Kylie Jenner sporting cornrow braids. (Photo: Instagram)
It seems the Kardashian-Jenner family is never out of the news for one reason or another, and the new frequent center of the attention is youngest sibling, Kylie Jenner. Just this past weekend, the reality star posted a photo of herself on Instagram sporting cornrows with the caption, “I woke up like disss.” And that’s when the fighting began.
Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg claimed that Jenner was “appropriating Black culture” by sporting the hairstyle without doing anything to help the community. Jenner said that was not her intention, and the melee began on social media. Some people said she should be able to wear whatever hairstyle she wants to, regardless of culture. Some pointed out that someone could easily point to black women wearing wigs and extensions of European texture as cultural appropriation (the adoption of elements of one culture by a different cultural group). Others claimed that the wounds go much deeper than just the hairstyle.
But Stenberg, who crafted the video “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” raises a very interesting point in regards to such matters: “What if America loved Black people as much as it loves Black culture?” At a time where racial tensions have reached heights that haven’t been seen in almost 50 years, it’s time to think about what messages people with a platform are sending when they just grab something from another culture because it looks cool. The discussion could get pretty big here: Katy Perry dressing up like a geisha in her videos, Miley Cyrus using black backup dancers and grills as accessories in prior videos. There’s a never-ending list of Caucasians using black style without giving any credit to the culture from whence it came. The sensitivity around Jenner came from her sporting cornrows and a hip hop-influenced stance without any accreditation to the culture that created that look. It’s not that she shouldn’t be able to wear the hairstyle, but maybe use the platform to educate folks a little?
Also, the argument about black women wearing wigs and weaves as cultural appropriation is a little thin. I believe the culture adopted Caucasian hair texture as a means of survival, not the adoption of style. A good number of black women still feel the scars of European hair texture being more acceptable, and there is still much work to be done around the acceptance of natural Black hair texture. A means of blending in to relieve the pressure of standing out isn’t cultural appropriation; it’s cultural adaptation.
While we invite others to celebrate our culture with us, we don’t want other cultures to take it from us. I hope we can get to a time where Black girls can sport the same hairstyle as Jenner without being followed in a store or feeling as if they’re inciting violence or inappropriate attention. I believe that we can all share in the creation of beauty — and that includes white women sporting cornrows — as long as there’s an attempt to benefit the community of origin. Admiration and love of a culture is amazing, but we must stop pirating other people’s ideas as our own. We need to respect that beauty is only skin deep, but that as a culture our wounds run all the way to the core. There is much healing to be done, and it can start with giving credit where it’s due.