No, white girls wearing braids is not racist

When it comes to the issue of racism, it feels like some people have lost touch with reality. On the one hand, statistically and historically, there is a steep decline in racial prejudice among the British public. On the other hand, there appears to be a daily stream of news about the latest race-related incident – as if black and minority ethnic (BME) people have never had it so bad.

Witness the latest ‘racism’ controversy involving the Braid Bar – a trendy UK-based hairstylist that offers professionally created braided plaits. The company, located in high-end department store Selfridges, has been accused of culturally appropriating black hairstyles (it used white models in its latest campaign). According to BBC Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, this is a ‘prime example of very entitled cultural appropriation that has to be called out’. Teen Vogue then ploughed in, with journalist Siraad Dirshe agreeing that the Braid Bar and its products were ‘extremely problematic’. Dirshe berated the salon for having the temerity to sell and promote a hairstyle that has allegedly been ‘worn exclusively by black women and men for centuries’.

Of all the accusations of cultural appropriation or racial insensitivity that have been made recently, this has got to be the most miserable. The advert causing the controversy featured two white 14-year-old girls, Stella Jones and Lila Grace Moss Hack (the daughter of model Kate Moss). Teen Vogue’s Dirshe accused the girls of the ‘crime’ of cultural theft. Braided hairstyles, she argued, are ‘so near and dear to a marginalised community’ that it was a travesty that the hairstyles were ‘being taken from them’.

The idea that these two young girls shouldn’t wear braids out of respect to black people is absurd. The twisted logic of cultural appropriation is barely comprehended by most adults, let alone two school kids. To place these girls at the centre of this controversy exposes how miserable and mean-spirited such accusations of ‘racism’ are in the first place.

Cultural purists like Amfo and Dirshe need a serious reality check. The truth is, it’s not the Braid Bar that is being divisive. It is the critics of cultural appropriation, with their borderline pathological obsession with dividing culture along racial lines, who are being, in Dirshe’s words, ‘problematic’. Cultural segregation is the logical conclusion of the crusade against cultural appropriation – a world in which ‘black culture’ is strictly out of bounds for white people.

Dirshe says that the mixing of cultures ‘needs to end once and for all’. What a horrendous thing to suggest. It completely denigrates the idea of universalism. ‘Calling out’ people for cultural appropriation isn’t progressive, it’s just plain backward.

Courtney Hamilton is a writer based in London.

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