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Sep 07, 2016, 06:59AM

I Have a Question For White Girls With Braids

Hair is never simply hair. 

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Apparently the hottest hair trend of the moment, in Berlin anyway, is white girls with braids. Not just any type of braid, though. I’m talking long, braided extensions that take hours and hours to do. Think Beyoncé in Destiny’s Child. I’ve even seen fashion divas with cornrows a la Queen Latifah in the movie Set If Off. The utmost! The first time I saw a white girl with braids I was like, “Hmm, interesting…” But now I’ve probably seen it on like 20 different girls all around the city and the shit has me completely fascinated. I ain’t even mad. I just don’t get it.

To my white queens: do you, boo. Hair is personal and you can style it how you want to. I’m not mad or pressed. All I’m saying is that I see you, and within the sphere of cultural appropriation, white girls with braid extensions seems like a stretch.

It reminds me of something Madonna said in Rolling Stone at the start of her career. When the interviewer asked Madonna if she felt “black” here’s what she said:  “Oh, yes, all the time. That’s a silly thing to say though, isn’t it? When I was a little girl, I wished I was black. All my girlfriends were black. I was living in Pontiac, Michigan, and I was definitely the minority in the neighborhood. White people were scarce there. All of my friends were black, and all the music I listened to was black. I was incredibly jealous of all my black girlfriends because they could have braids in their hair that stuck up everywhere. So I would go through this incredible ordeal of putting wire in my hair and braiding it so that I could make my hair stick up. I used to make cornrows and everything. But if being black is synonymous with having soul, then, yes, I feel that I am.”

For me, these kinds of braids have always been a black cultural thing and it’s hard for me to see otherwise. Black mothers braid their daughters’ hair in little plats as soon as the first piece of hair pops out of their heads. I have so many memories of my sister sitting in the living room on the floor between my mom’s legs watching TV while she got her hair braided. Over the 10 hours it took to put the braids in she went between crying because it was painful and looking totally bored because she had to sit still for so long while her head got yanked in all kinds of different directions. “Hold your head up!” my mother told her.

But after it was done she always came out looking fabulous. The first few days her scalp was tight and that led to inside jokes between us that we still laugh about today. She always had to “tie her hair down” with a scarf at night because if she didn’t, her braids wouldn’t stay fresh for as long.

My mother braided my sister’s hair because it was stylish, but the real reason is that she could send my sister off to school and out into the world looking presentable and didn't have to worry about doing her hair every single day. When you’re a single mom who’s also putting yourself through graduate school, like my mom was, you don’t necessarily have time to fix hair every morning. Practical and stylish, all in one.

When I started wearing my own braid extensions a few years ago I felt like I could finally understand what my sister went through all those years. I had a girl in the Bronx who gave me the hook-up every couple of months. The scene was so familiar: sitting between her legs on the floor for hours, watching the Food Network, eating pizza or whatever, gossiping about men and sex, feeling fabulous at the end.

The first time my then-boyfriend (white) saw me at night with my hair tied down with a t-shirt he laughed, maybe out of surprise because he’d never seen me like that before. I had to explain the whole thing to him. Do white girls with braids and cornrows have the same conversation with their partners?

Hair is never simply hair. It’s also culture. Hair is style but also politics. Will an on-trend white girl with cornrows or braid extensions be denied work or told by her boss that her hair is unprofessional?

The thing that makes me uneasy about white girls with braid extensions, and why for me it’s a mile marker too far past the cultural appropriation bridge, is that it’s a clear example of how blackness gets treated as something you can make a trend or hipsterify or put in a pop-up shop and pick or chose from without any connection to blackness or black people. It’s about having all the taste but none of the calories. 

Discussion
  • Blessed is the person for whom this is the worst problem on the plate.

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  • 'Braids' on 'white girls' does not typically mean tight cornrow plaits. 'Braids' means what Margaret O'Brien and little Natalie Wood and just about every other movie moppet wore in the 1940s. Two pigtails, hanging down the back, each about 1" thick. The tight plaiting you're talking about is exceedingly unattractive—nay, repellent!—on just about everyone, and its association with the pickaninny look should be enough reason for black people to avoid it. Another reason is baldness: pull your scalp like this all the time and you'll get traction alopecia. Look up hair-growth pills and elixirs and notice how many adult black women have bald patches all over the place. Tight plaiting is bad; don't do it.

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  • You must have a lot of extra time on your hands to sit and fret, and write, about such trivia. Worrying about how people wear their hair is a teenage activity, and I assume you're beyond those years, at least chronologically. You'll never be free either, because the next outrage is coming down the pike at this very moment. The girls will wear their hair as they wish, despite what some old grump trying to sound super-woke thinks.They're out there actually living life, not just observing it, but maybe doing this gives you the illusion you're actually living it too.

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  • I'm not sure why people feel the need to take the time to weigh in on a subject just to say that they don't think it's worth talking about. If you don't want to talk about it, don't talk about it, you know? If you're here talking, it looks like you care.//Anyway, I liked this piece.Thanks for writing it, Madison.

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  • You probably agree, then, that "hair is never simply hair." If so, why don't you tell us why this is so?

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  • Hair is really important in the black community. Also, hair (and fashion in general) is an aesthetic expression, and as such carries cultural and social weight. Fashion is denigrated because it's associated with women, and is therefore supposed to be frivolous, but if you're willing to talk and think about novels or poetry, there's no reason not to think about hair.// nothing people do is a "just". We're meaning making critters, and hair/personal appearance is one way we communicate with and about each other.

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  • In what communities is hair not important to women?

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  • Fair point. It's even more important in black communities, I think (Madison says as much.)

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  • Obviously you know nothing about white people. Watch a few episodes of VIKINGS on the History channel or Hulu.

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  • He comes off as being an expert in black culture. Knows all about hair issues and other esoterica. Bizarrely equates hair with literature. Perhaps he's seeking approval. Wants to be the Great White Protector, which is quite condescending, maybe even racist.

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  • North Korea, Syria, and any other war torn community to name just a few.

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  • Wrong Noah. Stop imposing your white, U.S., superficial privilege onto other cultures. Only in the most superficial, privileged, (or a few religious cultures) does hair have any cultural significance. After all, is it more important to eat or to look good? Is it more important to educate ones offspring or to have tight corn-rows? It is nothing other than racism to suggest one culture (U.S. blacks in this case) is more superficial than another as you did with your prior comment. I expect better from you. It is also beyond offensive to suggest that the superficiality of appearance is an apt metric in determining ones worth (which is once again, your suggestion from your previous comment). Do you really disagree with MLK statement that one should be judged by their character rather than the color of their skin? Apparently you do. Be better Noah.

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  • Texan, as usual, your ignorance is only matched by your bizarre beligerance.

  • Why do you bother to take the time to weigh in on some petty feud? I've never understood that. It looks like you care, which isn't a good look.

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  • I weighed in here because I liked the article,and thought the criticism was off base? And sure, I care enough to comment. I don't really get why it's some sort of sign of weakness to care about stuff. I don't think indifference makes anyone superior.

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  • Step one: Noah makes racist statement. Step two: Noah gets called out for racist statement. Step three: Noah throws insults and has hissy fit. Must be a Monday.

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  • hah, you're a treasure Texan. don't ever change.

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  • You're welcome Noah! I'm glad that we can agree on something. Let me know if there are other issues I can help you with. That's what I'm here for.

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