Apparently, dreadlocks, braids, and full lips are new to White people in the same way America was new to Columbus.
Yesterday, Kylie Jenner posted a picture of herself on Instagram rocking dreadlocks she had done for a “rebel-themed” photo shoot (whatever that means) she did recently in the desert. Within hours, articles surfaced on the web from style magazines calling her new look “edgy” and “cool,” and scores of White girls took to Twitter to shower her with praise and compliments. But Black women on Twitter were not amused. Black Twitter was abuzz last week as well over a viral photo of a White teenage girl wearing box braids. And weeks earlier, after a magazine declared that Kylie’s apparently newly surgically plumped lips were currently “trendy,” Black women and women of color responded with the hashtag #trendylips and tweeted pictures of their naturally full lips – lips they had before it was “cool” to have them.
I, as I think many people were, was more annoyed by the declaration of a full lips trend than I was by Kylie’s lips themselves. I don’t care about her lips, I recognize that full lips are not “ours” (Black people’s exclusively). But I do have an issue with White people rocking dreadlocks and box braids and other natural Black hairstyles as a fashion statement. Many of these styles are ways in which Black people’s hair literally grows out of our heads, but we’re told that it’s a problem when we wear our hair that way.
Black children are routinely suspended, expelled, and disciplined in school for wearing dreadlocks, braids, afros, and other natural Black hairstyles. Many of these styles are deemed inappropriate for a school setting in Catholic and private school codes of conduct, and even in some public schools. Not more than two weeks ago I read an article about a boy who was disciplined for wearing braids to school, a hairstyle which school administration considered “gang-affiliated.” And I see articles all the time about the cutest little Black girls with afros and afro puffs who are sent home, kicked out, or voluntarily withdrawn from a school by their parents because the school’s administration said they couldn’t wear their hair like that and they refused to change it, rightfully so. More, many Black people are hesitant to wear dreadlocks and other natural hairstyles to work because they are generally considered inappropriate for most professional settings. My brother cut his dreadlocks a year and a half ago when he was looking for a business internship because, frankly, a lot of White people find the style foreign and intimidating, especially on big Black men. And a professor of mine told me a story about her nephew who cut his dreads because he got sick of the police harassing him every time he turned around.
I have a problem with White people appropriating Black hairstyles because they will never face the same consequences for those styles that we face. Many of us wear these styles as statements of pride in our heritage. But we are implicitly reminded and explicitly told that our natural hair is inappropriate; that our biology is unacceptable. We face constant efforts to shame and regulate our bodies, to tame our natural features, but Kylie Jenner will never have to deal with that. Neither will little White girls who wear box braids as a fashion statement, to be “different.” It’s cute on them; it’s cause for concern on us. And I’m not okay with that.
Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC. He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter and is an aspiring journalist. Follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd.