It’s a trying time to be black and female in America. Around the same time that Rachel Dolezal told the world she self-identified as black, an actual black woman, Sandra Bland, was found dead in a jail cell after an arrest over a turn signal.
In America’s social consciousness, the desire to embrace black culture is at an all-time high while black lives have little to no value. It’s in this social climate that Allure published an article about how to achieve an Afro if you have straight hair.
Written by Danielle Pergament, the article spotlights five actresses in ’70s hairdos, coiffed by hairstylist Chris McMillan. The Afro tutorial is printed alongside a photo of actress Marissa Neitling, her straight hair manipulated to resemble textured curls. Once the story [“You, Yes You, Can Have an Afro”] hit social media, outrage ensued, and rightfully so.
In the face of rampant cultural appropriation, now black women must grapple with blatant cultural mis-appropriation. What Allure featured and described is NOT an afro: it’s a twist-out.
A mass of sparse, loose curls, created by strands of a T-shirt, does not constitute an Afro. And even if it did, the Afro shouldn’t be touted as a trend for straight-haired women to try one week and discard the next—without even an acknowledgment of the marginalized people from whom the style emerged.
It might be tempting to compare the phenomenon of straight-haired women with afros to natural haired-women with relaxers. But that thoughtless association misses the point entirely. Historically, straight hair has been almost universally celebrated while Afros are regularly condemned. The “kinky” and “nappy” stigma refuses to die, even despite the recent progression of the natural hair movement.
As recently as February of this year, singer Solange shared that a mainstream magazine, InTouch Weekly, compared her afro to that of a dog.
It’s still widely assumed that wearing an Afro to a corporate interview could cost you a job in a world where black women still make less than their white female peers.
The painful truth here is that Allure’s straight-haired readers can try to wear Afros as they please without ever having to deal with that discrimination, or even acknowledge that it exists.
The Afro (or “twist-out”) isn’t shunned in the workplace or in magazines when white women wear it. As usual, our hairstyles are venerated on everyone but us. Afros are now acceptable, black women are not.
Allure released a statement on the Afro tutorial to Buzzfeed: “The Afro has a rich cultural and aesthetic history. In this story, we show women using different hairstyles as an individual expressions [sic] of style. Using beauty and hair as a form of self-expression is a mirror of what’s happening in our country today. The creativity is limitless—and pretty wonderful.”
In neither the article nor the subsequent statement did Allure mention the Afro’s troubled yet triumphant history in America, or the discrimination women of color still face wearing natural hair.
We are tired of our hairstyles being embraced without even a mention of our culture, our experience, our existence. If Allure wants to truly picture what’s happening in our country today, they should not push black women out of the frame.