this will be my answer.
My culture is not for your consumption. The idea that white people can take pieces of my culture and make it seem “less likely to be looked down upon” is asinine. The statement proves my point of cultural appropriation alone. The idea that something that blacks have literally done for centuries could be looked at as ugly or stereotyped, but then be viewed as a trend if a white person does it, is frustrating.
This is not about the segregation of cultures. This is about white people being told they can’t do something in a society where they’ve always been allowed to take over. Hearing the word “no” triggers their privilege, especially if the “no” comes from a marginalized group of people. But the answer is no. For those asking why you should keep reading.
If you’ve never been a black girl living in America, you may have never experienced having your hair examined like a science project. I have. Many of us have. This invasion of space can come as a surprise, met with a sense of anger and sometimes embarrassment. Our hair is our thing. It’s our essence. It’s our confidence. And sometimes our shame.
Our hair tells a story. Our story. The changes we’ve gone through, the lies we’ve lived through, the joys we’ve experienced. It’s our shit. We rode the ride and gave it time or cut it off and started a new chapter. Regardless of what we’ve done with it or to it, it is our shit. Beyond that, it is a respect for our personal space and heritage. While we might not have created braid wearing as a hairstyle, it is our culture that is judged based on the styles we choose to wear. Karen can wear a french braid, and it is seen as neat and refined, but if I wear micro twists, it is examined, picked apart, sometimes seen as a distraction to those around us because it is not the “white norm.”
If it doesn’t fit into what society thinks is standard or up for consumption, then it is seen as tainted until someone (white) can make use of it and profit from it either financially or culturally. The frustration of all this is that most people would rather pretend not to understand my perspective and gaslight my thoughts rather than take the time to truly listen.
There is a difference in appreciation for things that were created outside of your culture and attempting to develop a system of erasure by embedding yourself within it. And while one of the commentators pointed out that we “all take from each other,” the effect of appropriation affects those being appropriated the most. The systematic oppression that is implemented when the desire outweighs the people it affects is unwavering, and it can never be felt by those condoning the oppressive nature.
Simply put — Adopting the styles and creations of another culture for benefit without understanding the stigmas and history creates a sense of acceptability as long as it can be redeemed by whiteness. That negates the traditions behind them and reduces them down to something interchangeable without explanation. One thing I think that was missed in all of this, is the understanding of the power dynamic of a dominant culture deciding when and in what space cultural aspects can and should be appreciated. Instead of inserting your fragility into the conversation, why not research the reasons why it is being discussed.
Cultural appropriation is making things cool enough for white people not to experience penalization and too “ethic” for people of color who are thus forced into conforming to meet standards that don’t protect or value their worth. It further creates inequities by allowing those with the power to profit off cultural aspects of people of color while misrepresenting those originators throughout history. I say all of this to say to appropriate, is take from those who have been forced to build their own in a society that never gives them their due. It is not my job to make a space for you to feel comfortable in aspects that make me, me.
This piece was previously posted on the Medium publication, An Injustice