Khalea Underwood is a Beauty Writer at Refinery29. All opinions are her own.
Today, the cancellation list within the Black community just gained a brand-new member: Whoopi Goldberg. Just when we were forgetting about her stance on not being African-American, but just being a plain ole American (lol), she caught our attention with another head-scratching comment.
Goldberg's flub happened during The View while the hosts were discussing Kendall Jenner's cringeworthy Pepsi ad. She admitted that it was a "bad commercial" and a "crappy idea that didn't work." But what came next was even worse than trying to disengage a protest with a can of sugary soda: Goldberg maintains that the campaign doesn't actually classify as appropriation... and that a huge percentage of Black woman are appropriators, actually.
"This cultural appropriation stuff is starting to really make me crazy," she said. "If we’re gonna go with cultural appropriation, wear natural hair. If we’re wearing White lady hair, isn’t that appropriation as well? There are some things where you can say, ‘Hey, you need to be more sensitive,’ but this ain’t one of them.”
Insert a long, drawn-out sigh here.
Now, I've certainly heard this argument before. (You can find it in the Facebook comments of pretty much any story I've ever written about the Kardashians.) But I expect that response from uneducated people who don't really understand what cultural appropriation is — not from Goldberg.
So why doesn't it work both ways, like she's arguing? Appropriation happens when you "[take] intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission," Fordham University Law professor Susan Scafidi, explains to Jezebel. "It's most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways."
In other words, most copyable facets of Black culture (like our hair, our dancing, our vernacular) are up for grabs — and usually get snatched. When a white woman, like Kylie Jenner, wears cornrows and is called "cool and edgy," she can't understand the frustration a Black woman feels when she wears the same style and is called "ghetto." The difference here is privilege.
But it goes further than that. Many Black women choose to wear protective styles and weaves over their natural hair. (And their bundles are usually from Cambodia or Oman, mind you, and not a white woman's head). Moreover, plenty of women of African descent were born with straight hair, too. So how on earth does that classify as appropriation, sis?
I'd also be remiss to mention that some women feel forced to wear their hair straight... especially in the workplace. Natural hair has been deemed unprofessional in the office (see the court ruling on legal dreadlock discrimination) and even at school. (This teacher complained about a 3-year-old student whose parents moisturized her hair with coconut oil.) Even celebrities like Gabrielle Union have admitted to relaxing in order to assimilate among her white friends.
The fact that Goldberg, a Black-on-both-sides woman with a Black daughter, could sit there on national TV and chastise her sisters instead of stand by them is so terribly disappointing. If this "cultural appropriation stuff" is making her crazy, then maybe she should use her platform to address it and fight it, rather than pass it off as something that doesn't matter.
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