Protective styling and mini twists are far from new topics in the natural hair community, so I decided to take it a step further. I live in the good ol’ Deep South. In Georgia. To be frank, a lot of people around here are very prejudiced. So I decided to put myself out there and push some buttons by wearing mini twists and asking questions about this particular hair style and appropriating black culture.
Be forewarned that some buttons got pushed and other buttons got obliterated. This a graphic read with insight as to how people think about race and why.
What are Mini Twists?
Mini twists are just little sections of hair twisted together to prevent damage. They’re done to protect the hair and when done small enough, often give the illusion that your hair is down and just out freely, almost as if nothing was done to your hair at all. I didn’t use any particular method, I just started at the nape of my neck and worked my way up. My twists varied in size but most of them were about as thin as a Q-tip.
I spent about two hours twisting all of my hair together to create this look:
So what is Cultural Appropriation?
Cultural appropriation (as defined by Ebony.com) is norms that are valued by one culture being absorbed and claimed by the dominant culture.
HuffPost wrote an interesting article about celebrities appropriating black hair styles and it sums up almost everything that’s wrong with the world today.
Don’t get me wrong, I do understand what they were getting at a little, but it’s just a hair style. Just because you do something a little different that doesn’t mean you’re discrediting (appropriating) other cultures by “stealing” their hairstyles or fashions. Aren’t we supposed to be unique and different to express ourselves? So why is it that white women wearing black women’s hairstyles is a marginalization issue?
This is what seems to be the biggest problem. So because black cultures did something first GENERATIONS ago, white people can’t put their own modern twist on it or they feel the heat for appropriating black culture and marginalizing black women all over again?
That’s like having to say, “I’m wearing Jheri curls today, and I’m crediting Jheri Redding for this look because he created them in the 80s. This look is all him,” any time you want to wear that hair style.
No. We shouldn’t have to fight about who did it first. Everyone is beautiful and if someone wants to try out or adapt a style from another culture because that’s who they feel they are, why is that so wrong?
Cultural Appreciation is a Thing of the Past
The bigger picture is the fact that only black cultures are in the limelight. And why is that?
It all comes down to one simple thing and that is race. Black people were marginalized due to racism and prejudice for centuries and I don’t think that grudge will ever let up. The problem lies with black people still thinking they have to fight so hard to be unique, beautiful, and most importantly, appreciated. I don’t think that should be the case at all. It’s 2017, people, wake up! Equality is a thing humanity recognizes as a whole, but of course there are still ignorant people out there who just missed the memo. We don’t need to be so hateful because of a small percentage of people who don’t appreciate the beauty of other cultures.
Caucasian people are still considered the dominating race that is “better” than everyone else, but if they try something that a black person did first because they like it, it’s wrong and becomes appropriation?
It just doesn’t add up. It’s like racism in reverse.
A Little about Me and Why I’m Doing This
Although I am mixed, people have always told me I was “raised white.” My father was white and my mother is black. Although I have other races thrown in the mix, every person I knew referred to me as an “Oreo.” Dark on the outside and white on the inside.
I was exposed to many different cultures and countries growing up, but it’s hard not to listen to negative stuff like racism when you’re around it very day. As a mixed girl who only associated with her white family, I have to admit that I never imagined I would be flaunting this look because of the effort to install it and honestly, the fear of being judged. Because only black girls wore their hair “like that.” And I don’t say that to be mean or prejudiced. I say that because that’s what I grew up hearing.
Nobody cares what you really are here. It’s pretty much a white and black perspective only. I didn’t think anything of it growing up, but as I grew older I realized it was hurtful and unjust. But I always asked myself why any of that color nonsense mattered. I wanted to be recognized for the melting pot of races and ethnicities I possess, not just white and black. I wanted others to see that I was more than just a half-breed (as I’ve been called).
After coming up with this idea, I knew what I was getting myself into. Ready to accept a lot of hateful comments, I wanted to see how people would respond to me wearing this hairstyle first and foremost just because I’m a curious person. Secondly I wanted to try to understand why people think the way that they do.
After asking questions I made sure to mentally record responses and write them down along with how I felt after the encounter.
If things got a little too heated I stopped the person and let them know I was doing a social experiment and explained my objective. That cooled everything off for the most part.
I made sure that when I asked my golden question about race I let the recipient know what was going on and if it was okay to use their response. If I received an open-ended compliment or racial slur, I accepted it and left it alone.
My Feelings When Getting Ready for Work in the Morning
I woke up the morning after putting in all those mini twists with a sense of dread, honestly. I was scared. Were people going to judge me and be cruel? Was I going to get some racial slurs? What kind of stuff would I hear? I had no idea. I braced myself and hoped for the best.
Initially, I was going to wear my hair completely down and clip some of the mini twists away from my face in a half-up. I didn’t know how I felt about that, so I ended up with a ponytail instead:
After a couple of deep breaths, I went to work with a smile on my face and embraced day one with open arms.
None of the following responses were used without permission, although there are no names mentioned. Please keep this in mind when reading. All scenarios did in fact happen. Some of them are very offensive and include racial slurs. Read with an open mind.
Responses: Day 1
Walking into work, very few people noticed anything different about me. I got a couple of confused stares and a few compliments. I was actually relieved. But as the day went on, mouths kept opening.
“Wow, what did you do to your hair? It looks different, but I like it!” From an older black woman.
“Your hair looks cute down!” From a younger white girl around age 18. A little note here: I wear my hair up in a bun almost every day. My hair being down is a rare occurrence.
“Are you trying to get dreads now?” From a black male, age 24.
