In these very uncertain times, there are few things of which we can be absolutely sure. At the top of this short list are taxes, birth, death and cultural appropriation. As long as there are people walking this earth, dominant groups will find a way to "borrow" (read: steal) stuff from minority cultures and Columbus it for themselves. Any of us who listened even a little in history class remembers being taught that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492 in search of new land. After being rejected twice from other expeditions, Columbus finally floated adrift, only to stumble onto Cuba (which he thought was China) and later Hispaniola (which he thought was Japan).
The History Channel summarizes his legacy (even with his horrible sense of direction) with this very loaded statement: “[Columbus] had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.”
By claiming land that didn’t belong to it, and stealing resources from a culture that existed way before its involvement, Spain became the wealthiest nation on earth. See where I’m going here? Modern-day Columbusing is doing just this with aspects of a culture that get praise, while totally disregarding the people (and struggles) of that culture. The issue isn’t so much copying, or taking inspiration from other cultures; the issue is giving no credit to the originators of the trend—and even going so far as changing the name to erase all connection, all the while often labeling these styles “ghetto” on one woman and “chic” on another.
Here are four hairstyles that have recently received appropriation makeovers (complete with New World names given) but have still had a great year in black fashion.
New World Name: Rope Braid
A photo posted by N A P T U R A L 8 5 (@naptural85) on Jan 23, 2016 at 5:41pm PST
“Rope braids” were all the rage during New York Fashion Week last fall, especially after Public School sent models down the runway rocking the hot trend. Always interested in the newest trends coming off the runway, I searched to find images of this “modern take on the classic braid” that everyone was raving about. Much to my surprise, this bold new trend was just a two-strand twist. The same twists we all wore in our second-grade class pictures, with the ballies on the end that matched our dress—and that naturals wear overnight to achieve the perfect twist-out come sunrise. There are even tutorials circulating on how to achieve the perfect rope braid. It seems pretty intuitive to me, but … *shrugs*.
New World Name: Slicked-Down Tendrils
A photo posted by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on Dec 1, 2014 at 2:48pm PST
From LL Cool J listing the attributes of his perfect around-the-way girl to Beyoncé letting us all know how she likes Blue’s hair, baby hairs have been a staple accessory for girls with textured hair for a very long time. The little short hairs in the front—generally consisting of a different texture—would need to be brushed down to stop flyaways. So you can only imagine how outraged I was to see reports of the “urban fabulous” new trend from DKNY on the runway—“slicked-down tendrils,” they called it. Of all the childhood hairstyles they tried to take, we were literally born with this one.
New World Name: Twisted Mini Buns
A photo posted by Blac Chyna (@blacchyna) on Apr 10, 2016 at 3:51am PDT
When future Mrs. Angela Kardashian (also known as Blac Chyna) stepped out in her freshly gelled Bantu knots, the fashion world exclaimed that her look was inspired by Bjork in the ’90s. Black Twitter quickly clapped back, reminding the world that African women were the originators of the style and had been rocking it since the beginning of time. But at least it was still called Bantu knots. Another scandal broke out when Marc Jacobs was credited with starting the “mini bun” trend at his Spring 2015 runway show. I have a fifth-grade picture with a Statue of Liberty-esque crown of Bantu knots framing my freshly hot-combed ponytail. Pretty sure my mom was giving no thoughts to Bjork back then.
New World Name: Boxer Braids/Dutch Braids/French Braids (Basically, Anything but Cornrows)
On the way to the @WhiteHouse State Dinner wearing an @AshiStudio, gown, #Halston clutch, and @VitaFede earrings. Hair by @YeneDamtew, styling by @DaniAndEmmaStyle, and makeup by me (with my new fave @ColouredRaine lipstick in Truffle Raine)
A photo posted by Tracee Ellis Ross (@traceeellisross) on May 13, 2016 at 4:24pm PDT
Actress Tracee Ellis Ross redefined “slay” by rocking two rib-length cornrows to the Nordic State Dinner at the White House last month. On the long list of things President Barack Obama has done for us during his administration, bringing cornrows to the White House should be pretty high up. It seems that we have seen some progress; there was a time not too long ago (which means yesterday) when black men and women were considered unprofessional for wearing cornrows. With everything we have to celebrate about cornrows this year, it's almost easy to forget that the mainstream media has tried to credit boxers, Bo Derek, and every single Kardashian or Jenner for introducing us to this “daring new trend”—the trend that every little black girl has been wearing since her hair was long enough to grab and rubber-band a bead on the end.
Shayna Watson is a freelance style and beauty writer who can be heard saying “Natural hair is a lifestyle” at least once a day. A Pittsburgh native, she currently lives in a shoe-box apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y.—which is fitting, since she really loves shoes. You can check out her personal style musings on A Nu Creature and follow her on Instagram.