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Stealing and Shaming

Black Women and Girls’ personal style and creativity is supremely unique and different from the style aesthetic of white American female culture. But for centuries, Black Women and Girls’ styles have been publicly ridiculed and stereotyped – and present day this continues, remembers the Pretoria High School for Girls incident. Students Afros, Braids and Twists were deemed “untidy,” by administratiors and in sports the William’s sister’s hair braid beads being a bigger focus than their tennis, this highlighting of Black Women’s hairstyle is as American as Apple Pie and the epitome of what we call stealing and shaming.

Actress Cicely Tyson poses for a portrait wearing a cornrow hairstyle in circa 1973. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The culture of stealing and shaming often goes like this: There is mayhem around the style that is worn by a Black woman. Then through outside media the style is shamed and ridiculed then there is a pause and when it is back in vogue it is later repurposed, (often when a white women wears it) repackaged and sold back to the creator.

Black celebrities such as Cicely Tyson began wearing cornrows much like Kenyan Masai and Nigerian Nzinga women on television in the ‘60s. The media swiftly commenced to publicly ridiculing Cicely Tyson. Later media credited white actress Bo Derek with popularizing the historic hairdo in the late 70s.

On the flip side in real life situation Black Women and girls are discriminated for their hair choices at school and work.  The recent court case in which Chastity Jones was getting ready to start a job with Catastrophe Management Solutions in Mobile, Alabama, in 2010, claimed that the company discriminated against her because of her locs. Jones said that a white human resources manager told her that her locs were against company policy since they “tend to get messy.” After Jones refused to change her hairstyle, she claims her offer was withdrawn, and she complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who had to fight a company for discriminating against her natural hairstyle in U.S. Circuit Court, while a year later at NY Fashion Week white women strolled the catwalk wearing faux locs.

 Solange wore this hairstyle with hair clips on the cover of her album, A Seat at the Table, a style Black women have worn in urban communities all over America; shortly after the hairstyle was pictured in a British Magazine 2016.

This micro aggression is very real and stressful; and places Black women in challenging positions in relation to their beauty standards and the way we express themselves. For what some see as a mere hair–do, we know is related to so many deep-seated American issues.

Here are practical things LOUD Girls can do to rise up against the culture of stealing and shaming:

Name it and claim it. New braiding and weaving techniques that are created by Black women and girls around the world should be credited by the founder — if you create a new trend, give it your name. If you use a trend, personally credit the stylist on social media, blogs, etc. If possible do some digging and find the historic relevance of the style.

Do what you like. We have heard from so many LOUD Girls and other Black Women and girls who do NOT rock certain hairstyles because they think they will be discriminated against or talked about at work. We know LOUD girls have to work, forreal; but take a deep hard pause before you decide NOT to get a hairdo. Ask yourself, am I hiding who I really am and covering up something that I like? Do I believe someone else’s narrative about my hair, style and aesthetic? Do I like how this makes me feel? If your choice is making you feel bad, try try try again until you find something that works.

Stop labeling. Allow yourself the space to express who you are in style and give other women that same consideration. Know that there are many ways we adorn ourselves. We are part of a culture where adornment matters. Allow yourself and other sistas their creative space. If they’re rocking a style you wouldn’t particularly wear, you can still compliment them on being creative.

Work, work, work. Talk to the human resources departments at your job to discuss the differences in Black women aesthetic. If a rule is passed down that you or employees cannot wear cornrows, braid or twists, report it to your local labor departments or civic organizations. Work to fight against these judgments.

LOUD and All,

-LOUD Girl Movement Editorial Team

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