I don’t care if we’re friends, if you’re behavior is harmful to me, my family, my friends or Black and Brown folks—my community—then I will let you tf know. If you take it personally or immediately defend why you have the right to continue to say or do certain things, then you have a lot of work to do.
A specific incident came up recently with a white woman who is ostensibly part of my social circle. She explicitly appropriated the notion of “baby hairs,” and I when I let her know that wasn’t okay, she did not respond well. That got me thinking. Maybe when white people act in these harmful ways, they don’t actually get why it’s harmful.
Well, I’ll tell you why: it robs us of our identity. For example, that white woman who tried to claim she invented the silk bonnet and sell it for $98 (and yes, she’s STILL selling them). When Black and Brown people where bonnets outside, we’re ridiculed. The same goes for when we wear nameplate jewelry, bamboo knockers, and speak in certain ways. Black people have been killed for listening to music “too loudly,” or presenting ourselves in ways white people see as inferior. The list goes on.
When white people do wear bonnets and use certain vernacular, it’s trendy. When Black and Brown people do these things, it’s looked down on. No credit is given to Black or Brown folks for creating these “trends.” White people are applauded for their theft. Black and Brown people are left with nothing.
And this isn’t just theoretical. Growing up in a mostly white suburban area, I struggled to feel ownership over my identity as a Black woman.
When white folks hop on the appropriation bandwagon, it gives big brands the leeway to continue making money off of things Black and Brown folks have doing for years. Individual behavior matters. That’s why I’m direct with my white friends, and no one gets a pass. It’s that simple. (With shows like Black-ish and Grown-ish tackle these topics in a way for people to easily understand, there is just no excuse for acting in ways that bring down people of color.)
So, I’m going to share my conversation with the white woman who felt like “baby hairs” were hers to take. I hope this will help you—regardless of your race—keep your friends accountable for their behavior.
And if, after reading all this, you still think cultural appropriation is okay, pretend you’re the white woman in this conversation. I’m talking to you here. I want you to do better. I’m not giving you a pass.
Keiko El: Baby hairs are a Black and Brown thang, don’t say that boo.
White Woman: Baby hairs? What do I call them then?
KE: Call it “hair,” lol. “Baby hairs” derives from Black women slicking down their baby’s hair, especially the edges, for them to appear straight and mimic white hair. We also call it baby hairs because they’re really short, small, and kinky, and I’m not seeing that for you.
WW: Baby hairs are the short hairs that you grow as a baby that live at the base of your temples. Everyone has them. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black, Brown, or white. They come in all textures. I have them and don’t slick them down because I feel like that would be racially inappropriate.
I said “baby hairs” as a joke because mine look terrible and stick up. I wasn’t trying to be Black. I have baby hairs. Everyone does. It’s just a fact.
KE: From the outside, it looks like you’re trying to be cute and trendy. But even if you were trying to joke, that’s not okay. My culture is not a “joke.”
To me, it’s clear that how you used “baby hairs” is specifically for Black and Brown people. You were trying to be cute and trendy. You can talk about baby hair and the hair around your temples without using the same terminology. Also, I don’t recall you ever using it at any point in time until it got popular in the fashion industry.
KE: You can be really problematic. And right now you are being especially dismissive to a Black woman directly telling you something isn’t a joke and is not for you. There’s a lot that myself and others have refrained from saying over the years.
I honestly don’t have time for if we’re going to be friends. I’m going to let you know instead of someone else coming across your page and coming for you. And if you’re going to continue to be ignorant as opposed to educating yourself, then I can’t be associated with you. It’s too triggering for me.
I won’t continue to condone your harmful and questionable behaviors if you’re going to be in my life.