Katy Perry’s cornrow apology: the absurdity of identity politics
It’s official: white people who have the audacity to cornrow, plait or braid their hair are committing a heinous cultural crime – according to the PC police, at least. For these cultural purists, hairstyles have become a battleground on which to play out their divisive war on ‘cultural appropriation’. Just witness Katy Perry’s pitiful apology to the world, for the cultural crime of dressing as a geisha girl, and worse still, donning cornrows, in a music video for her 2014 single ‘This Is How We Do’.
I’m not sure what’s worse, the hairstyle obsessives who ‘call out’ white people for their supposed cultural theft, or the accused who publicly prostrate themselves before the altar of the politically correct. Perry’s apology was made during an interview with Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist DeRay Mckesson. She told him one of her ‘empowered angels’ – a politically ‘woke’ friend – explained to her there was ‘power in black women’s hair’, and that it was wrong of her to ‘appropriate’ it.
The idea that black women’s hairstyles have some intrinsic political power is, of course, utter nonsense. As is the idea that donning said hairstyles is a form of racism. Not only does this incident bring to light the absurdity of the cultural-appropriation crusade, it also highlights the absurd priorities of modern anti-racist campaigners. Why should a BLM activist – whose main concern is nominally police brutality – take time out to discuss celebrity hairstyles?
While Perry’s apology was certainly unnecessary, it was also ultimately futile, as it was rejected by many of those who had claimed to be offended in the first place. Indeed, April Reign, activist and editor-at-large for Nu Tribe Magazine, wasted no time in criticising Perry’s apology. ‘Hire women of colour… ensure you’re not appropriating’, she tweeted, suggesting her words of contrition didn’t go far enough.
In the world of competitive victimhood, even scraping apologies are rejected. This is because the aim of identity politics is not to unite people, but to separate them. Perry’s critics are not fighting racism, they’re establishing a new miserable racial and cultural divide. And that’s bad news for everyone.
Courtney Hamilton is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @MrCDHamilton