By: Ginger Mayo
EDIT: Kylie Jenner was previously referenced as Armenian in this article. Jenner is white.
A lot of people dismiss the importance of the Kardashian’s, because of their ‘cheap and fast’ nature. Their products, shoe lines, television shows and general output is easily digested and highly circulated. They’re the essence of fast consumer culture, and they’re constantly setting trends from one sister to another. Lately, Kylie Jenner and her multitude of hairstyles have gotten a lot of traction on the Internet. Not surprising, seeing as she sports various colors and wigs on an almost daily basis. But a few days ago, Kylie posted a picture sporting a somewhat unexpected look; dreadlocks. The photo posted on her Instagram, solely captioned ‘dreads’, shows the young Jenner exposing her new hairdo – assumed to be another wig or extension in the various collections that Jenner has recently deemed trendy.
Before I even delve into how wrong this whole thing is – it’s important that we do a little recap on why appropriation of traditionally black hairstyles is so harmful. Women of color, specifically black women, are put under heavy scrutiny all the time about their hair. Natural hair is condemned by our racist societies, and forces women to go through strenuous and expensive procedures such as ‘relaxing’ hair, straightening, wigs and additional methods all to appease the white employers or community members who condemn this particularly black feature. I have had friends or people I know say things like “I don’t like Lil Wayne… he just seems… dirty. I think it’s the dreadlocks”. Or even looking at the treatment of Blue Ivy, the daughter of two black parents, and how Beyonce was criticised for not ‘doing’ her hair… code word for making it less black. The relentless oppression of black women is hugely symbolic through hair – such a seemingly simply attribute of a women’s appearance is constantly policed for black women, stripping their freedom of simply being themselves.
The appropriation of black hair is perhaps one of the most harrowing of the recent celebrity appropriations. White celebrities adopting these hairstyles are praised for their ‘originality’ – like Miley Cyrus’ Bantu Knots or Katy Perry’s Gelled babyhairs, both who were considered ‘trendsetters’ for sporting such styles. Even Kylie’s sister, Kendall Jenner, was praised for her “bold new look” while sporting partial cornrows during a photo shoot. The praise of these white celebrities is indicative of a few harsh realities of our racist society – we like black culture in small, digestible pieces. We like to see white celebrities assume black culture, because it makes it easy and relatable to us. But we also like it to be a trend – sometime that can go away – like a hair style, on a white woman, who the next day can have it back to the sleek, straight, white-approved standard.
Kylie Jenner was met with the same praise – her hairstyle was deemed an ‘edgy new do’ by Cosmopolitan UK, while other fashion and tabloid sites commented on the stylish ‘new’ trend she set. Strikingly, though, People magazine, Cosmo and various other publications had a very different reaction when Ciara came out with dreads in 2014. The publication commented on the unlikely nature of Ciara keeping these locs, because of the ‘black tie’ nature of her wedding – which implies that natural black hair cannot be elegant, and thus should be eradicated in formal settings.
This utter double standard between White stars who flippantly ‘sport’ a new look and then get rid of it the next day, and women who can’t change the natural status of their hair is disgusting. Why do we praise the theft of black identity, and then condemn the identity in the first place? Kylie Jenner probably hasn’t realized the heft of her actions. She lives in a very typical bubble in which she probably removes herself from the heft of her racism and appropriation – too often association with black culture is seen as an excuse of appropriation among white people. The whole, “Hey, how can I be racist! I have a black friend!” schtick, which seems to be on the rise with the continued appropriation of African American culture. Kylie Jenner needs to learn that White Privilege is real, and it permeates our society wholly. The oppression of black women and theft of culture is not trendy.
Actually, it’s really gross.