Another day, another outrage as traditional black hairstyles are taken and plagiarised as it receives no credit or recognition as the original source of inspiration.
Marc Jacobs had models sporting dreadlocks in his fashion show. Most of these models were white and this is where people did vent their annoyance. Marc Jacobs responded to the criticism by (unhelpfully) stating that black women wear their hair straight and “he doesn’t see colour”. He has since apologised for his comments. Firstly, and starting with the obvious, it is not only white women who have naturally straight hair, so that argument does not wash. Secondly, Mr Jacobs has to see colour because unfortunately we live in a society which does and has a problem with it. When black women are routinely missing out on job opportunities (ironically, days after Marc Jacobs’ apology, news that banning locs from the work place is not discriminatory emerged. Chastity Jones filed a lawsuit against a company who stated that they could only give her a job if she cut off her dreadlocks as it was against company policy on grooming and all hair styles should reflect a professional image) and South African school girls are fighting to wear their natural hair (Africans fighting to be African in Africa was a meme that circulated on social media which was spot on) it can no longer be ignored that the perceived threat is not the hairstyles but the person who is wearing the hairstyle. This is an uncomfortable thought since there is a firm belief that we live in a post racial society. Another example of this perceived threat is the racist comments directed at the model, Maryse Kye, who Mac used to show off their lipstick. However, without a doubt, those like Kylie Jenner who paid to have her lips like the model used for the lipstick campaign would be adorned with praise. Again, it’s not the aesthetics that is the problem but the person that it belongs to.
No doubt hair appropriation is a marker for wider debate on race and racism. However, if we look solely on the context of hair appropriation itself, how should black women (and men) navigate the seemingly endless stories of traditional black hairstyles given a new name (mini buns instead of bantu knots, interestingly showcased at a previous Marc Jacobs fashion show) classed as a new hair trend (cornrows but also renamed as boxer braids) and simply not recognised and accredited to black people who have worn such styles pushing back centuries?
Black women shouldn’t express outrage, these stories will continue to happen, and so expressing anger is simply too exhausting. When mainstream outlets ignore their sources of inspiration and only apologise after heavy criticism it doesn’t hurt them financially or reputation wise. Clicking the articles and sharing it only creates an indirect buzz. Mainstream outlets are smart; it’s better for controversy to continue because people will visit their websites and social media pages. Marc Jacobs bathing in the controversial light only brings him and his show to the limelight. Why die away quietly with a whimper when you can bask in temporary notoriety? All publicity is good publicity. However, it’s a game that black women shouldn’t have to play.
Always remember: imitation is never as good as the original. Black women know their beauty and their worth and if mainstream outlets refuse to credit and acknowledge the source of their inspiration, black women should not worry and, in the words of Beyoncé, continue to slay.