I’M AN avid braid wearer and have been my entire life. From box braids to micro braids, decorated in an array of colourful beads and gold accessories, in various geometric shapes and patterns in every colour from red to grey – I’ve done it all and then some.
Being able to switch up your hair to fit whatever mood or vibe your in is a lot of fun, and can provide a surge of confidence that I would love for all women to feel – which is why I must stress the point that braids can be worn by anyone and I do not have a problem with that.
However, before all the naysayers and critics bombard me with comments stating “It’s just a hairstyle for god sake” I’d actually like to agree with you – a shock, I know.
Yes, braids are a hairstyle that can ultimately be worn by anyone – but this ‘mere’ hairstyle serves as more than that to black women and those who grew up doing these hairstyles from childhood and beyond.
For black women, braids have a particularly rich and extensive history, that goes far beyond the style worn by celebrities and featured in trend reports from your favourite Women’s monthly magazines. From its origins in Nigeria’s ancient Nok civilisation to its cultural survival during slavery and resurgence in hip hop, cornrows have had a politically fraught journey to the present day and has now resulted in a blurry debate about where we draw the line on its cultural appropriation.
Braids date back as early as 1000 BC, most significantly in Nigeria’s ancient Nok civilisation. The Nok culture is one of the earliest sightings of it within Africa and it began as traditional african hairstyles, which “ranged from complex curves and spirals to the strictly linear composition.” Beyond the fascinating ability to style their hair in a variety of shapes, braids also represented signs of kinship, family and expressed shared culture and the bonds between friends.
The meaning and lineage behind the popular hairstyle is deep, meaningful and most importantly, culturally and historically a representation of African culture and one of the many traditions that black people were able to maintain (despite the ‘pesky’ colonisation which so many like to ignore).
Which is why when Kim Kardashian posted on Snapchat that she was wearing ‘Bo Derek’ braids, it caused understandable annoyance among some black women – women who have been wearing this hairstyle for years and have never identified the style with a popular white actress from a film in the 70s.
To reference the hairstyle as ‘Bo Derek braids’ is the literal definition of cultural appropriation and white-washing.
Taking something from another culture, wearing it and then not assigning credit to the rightful creator is what most find annoying. Not the fact that Kim is wearing them – in fact, they look pretty good on her in my opinion.
Let’s be real: There are enough Instagram pages, Twitter threads and more dedicated to braids and African hairstyles to know that the style she’s wearing isn’t referred to as ‘Bo Derek braids’ and in a social media age where you can literally discover a wealth of information at a click of a button, clearly shows that there really isn’t an excuse for willful ignorance – so why?
Braids – and in particular the style that Kim are wearing – are called Fulani braids, which consist of braids with beads, but the braid patterns used are inspired by the Fulani people–a group in Africa that’s located throughout West Africa and parts of East Africa. See how easy it was to learn something new and to not complete whitewash something?
For those who complain about constant discussion about cultural appropriation, the above paragraph is a simple rule of thumb and get out of jail card so you don’t have to deal with it anymore: Just credit the culture you took the style from. It doesn’t take much and it’ll save you a world of complaining and for many, a world of explaining.