Most black people have experienced the unique ‘honour’ of being in the front seat view of generations of hypocrisy. In fact, any individual black person need not know the immense history of their fashions, style and ways of life to feel that bitter confusion when a non-black person sweeps all the appreciation for what was theirs, leaving them in the dust.
What a lot of people don’t understand, is that the appropriation itself is not inherently wrong. In this world, everything is an appropriation of something. It simply means to assume something, a sort of ‘half -possession’. It becomes wrong when the context is considered. When the original owners are demeaned and dismissed. When profit is gained for the appropriator and the owner is, as we so often are, left in the cold.
We’re not saying do a Nikita Dragun and post a large annoying essay on your IG caption if you ever want to wear braids or wear hoop earrings. We’re saying: Be aware and be active not passive when you see ignorance and when you see black people being put down for what was theirs.
Nail art and coloured acrylics
These days, people adore long acrylic nails. Social media is often filled with beautiful pictures of colourful, bedazzled nails, and let’s not forget Kylie Jenner’s need to frequently update us on the status of her claws. But it wasn’t too long ago (and it even prevails today) that these nails were viewed as “ghetto”, “unprofessional” and “tacky”. Quite obviously, because they were sported by black women.
Florence Grifith-Joyner, a US Olympian who broke the 100 meter record 3 times had all the attention on her nails which were striped, colourful and bedazzled. The media mocked and shamed her for nails designs that today, white women show off on their IG stories and are praised.
Braids, Locs, Edges
Young black girls often grow up with the unspoken understanding that their braids are ‘childish’ and ‘unprofessional’. That when they approach 16, it’s time to start moving on to weaves and wigs. Thankfully, we live in a more progressive time where adult black women sport braids freely, but there still remains the fear of “do I need to wear straight hair for this inteview? Will it impact my chances?”.
Young black children have been suspended and kicked out of school for their afros, for braids, for locs. But then we stand and watch, as a white woman walks past us, with braids in her hair. We watch the models walk down the runway with “high fashion” swooped edges and cornrows that the Kardashians renamed “box braids”.
Locs are a particularly sensitive topic for some. Locs for many black people such as Rastafarians hold a strong cultural and religious meaning. Quite honestly, it’s offensive when they’re told to cut them off or that they’re dirty of unkept. For some black people, it holds no significant meaning, but simply a cultural normality, like braids. Didn’t stop Kylie Jenner trying to cop them though, but we move.
Trainers, hoops and street style
Gold hoop earrings have been around for centuries longer than when they were popularised in the 1900’s. The oldest good hoops found by Archaeologists were from Sumerian women in 2500 BC. They were also worn in 4th Century Nubia, which if you didn’t know, was a great civilization in Africa around Egypt and Sudan, populated by dark skinned people, much like West Africans now. They played a part in the black power movement of the 60s to build self-love for afrocentric beauty. Gold hoop earrings do not belong to just black people exclusively but many women of colour such as Latin women from Southern California in the 80’s and 90’s.
Gold Hoops entered the runway and once again an accessory that was a huge part of Black and Latin culture and fashion became a ‘trend’ despite the fact that those women of colour had been berated for years and told that they looked “unprofessional” and “ghetto”.
Trainers did not necessarily come from black people but the “Sneaker Culture” absolutely did. When we say this, we refer to Hip Hop culture and Streetwear culture. It was mostly worn by people of colour, particularly black youths. This is where the arguably now problematic word “Urban” came from. When you think of trainers, of hoops, of street style, you think of the word “Urban” which, whether you are ready to accept it or not, is heavily associated with “black person”. This style is now extremely huge in Asian countries and many Kpop fans will know that this old black culture and style is appropriated constantly, much to the dismay of many.
Butts and lips
Hopefully this one is self-explanatory. Black women’s bodies have been demeaned, fetishised and mocked for centuries. In 1815, Sarah Bartman, a black woman with an extremely large butt, was enslaved and kept naked in a museum for white people to observe. When she died, her brain, skeleton and genitalia were removed and remained on display until 1974. 1974! Most of our parents were born around this time.
Paris Hilton was the law of skinny butts until blackness became trendy (but not on black bodies). Then Kim K came along and suddenly it was all about a well endowed behind. Let us not forget that the Kardashians are white women. They are half Armenian (an Asian country that borders Europe) and half white. How many early 2K chick flicks have we seen where the girl says “Does this make my butt look fat?” These are black women’s bodies, but it takes a white woman to change the standard.
On the topic of lips, I recall a biracial YouTuber who goes by the name ‘Snitchery’ who spoke about years of being taught to hate her large lips. However, her DMs and comments are now flooded with people accusing her lying about lip injections. Kylie Jenner normalised lip injections, not just for influencers but normal people too. Think about someone like ‘Snitchery’ or most black people who have to go through the sudden shock of realising that what they were taught to hate about themselves is now the standard. And not only is it the standard, but white people have the audacity to accuse you of faking it too.
Monogram print, aka Logomania
The origin of monogram print is debatable. Some say it was Georges Vuitton in 1892 with the Louis Vuitton logos, some say it was Gucci in the 1960’s but many believe that it was the father of streetwear ‘Dapper Dan’. In Harlem, New York, 1980’s, he was illegally screenprinting designer logos on leather and clothing in ways that these designers had never done before.
He was eventually shut down by the police but by that time he already had the support of the Hip Hop community and had been dressing rappers such as Jay Z and P Diddy. Now, many designers showcase their logos and prints in much the same way that Dapper Dan did.
There are many more parts of black culture, style and heritage that have found themselves in popular culture. In popular culture, everything is up for grabs, but we must not forget that black people and other POC’s have struggled and even still struggle today when wearing their own heritage.
There is something about styles belonging to black people that make other associate with being ‘Ghetto’. Type in Google ‘professional hairstyles’ and ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ and your questions will be answered. White people must do more than simply acknowledge this, they must educate those around them and seek to eradicate it wherever they may find it.
Featured image via Youtube, @wenaildit and @Zendaya on Instagram.