This conversation is one that has happened frequently, and I still feel that white people do not fully understand the perspective of Black people and women in this discourse. I am finally going to discuss the hot button topic of whether or not box braids and protective styles are cultural appropriation or not. My take is that yes, it is and I will continue to explain why.
There are several reasons why I think that having box braids and protective styles worn on a white person is a huge no-no. My first reason is that it is literally not meant for the hair style and type of most white people. Protective hair styles were used to protect super thick, coarse hair (like Afro style curls) from damage from the heat and humidity or the cold. Just to maintain, brush and style our curls, they go through a lot and putting them in braids is easier to keep your healthy and encourage good growth. White people, with finer hair, have different hair difficulties I can’t pretend to understand but having hair so thick it breaks hair brushes, and is impossible to maintain, is not one – so protective styles aren’t actually necessary for self care.
Secondly, I found growing up most people who went on vacation and came back with hair braided were using it as a means to brag about their trip, like it was a T-Shirt that said “I LOVE PUNTA CANA” but they knew nothing about the purpose of the braids, why it was important to that culture. As someone who always wanted to know more about the African side of her culture, I always found that extremely frustrating. I don’t blame the women doing the braids for taking all the tourist money that they can, but I think the tourists visiting should be researching what culture they are visiting and which parts they are bringing back home especially if it is a body modification that, while not permanent, can last months.
The unfortunate aspect to this as well, is that while white women try to covet black hair styles when they go on vacation, there is also very few places for these people to get it done in person in a lot of local communities. This feeling of community and pride should show how private Black and POC people want to keep their stylistic choices and routines. The reason I was so late to the braid game was because I knew no Black people to teach me. Once I got my hair braided I felt like I was part of a crew, a clique, and was complimented often by other women of colour. I think the community aspect behind Black hair care goes to show that Black people want to keep what belongs to them within their community, especially since Black people have such few safe spaces to be who they are – and despite trying to keep this part of their culture sacred, white women on vacation still need to bring it back from Jamaica to show Karen at work.
What I continue to find the most appalling about white people wearing braids is that white people continue to call braids unprofessional, dirty, and shame black people for doing what is theirs. What has become a symbol to white people of a good March break vacation has cause children to be removed from sports, to be kicked out of schools, for Black people to lose jobs, all because of hair. I would be more okay with white people having box braids, appropriating that style if they ever took time to see how Black people who this style belongs to are treated. If white people had the same energy about letting Black women wear corn rows to interviews, then maybe I’d be less bitter when they come back from vacation with them, but they don’t care.
By and large, learn about the things you bring back from vacation or that you see other people participating in and want to share with them. Most things humans participate in come from somewhere, family tradition, culture, personal sentiment. We are all mosaics of those who raised us, who we admire, and who we love. When you copy, emulate, or appropriate an element of someone you disregard the origin story. Ask questions, gain knowledge, educate yourselves before you chose to get braids, dreads, locks. The same goes for beadwork, certain patterns, and styles. Everything comes from somewhere and a quick google search or a simple question asking can go a long way and save some hurt feelings.