A conversation about societal judgment of Black women. When is enough...enough?
Credit: Allegra on Pinterest
Black women seem to be the butt every joke, the victims of nasty insults, and are constantly under scrutiny. From criticism of the way we speak to judgment surrounding our hair…we can never catch a break.
Conversations around what black women “should” and “should not” do are unfortunately nothing new. Black women have been policed and ridiculed for their appearances and actions for centuries. The irony of it all is that black women are usually the trailblazers of most trends that surface in popular culture. Simply put, they are the blueprint.
So why is it that black women face judgment when they choose to embrace their own culture?
The versatility of black hair can not be understated. Braids, wigs, curls, locs, twists, cornrows…the list is endless. These hairstyles are a way for black women to express themselves as well as protect their hair. However, many women face natural hair discrimination based on these hairstyles.
Before the CROWN Act in 2019, it was not uncommon for employers and schools to have rules and regulations on what hairstyles were “acceptable” for black women. Policies were put in place that prevented black women from wearing styles like afros, braids, and bantu knots in workplaces and educational facilities. Jereshia Hawk, a Business Growth Coach, was shocked when she found a picture of herself owning her curls under the Google search “unprofessional hair.” She called attention to how black women are told their hair is not suited for the workplace, and should be “maintained.” Like many other black women, myself included, she has had a long journey of learning to embrace her natural hair. The negative language surrounding black hair only impedes this process and, more often than not, leads to black women developing issues surrounding self-image and esteem.
The CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination and bans on natural hairstyles. While this is clearly a step in the right direction, societal discrimination on the basis of natural hair is still prevalent. There is a long way to go to dismantle the rhetoric that these hairstyles are “inappropriate.”
Most trends that preside today in popular culture, started with black women. Baggy clothing and streetwear fashion stem from 90s icons like Aaliyah, and TLC, who pioneered these styles and gave them a “feminine twist.” Hoop earrings were made mainstream through Black female activists in the 1960s and 1970s, and are still a staple in many black women’s jewelry boxes.
Credit(left to right): Getty Images, Getty Images, Jet Magazine
Acrylic nails and nail art also started with black women. Florence Griffith-Joyner, an Olympic track and field runner, wore a full set of 4-inch tiger-striped nails one day, and returned with a different set of pink nails the next. The use of nail art had started before Joyner, but making this art mainstream can be attributed to black women like her. Sneaker culture, logo-mania, slick back baby hairs, jersey dresses…black culture.
Credit: Getty Images
Despite starting these trends, black creators are rarely given their credit. This is seen time and time again, as black artists pioneer a new style, look, or trend, but are routinely denied recognition for their creativity. Beyond fashion trends, this refusal of credit is a routine issue regarding viral dances on TikTok. Many of these short dances stem from black creators, and have become a huge part of how many non-black TikTok personalities have gained their audience. Yet, it is rare that the black TikTok creators are given credit for the dances they make.
There is a clear pattern of black culture being stolen, without credit being given. But, it does not stop there.
Many aspects of black culture get labeled as “ghetto.” The way African Americans speak, dress, act, and go about their everyday lives, is often deemed as ghetto. It makes me wonder: if everything we do is “ghetto,” is being black in of itself ghetto?
The no-so-micro microaggression is used to describe baggy clothing, acrylic nails, hoop earrings, and other facets of black culture. Yet, it is interesting that when non-black people sport these looks, they are rarely referred to as “ghetto.” In fact, many are praised for the style they are leaning into. They are suddenly “fashion-forward,” and “chic.” The Kardashians are a prime example, as they are no strangers to appropriating black culture without giving credit to the black pioneers. Just one instance is when Kylie Jenner was accused of stealing her camouflage collection from PluggedNYC, a Black clothing company. Creative director Tizita Belamy posted receipts that showed Jenner was not only aware of her set, but was interested in the collection before she released her own.
Credit: Tizita Belamy
So I ask again, is being black what makes these styles ghetto?
Another instance in which black women are policed and called “ghetto” is when wearing bonnets. Bonnets are head garments that protect natural hair by preventing frizziness, breakage, and tangles. Black women are told time and time again that wearing bonnets in public is “unprofessional,” and “not presentable.” We are met with sideways glances and under-the-breath comments about something that should simply be seen as a hair accessory. I cannot help but sigh.
We are criticized for our hair when it is natural or styled, and again when it's under a bonnet. It is truly exhausting.
It should be normalized to wear a bonnet. They come in so many different styles and colors, that they can accent any outfit. Not only can bonnets complete a look, but they are also such a normal part of black culture that deeming them as “ghetto” only further ostracizes and stereotypes black women.
Credit: Isoken Enofe, Scotch Bonnets by Dani,
If the Kardashians were seen sporting bonnets in public, would it still be ghetto?
Spoiler alert: no.
Please let black women live in peace. It is mentally taxing to feel as though every aspect of your identity and existence is judged by society. Stop telling us what we can and can’t do, and start crediting us where credit is due.
Tori Ragin(@torixragin) is a first year Political Science and Economics student at the University of Florida. She is on the pre-law track, but constantly ponders what it would be like to be a STEM girlie. She is passionate about a number of things, black women being one. If she is not talking your ear off, she's probably swimming, reading, or crying at the library.