Braids are more than a hairstyle

Discrimination and cultural appropriation

Shiavon Chatman is a junior at Sacramento State University from Albany, N.Y.

Shiavon Chatman is a junior at Sacramento State University from Albany, N.Y.

The year is 2003. Black girls’ hair smelled like Pink Hair Lotion, Just for Me and Blue Magic. Girls used a toothbrush to sculpt their edges and sought solace in the beauty supply shop where multicolored wigs resided.

The beads and barrettes on the ends of braids bounced to the beat of their own drum as they skipped down the street and jumped rope. These girls, inspired by the generations before them, were carefree before it was a hashtag. They were ghetto before it was trendy.

They are the pioneers of fashion, now celebrated as the “hood aesthetic.” They are the inspiration for Instagram models and wannabe bougie babes. But black women aren’t given credit for birthing decades of style.

Cultural appropriation is when a more privileged group takes something vital from a marginalized group in an offensive way. But when a marginalized group adopts certain traditions or styles from a privileged group, this is usually known as assimilation.

Kim Kardashian sported cornrows and they became so popular she started calling them “boxer braids.” This sparked outrage because she took an essential element from black culture and renamed it. While Kardashian was praised for her braids, 11-year-old Faith Fennidy was sent home from her Louisiana middle school last year because her braids violated the school’s rules.

The policing of black hair—even while some struggle to emulate it—teaches young black boys and girls that the world loves black culture, but not black people.

Some are trying to change that. California legislators are considering Senate Bill 188, which would ban employers from discriminating against workers who wear their hair in styles associated with being black.

Black people don’t have a monopoly on braids, but it is much more than a hairstyle. During the transatlantic slave trade, some slaves were forced to shave their heads; cornrows were used to create maps to escape from plantations and bondage.

I wore braids for most of my childhood. They were common in girls that looked like me. They protected my hair and made me feel beautiful. And then I went to school. Kids would grab scissors and pull my hair and pretend to cut them. I loved my braids, so why did everyone else hate them?

How do we appreciate a culture without appropriating it? Time, place, respect and intention.

A few years ago I had a sleepover with a friend. We were both bored of movies and gossiping, so she decided to give me a makeover. She did my makeup and topped it off with a bindi on my forehead. I looked in the mirror and felt beautiful, but also thought: Was this OK?

She told me dressing up in her Punjabi house was fine because she knew I respected her. I instantly loved it. I started searching the history of the bindi in respect to my friend and her culture.

But I didn’t feel the need to take a selfie, or rename the forehead decoration that represented the center of creation.