Cultural Appropriation

In the March 2018 issue of Instyle magazine, on page 322, I came across an article titled: “Wrap It, An ode to the sublime and statement-making art of the head wrap” by Joan Juliet Buck.  Ms. Buck’s article begins by praising the designer, “Marc Jacobs” for “summoning the headwrap back into fashion”, giving credit to women and circumstances in the past that celebrated the wearing of headwraps.  She also shared with us when and why she began wearing headwraps, how wearing them put a pleasing spotlight upon her face, and which type of fabrics make the best headwraps. As in-depth as this article was, Ms. Buck amazingly failed to give any historical context or credit of the “headwrap” to women of African descent.  I wonder why?

[1]In American history, black women were legally forced to wear headwraps.  In some of the new colonies, a code called “sumptuary laws”, were enacted to force a social hierarchy to dictate how free and enslaved black women could dress, which included requiring them to cover their hair.  This mandatory law of covering one’s head became a mark of shame pointing to their life of enslavement.  The headwrap made it impossible to wear the intricate hair styles that they were accustomed to wearing, and the method of braiding which often signified tribal affiliation.  These hair styles were a vital source of cultural heritage in their connection to Africa. The art of braiding, which can take several hours, was not only about hair care, but also a source of cultural connection between women.  Not to be deterred, black women began artfully devising flattering ways to wear their hair wrapped, along with using cloth of various colors and designs.  This did not set well with the slave owners wives, because now the enslaved women’s wrapped heads became another source of attraction, away from them and towards the black women.  In a way to deter their attractiveness the black women began downplaying their beauty by wearing crude bandana’s in a hope that it would help to prevent them from being raped by the owners. Free black women also wore headwraps with bright colors and fancy wrappings, not because they were legally bound, but as a sign of rebellion.   After the abolishment of slavery, many still wore headwraps as a symbol of beauty, but that trend was quickly phased out, because black women felt pressure to assimilate into white society, and because it was still seen as a source of shame and embarrassment.

During the height of the civil rights movement there was a longing to feel a connection   to the continent of Africa, so black American’s were drawn to Afrocentric styles of dress and how we wore our hair.  Black women once again began the cultural art of braiding, wearing our natural hair texture, and rocking headwraps in all shapes, designs, and colors.  This tradition through the years, has only gotten stronger by becoming a part of our everyday wardrobe, being worn with or without makeup or jewelry.

It’s impossible for me to believe that Ms. Buck, an author, actress, and former editor of French Vogue, did not do any research about the history of this subject in which she wrote about.  I am left with no other conclusion but to believe that anything that black people on this “earth” design, invent, accomplish, or discover isn’t “valid” until a white person gives it their stamp of approval.  She has done a disservice to everyone who read’s this article, by not educating them on the history of the “headwrap”, as I, one who is not a published author, or actress, or former editor of an international magazine, has just done.

It has been said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, but it doesn’t feel like that to us, when it was born out of the ashes of racial hatred, bigotry and rape.  To black people it just feels like another instance of “credit stealing” and “cultural appropriation”.


[1] YouTube video “Headwraps, the story behind them” Riina Judah

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