“What the hell is on your head?” Older white male around age 45.
“You look different today but I don’t know what it is.” Response from several people of all ages and races. I’ll take it as a compliment.
“Is that your real hair or weave?” Response from several white males and black females in their early 20s.
“Your hair looks really pretty today!” From a few Latinas in their late 40s.
“I didn’t even know your hair was that long!” Response from several people of all ages and races.
“Are you turning black now all of a sudden?” A lot of males of all races in their late 20s and early 30s gave me this response. When asked why they would think that, the average response was, “I don’t know, only black girls wear their hair like that.” Hmm.
I kept prying by asking, “Well, do you think that it’s wrong for white girls to wear this hairstyle?”
Answers varied from yes to no, but the most appalling response was, “If I see a white girl wearing that shit I know she’s trailer trash. Why would she try to act like a nigger when God made her white?” When I tried to explain the experiment, he interjected with, “I don’t care now you done pissed me off.” ‘Nuff said.
How I Felt After Day 1
Honestly, I was surprised at all the compliments I got. I work in a place that’s really hot and I have to admit, the mini twists were so light I forgot I had them in. So when I got negative backlash out of nowhere, it hurt. I’m not going to pretend that it didn’t. I stay relatively off the radar and for someone to attack me, it really put a dent in my happiness gauge. I don’t linger on feelings for too long though, so I reminded myself that this was an experiment and went to bed.
Responses: Day 2
On the second day I decided to take this experiment to a couple of grocery stores. The responses I received were much more negative since these were complete strangers.
“Uh, nice hair-do I guess.” Cashier, black male, around age 20. Not even a “how are you?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, dear, but you look like a dirty Negro with that mess on your head. Why would you do that to your pretty hair?” From an elderly white woman, accompanied by nodding from her disapproving husband. This one just blew me out of the water because of how nice older people think they’re being by giving you their opinions. And she had the audacity to reach out and tug on my hair. I guess she was testing to see if it was real?
I asked the golden question: “Why do you say I look like a Negro with my hair in this style?” Her husband piped in this time, “Because only those kinds of people do that to their hair. It’s fake innit? Your hair? Them blacks don’t got no hair so they’re always puttin’ in that fake horse hair or how you call it to make it look like they ain’t bald.” I really had no response to this one. I was pretty disgusted.
“Who you go to for your weave?” Several black females in their 20s gave me this line. I responded each time with, “Why do you think it’s weave? This is my real hair.” Most of the women didn’t answer and just rolled their eyes and walked away. A couple apologized and said they just assumed but that I was just lucky, that I had “good hair” and to take it as a compliment when others asked if my hair was fake. I told them I would never take that as a compliment. There is no such thing as “good hair” and a couple ladies stood their ground on the subject. I was the one who dropped it.
“Uhhh. Do you mind if I ask what you are?” Several teen-aged white girls and guys gave me this one. “What do you mean, what am I?” was my response. “Well you know, what are you mixed with?” This is a question I’m hit with fairly often. Yes, I mind. I answered and moved on.
How I Felt After Day 2
I was feeling a little discouraged after day 2 and in complete disbelief. I just couldn’t fathom the fact that people around me in such a close-knit community thought so negatively. In the end, I decided to ride it out for one more day. After the crazy things I heard from complete strangers, I couldn’t help but think that maybe most of the people who complimented me at work were doing so to be nice.
Responses: Day 3
I ended up getting a lot of the same responses as I wore the mini twists out and about in my town. People who saw me repeatedly on these days, like coworkers, didn’t say much to me, if anything at all. I got a lot of stares, which made me want to just snap and turn around and yell, “WHAT?” I was losing my cool with people. Subjecting yourself to this kind of prejudice comes with a lot of stress and by day 3 I was feeling the effects full force. I ended up taking out the mini twists mid-day and BOY did it feel good!
Imagine living like that every day of your life and hearing things like this but worse. I can’t even imagine. I’m surprised that I stayed as calm as I did with some of the people I encountered. This is racism, point blank. I had no idea that there could be this much hate behind people’s words.
I did not, however, hear anything about appropriating black culture by wearing this hairstyle even though I asked a couple of people outright about their thoughts on cultural appropriation. It couldn’t be because I’m mixed because other people of non-white descent in the media have also received backlash for wearing such hairstyles.
Cultural appropriation comes with all cultures for sure, and British magazine AnOther’s editors couldn’t have put it any better when speaking about a Native American inspired photo shoot they did with Michelle Williams in 2013:
“While we dispute the suggestion that the image has a racist subtext in the strongest possible terms, we’re mortified to think that anyone would interpret it in this way.”
Exactly. Why is it that people feel the need to bring race into everything? A lot of people find inspiration from other cultures and that is usually all there is to it. After this experiment, I’m starting to believe that cultural appropriation is a mass media issue and not a day-to-day racism issue for us normal folks like many of us seem to think. But why is cultural appropriation a thing? Are we just getting too defensive and sensitive? I guess we will never know for sure.
In the end, I think it’s hard to say for a fact that racism is directly correlated with the appropriation of black culture. I believe reverse racism comes into play. For example, with the Michelle Williams scenario above, readers of the magazine and people on social media turned around and said that the magazine editors were racist and insensitive by posting the picture.
But that wasn’t the case at all. The photographer was able to find inspiration in Native American culture and it should have been left at that. Perhaps this is the problem and everyone is just jumping the gun for no reason. However, I do believe that entitlement has a lot to do with it and people who already possess such prejudice such as racism tend to be the ones who feel the need to speak their minds so freely.