Let Them Wear Cornrows at Their Own Risk: We Should Let White People Enjoy and Embrace Our Cultures As Long as They Don’t Exploit Them for Profit

A Reflection on Appropriation

Bridgette L. Hylton

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I have a unique take on cultural appropriation. I know it’s unique because every time I raise it around people of color, they look at me like I have two heads. Many people of color don’t want White people wearing our clothes, using our hairstyles, generally using our style to outpace us in the dating market, mimicking our slang and body language and dance styles, using gifs of us, acting like they “discovered,” á la Christopher Columbus, our food and style, or worse, profiting off any of these cultural symbols.

I get the collective frustration. All too often when White people interact with minority cultures it is either in a derogatory or exploitative way and this is painful for people of color. Sometimes White people get our cultures so wrong that it angers us. We feel unseen when the products of our identity are misrepresented. I have been there. Recently I walked into a coffee shop that I love that was advertising Jamaican style Lemonade-Coffee and I almost did a spit take. That’s not a thing, but somehow hanging this up was driving up sales for this coffee shop, which is owned by a White family, that was also playing reggae music and adorned partially with pan-African colors.

Before, I go any further, White people, please, for your own protection, don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that White people wholesale do anything proactive about what I am going to say here. Please don’t go out and buy any kente cloth anything. Don’t try to walk into a Black salon and get cornrows this weekend. I’m not handing out passes nor am I authorized to do so. I’m sharing ideas and reflections. And I’m not a superhero — I can’t protect you from the backlash you will inevitably face if you don’t take my advice to be still and let people of color figure this one out. Besides, I have to protect my people. Things for which Black girls are called “ghetto”, White girls get hundreds of thousands of views on TikTok for. It’s not fair. I know Black women who feel defeated and angry when White women adopt Black styles of, well, everything, and then turn around and compete with them for attention from…

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