When African peoples were brutally kidnapped and arrived in unfamiliar lands in 1619, they were stripped of their traditional garb, practices and rituals unique to their ethnic groups. The theft of these customs from one continent evolved into new cultural traditions on another.
Hair braiding has a long history of innovation and adaption in Black America. Because of this, it’s pertinent that white people not only understand that cornrows are not just a pop culture fad but they must come to realize how deep the roots of hair braiding is in the Black community.
Black hair has been ridiculed, mocked, discriminated against, and policed since the first colonizers arrived on the continent of Africa. When we talk about the cultural appropriation of our braided hairstyles, whether its boxer braids or Bo Derek braids, we are simply pointing out the historical context and ancestral significance that comes with our hairstyles.
Black hair isn’t a trend as soon as it’s on a white head.
Our hair is our crown: a source of strength and a symbol of the creativity that we show to the world. Braiding wasn’t just a hairstyle in ancient Africa, to Black slaves or even to women in the African diaspora today. We quite literally use our braids to communicate with the world.
Here’s a brief history of how braided hairstyles adapted over time and contributed to a new culture in early America.