When you are Kim Kardashian West, controversy comes with the territory, but the star’s latest social media post has struck a particularly raw nerve online. Over the weekend, upon updating her Snapchat with an image of herself sporting cornrows, Kardashian West cited the inspiration as actress and model Bo Derek, whose appearance in the Blake Edwards comedy 10 served to introduce an existing look to a new audience when it debuted in 1979. Almost four decades later, the image of Derek running across the beach to the delight of Dudley Moore is still ingrained in popular culture, but Kardashian West’s reference point drew the ire of the Internet as it ignored the true origins of the style, which has deep roots in the African-American community and beyond. Then, one day after the uproar on social media, where the subject of cultural appropriation remains a heated topic of conversation, Kardashian West seemed to make matters worse by following up with a new Polaroid of her on the phone, her blonde plaits still intact, the caption below it reading, “Zero fucks, please, thanks.”
Long before Kardashian West’s social media moment and long before Derek’s movie moment, of course, African-American men and women were wearing their hair in cornrows, a time-honored style and hair preservation technique that dates back to 3000 B.C. Cornrows appear in Stone Age paintings discovered in the Sahara’s Tassili n’Ajjer national park, they are depicted in sculptures from Nigeria’s Nok civilization, and they have continuously been linked with black culture. The media may label them a fad, or a new development grown out of mainstream acceptance of hip-hop, but within the African-American community, cornrows have never lost their ubiquity. From Snoop Dogg’s iconic ’90s coif and the Williams sisters’ beaded finery to Alicia Keys’s intricate Fulani braids as she accepted award after award for music excellence, celebrities of color have kept the style in the public eye, in beauty parlors, and at home.
In other words, “Braids are not new,” as Zendaya put it during an interview in 2016, when asked about Kardashian West’s little sister Kylie Jenner, who, at the time, was receiving her own backlash for a batch of cornrow-infused selfies on social media. “Black women have been wearing braids for a very long time. It became new and fresh and fun, because it was on someone else other than a black woman.” Actress Amandla Stenberg echoed a similar sentiment when she released a video in 2015 entitled Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows, outlining the history of cultural appropriation within the entertainment industry and its effect on the way society views hair. Pointing out the complex and often fraught power relationship between black creators and a culture more than happy to strip away their achievements, only to repackage them later, Stenberg ends by asking the oft-tweeted question: “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
The relevance of the question remains as powerful today as it was then, with a growing number of voices calling for careful consideration from a celebrity as big as Kardashian West, whose every move is documented and dissected by a legion of fans who consider her word gospel. Respecting a culture isn’t about cherry-picking the elements of it that one finds most interesting, they say, but rather addressing the realities faced by those within it. Proper acknowledgment of each other and the past takes only a moment—but it makes all the difference.
Post Credit : vogue.com