Black hair. Ethnic hair. African-American hair. I know this particular physical attribute like the back of my own hand. Sometimes when getting ready to eventually face the world, as I proceed to do create some kind of style with my hair, I think back to its many transformations. While despite what the media wants to brainwash you with, not all black hair is created the same in terms of overall texture. I can concur that for many women of color, they can recall as a little girl their hair being fluffy and naturally thick. Yet by the time most of us hit our early-20s, we have already experienced relaxers, weaves, grandiose braided do’s, and before it became a trend, an honest effort made to embrace what was left of our organic tresses and treat them right from there on. We’ve come a long way from afro puffs to tiny braids with beads at the ends, but our hair journeys vary. We are connected by the fact that through trial and error, at that time, the way we wore it expressed who were at that time and we’re still learning.
Now, I went down memory lane just now as because, like clockwork, an appropriation of what derived originally from black culture or a more worldly land what have you, is being credited to not necessarily the wrong person, but for the wrong reasons. We’ve seen this cycle before, most recently with (of course) Miley Cyrus, the big butt implosion, and rap and hip-hop culture’s influence on marketing and fashion. While Kendall Jenner innocently posted a picture of herself rocking a half-braided style, leading independent ladies magazine Marie Claire caught it and declared it as taking “bold braids to a new epic level”, the long-imitated and loved switch up to a regular ‘do was a rather large statement for Marie Claire to make, and definitely kind of silly on their end. Have they already forget how “epic” Alicia Keys’ braids were in back in 2001 when so many of her industry peers were rocking what were then secretive lace-front wigs and weaves?
What is known as “black Twitter” online, tweeters of this division let MC have it real quick in denouncing the statement, and reminded the major publication that styles similar to Jenner’s have been around for ages. MC promptly released an apology and it seemed genuine. However, unless a black staff member informed their white sisters of how ridiculous that headline was, companies and brands like MC will always reveal doe eyes when it comes to the individuals and cultures that originated a technique that later throughout the years is suddenly re-discovered and led by someone else that is just as green to it as its followers.
The Kendall Jenner braid-gate is more interesting than it seems on the surface. Clearly, this social media faux pas was not Jenner’s fault. She wasn’t trying to start a movement. it was an innocent selfie of her looking cute as always and as mentioned, it became braid-gate because those at the helms of trend-forecasting often ignore the originators. And there’s just something about braids that is intrinsically connected to African-Americans. While the most famous white girl to rock braids and cornrows was Bo Derek in 10, other than her, the only other white women that immediately come to mind our Swedish girls of the 1800s and those milkmaid styles. When other races seems to wear braids, they’re often the boho-chic looks of a fishtail or french braid. For women of color, there are then cornrows and more intricate attempts a la Ledisi or Jill Scott. What happened between Marie Claire and Twitter was a tiff about ownership of trends and cultures. Look at how the blogs tried to attack Katy Perry for her American Music Awards performance in which she adopted a geisha story to re-enact on stage for “Unconditionally”. Perry also got an earful for her slap-sticky appropriation of Egyptian gods and goddesses for her “Dark Horse” video.
Marie Claire was accidentally ignorant, and but not necessarily racist. Marie Claire is actually one of the better women’s magazines out there with well-written pieces about women’s rights and relationships that translate more real than intentionally raunchy or aloof than some of their competitors. Jenner is tween icon right now, so MC jumped on the bandwagon of what a popular young celeb was doing and made an honest mistake. Another side-note? Let’s recall Rihanna rocking a doobie wrap at the AMAs and few days later People Magazine’s StyleWatch did a post about how to re-create that wrap straight with tips out of the South Bronx. Really, StyleWatch? And we can have the DJ bring it back even further and ask who really discovered America, hmmmm?
So while it was constructive that most tweeters confronted MC, there was a level of insensitivity that once again, when a trend, style, or attribute of others is recycled by someone seemingly more popular or known, and it becomes approved and followed. The deserved credit towards the original inspiration gets lost in the re-born hype, but it’s alright MC. We forgive you.
-C. Shardae Jobson