My soul is weary, and I need to be delivered from the Beckery of it all. I know y’all do, too.

The “mini twisted buns.” The “slicked down tendrils.” The Kardashian-Jenner clan’s pathetic “boxer braids” and faux locs. Kendall Jenner supposedly took “bold braids to an epic new level.” Vogue declared that Lupita Nyong’o was the “New Audrey Hepburn” when she wore a traditional African hairstyle to the Met Gala. Rita Ora and her “unique sense of style” in afro wigs and box braids. White models showcasing Senegalese twists in Teen Vogue. YouTubers teaching white girls how to achieve the “afro look” and “the rope trick” and “heatless curls” using straws. The “hair tattoos” becoming all the rage.

I could go on and on with this list of all the instances in which white and other non-Black people have Columbused Black hairstyles, changing the names of these styles and taking credit for their creation and discovery. I am not even talking about other Black aesthetics that have been colonized and gentrified, like pierced nails, nameplates, and Timbs, or when Elle Canada called Dashiki the “newest it item” to look out for. I am not even talking about AAVE terminology like “shook” and “bae” being taken, used incorrectly, and investigated by white publications in a manner that can only be described as Anthropological. I am not even talking about culturally specific dances like dabbing and twerking becoming trends when white people do them, but being demonized when Black people participate in the dances that were created by us in the first place. If I were to write about all of these things in this piece, this would become a dissertation. So many white celebrities are guilty of participating in this appropriation, including the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Marc Jacobs, Justin Bieber, and of course Miley Cyrus.

Frazer Harrison / Via Getty Images
Frazer Harrison / Via Getty Images

I will never let you forget that the Tignon Laws were instituted essentially because white folks were all in a tizzy about the extravagance of Black women’s hair — and, of course, Black women did what we always do. We took it and made it our own, and slayed everybody with head wraps. After centuries of discrimination, dehumanization, and criminalization of Black hair, we are now constantly met with sub-par recreations of Black hair and beauty traditions, while not being given the credit that we deserve for creating them.

This is merely a small part of a much larger discussion about the racism and anti-Blackness that white womanhood as a concept necessitates in order to maintain its image of purity, innocence, thinness, and desirability. Miley’s most recent Billboard interview — in which she is “eager to unpack her latest thinking on everything from her alienation from hip-hop to engaging with Donald Trump’s supporters” — is a trash pile wrought with denial of responsibility, feigned victimhood, and white saviorism. Not only does she fancy herself a literal white savior, declaring that she will “glue this place back together” with her country music — “this place” being the fascist nation-state that we are currently living under — but she also uses the interview to demonize Black hip-hop culture, placing the onus of her recent transformation onto the culture rather than taking any responsibility for her years of appropriation.

“But I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song [“Humble”]: “Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.” I love that because it’s not “Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock.” I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much “Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock” — I am so not that.”

For the past few years, Miley has been one of the most visible paragons of cultural appropriation; wearing faux locs, Senegalese twists, multi-colored box braids, and cornrows. Her brand of White Feminism™ has been punctuated with #freethenipple declarations, compulsory nudity, and deploying queerness as a point of trendy rebellion against white heteronormative patriarchy. Above all, her intentional deviation from her previous Disney Channel Hannah Montana image was defined by her very public and unapologetic exploration of Blackness, and much of that deviation was through the wearing of Black hairstyles. What we have been witnessing from her is nothing short of minstrelsy, following a popular tradition of white women who adopt various parts of Black culture in order to be seen as “edgy, bold, and daring.” And now, she is able to slither back into her original Prairie Chic image and dissociate from her 2013-2016 Mileyness by painting Black culture as distasteful and unrevolutionary.

Brian Bowen Smith
Brian Bowen Smith

With every discussion about cultural appropriation, white people always come in like a wrecking ball with interjections of “Black women appropriate white hair” with weaves, wigs, relaxers, and dyes, and the interjectors are always loud and wrong.

Black women wearing straight hair is not cultural appropriation. Period.

Like racism, cultural appropriation requires power that Black people do not have — the power to demonize another group of people for engaging in their own customs, then take things that originated from those customs, declare ourselves as the owners, and then actively oppress those people for engaging in those same things. Black women are forced to straighten our hair by the same systems of white supremacy that allow white people to take trends from us and claim them as their own. So, while many Black women wear straight hair, because not doing so can prevent us from gaining any socioeconomic mobility, white women are never legally or socially prevented from wearing their hair straight. We do not have the institutional power to oppress white people.

