Confessions of a Black Girl: The Controversy

I didn’t create a video this time around, because I want to discuss the topic with you (the viewer), before I create a final video about it. I want to talk about cultural appropriation. I want to know what you think. But first, I want you to read this.



Sisters Jamila Jenkins, 10, left, and Johari, 7, wear their hair braided in cornrows, accented with beads. (Mei-Chun Jau/Dallas Morning News/KRT)

by Torie Richardson, Editor-in-Chief

Last Halloween I saw a STA girl wearing cornrows to compliment an orange prison jumpsuit. My stomach dropped when I looked at her. The thing is, I didn’t know that some would call this “cultural appropriation,”and I hadn’t been taught by anyone that it was wrong or disrespectful. All I knew was that I felt attacked.

I knew that cornrows were something identified with my culture, and that when I saw it associated with something like prison, it felt wrong.

That’s why, when girls try to argue that it’s not racist or insensitive to wear cornrows, it makes me angry. I don’t understand how you can so completely disregard someone else’s feelings that you reason them away instead of understanding that there are thousands of different ways you can wear your hair. Wearing styles associated with black culture for a costume is totally avoidable.

In fact, wearing cornrows for costumes is the entire problem. I’ve gotten this question several times: what if I like cornrows, and just want to wear them as an everyday look? I think that’s a completely different issue. So far, I’ve seen them worn to depict prison-mates and Avatars. How do you think it makes me feel to see prisoners, blue creatures, and black people clustered in one group? You think I’m being dramatic. Think about what I am saying.

For those of you who truly like cornrows and want to wear them, I would also challenge you to look into other aspects of black culture. For instance, think about the kids who grew up wearing cornrows. If you can’t even look those kids on the other side of Troost in the eye, what makes you want to look like them?
There is a difference between wearing cornrows because you think they are cute and wearing cornrows as a costume. The former, I think, is natural. Someone is going to see a black girl wearing cornrows and want to wear them for herself. She should do so considering that cornrows aren’t a style that came out of nowhere. There are an entire people who identify with the culture associated with the style she chooses. I hope you see why the latter can be degrading, even if you’ve seen cornrows used to portray a character in your favorite tv show or movie. That is not an excuse to spread the reach of cultural appropriation even further.

Of course, that begs the question “what if my favorite character is wearing cornrows because s/he likes them?” But that’s not what we’re considering here. Do you like them? That’s my question. Wear cornrows if you like them. Do not wear them as a costume.

I have a lot to say about this, but I’d like to know your thoughts. Please comment, or, as always, leave additional questions on this google form.

Thanks for reading,