Written by: Sarah Chase
To understand cultural appropriation, one must understand why culture is important to the people of color in this country. I can only speak for the Black Americans in this country, so to understand our history with hair one must begin to understand how hair has played a role in the survival and liberation of Black Americans.
The problem now is that if Black people call out appropriation or if any person of color calls out appropriation of their culture the response has been that we are trying to “gatekeep” hairstyles, language, or clothing. That is because there is a history to that culture that people do not seem to understand. Box braids did not root from anywhere, it rooted from the fact that our ancestors had to braid rice into their hair to survive while being stolen from our land. It rooted from the fact that protective styles we wear had to be worn to protect our hair as it was illegal to wear our natural hair without it being wrapped up. Our culture stems from the fact that because Black people have suffered from the oppression and abuse that was and is America, we had to create something beautiful and brilliant with our hair, our food, our clothing and our language.
When you anger people of color for appropriating, it is not “gatekeeping”. It is protecting our culture from being taken because white people wanted nothing to be a part of it anyway. You can not steal culture and think it is okay because now you find it beautiful. We wear the things we wear and do the things we do to honor our ancestors and remember what we have suffered and continue to suffer.
Now that African Americans have used our hair, our language and our clothing to celebrate one another and honor one another, we must protect it. Black people are so used to having things stolen from us so much to a point that we wear stolen from our homes. Some Black people welcome people who are not Black into our world of culture. We may have African weddings that invite people to celebrate African culture. We may invite a friend of a different color over to watch the process of our hair and maybe even box braid a strand or two of their hair, but someone can not take our culture and not expect backlash. We do not mind sharing when we are sharing it with you. We do mind when someone takes it upon themselves to steal what we treasure. We protect. We do not “gatekeep.”