Those who use Black women wearing straight hair as a false equivalent to white people with Black hairstyles neglect or refuse to contextualize the history of the policing of Black hairstyles. They lack the understanding of what it is like to exist as a Black person, especially a Black woman, and having the hair that grows from our crowns be rendered as inherently political due to the conditions of anti-Blackness and that we live under. Non-Black people cannot imagine how the shame of even being seen with our natural hair can sometimes be too much. How it sometimes leaves us unable to even leave our homes or even take a selfie without that shame. Many of us do not know how it feels to live without that anxiety about how our hair will be received. Many of us do not know how it feels to be able to have confidence that our hair will not be seen as “unprofessional” in a job interview and result in socioeconomic immobility.

When Black women opt to straighten our hair, it is for survival. We are adapting to a white supremacist culture which actively prevents us from wearing traditional Black hairstyles in many spaces. I have written, again and again, about the Black women and girls who are fired, discharged, and suspended for wearing traditional Black hairstyles. And I will keep writing about it. Once again, Black women and girls are put in an impossible space, in which we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. When non-Black people opt to wear faux locs and cornrows and the like, they are doing it for the aesthetic. It is not about survival. That is where the difference lies. And not only are they gleefully stealing Black style, but they are also neglecting and refusing to acknowledge where these styles originate, or the privilege that they have in being able to wear those styles without having anti-Black ideals ascribed upon their bodies.

The narcissism of white supremacy convinces them, despite our explaining the contrary time and time again, that anyone who wears straight hair is doing so because they want to be white. The self-centeredness of white supremacy conveniently forgets or outright ignores that straight hair is not exclusive to whiteness. The delusion of white supremacy allows white people to ignore the very systems of white supremacy in place that brought about relaxers and that require Black people to shrink ourselves by straightening our hair for their comfort and approval. The hypocrisy of white supremacy allows white people to be upset about Black women wearing straight hair while also calling afros “dirty” and “unprofessional” when we wear them, but “trendy” or “bold” when white women manipulate their hair in unnatural ways to get the look. The cognitive dissonance of white supremacy allows people who look like Miley and the Kardashian-Jenner clan to wear faux locs and get praised for them while Zendaya was publicly shamed and laughed at for hers and a U.S. court made it legal to discriminate against locs in the workplace.

When I started writing this Negro Hair series, I knew exactly what to expect from Beckies, because they are predictable. I’ve been in the shadows, lurking and watching. I have been reading your comments and observing how people are engaging with this work. Above all, I want to know how Black women are responding to it what you are or are not getting out of this, because I am doing this work for us. I’m paying attention to what you have to say and listening closely so that I can produce more content for us. I want to cater to us. However, I am also keeping a watchful eye on non-Black women, namely the Beckies. They do not like me. That’s fine. I did not expect them to. They do not like being left out and not being centered or catered to in this discussion meant to uplift Black hair and Black hairstyles. They can stay mad.

“Well, how do you know that white women do not have these same experiences? You are making assumptions about other people’s lives,” they say.

To that, I say: Bring me proof that there has been systemic and institutional and lawful hate and discrimination against white women’s hair due to its natural texture and culturally significant hairstyles. Not its color. Not its length. Not its cut. Its texture and style. Show me where white women have been legally required to cover their hair because of its texture. Show me where white women have been fired from jobs or discharged from service due to their hair texture and style. Show me where white girls have been suspended from school because their hair texture was a “distraction” or in “violation” of the dress code. Show me where a U.S. court declared it legal to discriminate against white culturally significant hairstyles. Show me that it is a practice that is widely accepted and well-documented. Show me.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Only for a moment. Let’s say there is proof of widespread discrimination against white hair textures and culturally significant hairstyles. Let’s say that this has been happening for centuries. Let’s say that there is an active practice in the criminalization and dehumanization of white hair. If this is the case, why are they not more upset about this? Why are they not already having this conversation and rallying against these discriminatory practices? Why do they wait to pounce on dialogues happening about Black hair and attempt to force their way in to say “What about me?” instead of taking action themselves?

Because it’s nothing more than derailment. That’s why. The mental gymnastics required to excuse this continued cultural kleptomania of the likes of Miley is honestly impressive, and I mean that in the worst possible way. It is nothing more than feigned victimhood, narcissism, and fragility. How dreadful.

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Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She writes pop culture and media analysis, and is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies.

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