Cultural appropriation, and specifically the appropriation of black American culture, is nothing new—think rock and roll. But as of late, nothing has been safe from “Columbusing”—the art of discovering trends that are old hat to us. This year it’s happened to dance, fashion, slang and even food.
Elle magazine has been the latest to pull a Columbusing faux pas, just in time for Columbus Day. So what is it with this clueless appropriation? Are the masses really tone-deaf enough to believe that all these trends are new? Or is that things that black people have been doing for decades are only seen as valuable once white people adopt them? Either way, it looks like Columbusing is here to stay.
Elle has decided that Timberland boots will be “the Birkenstocks of fall.” That may very well be true, but Timberlands have been a style staple every fall for at least the last 20 years. In fact, the boots were more popular than Nike Air Jordans in the early ’90s. The boots just weren’t worthy of being part of a high-fashion “trend alert” until they went from the feet of rappers to those of white celebrities.
The Los Angeles Times got in on the Columbusing action by declaring cornrows a fashion trend. By naming Bo Derek, Kristen Stewart and Rita Ora as examples of the “new” cornrow trend, it’s almost as if Ingrid Schmidt, the author of the piece, went out of her way to find any example of cornrows that weren’t black. Derek is cool, but her 1970s style choices are not relevant to today’s popular culture—and they have never been relevant to cornrows, which black people have been wearing since at least 500 B.C.
3. Big Butts
Patricia Garcia of Vogue magazine declared, “We’re Officially in the Era of the Big Booty.” The problem is, we’ve always been in the era of the big booty, since black women have always had them. Unless Garcia has never ventured outside, it is baffling how she can believe that the big booty is a new trend. Seems like big derrieres are in style only when the owner of them is not black.
4. Baby Hair
Baby hair—you know, the hairs that many people have around the perimeter of their heads—was declared “urban fabulous” after DKNY models walked the runway sporting the style. As with everything else, the problem is that gelling down baby hair has been in style for a long time. Besides that, stop using “urban” as code for “black.”
Ah, yes, twerking. Twerking has become one of the leading examples of cultural appropriation this year. The term was coined by Louisiana “bounce” rappers. Yet the dance didn’t reach the masses until Miley Cyrus twerked her way down a stage at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. All of a sudden Cyrus became the face of the dance, unlike black people, who have arguably been doing a version of twerking for hundreds of years.
6. Bantu Knots
Bantu knots have been all the rage this Columbusing season. They made their high-fashion debut during the Marc by Marc Jacobs Spring 2015 show. Just like cornrows, Bantu knots have been the chosen hairstyle of many black people for centuries.
7. Collard Greens
Whole Foods has declared collard greens “the new kale.” And as such, they have become an accepted dish in fine dining establishments. Doesn’t matter that kale was once an inexpensive green that has been hipsterized into fancy food fare. Collards have just become the latest “discovery” of food gentrification. Also doesn’t matter that collards have been a staple of soul food for more than 100 years. Thank you, Whole Foods.
8. Every Slang Word, Ever
From “bae” to “turn up,” this has been the year of slang appropriation. Indeed, there’s a whole list of slang words from the mouths of black folks that have only recently been unearthed. We will just be over here sipping our tea as more words are Columbused.
If white people really want to be helpful, there are some things that actually should be Columbused to make the world a better place. Among them: putting seasoning on food, dancing on the beat, not Columbusing, and fighting to end racism and the killing of unarmed black people.
Diamond Sharp is an editorial fellow at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.