There is no denying the fact that Cornrows hold great cultural and symbolic value to Black people worldwide, especially in the United States, where it has become a supreme culture. The story of cornrows is woven into the very fabric of black history, slavery, suppression, and the recent/current prejudice black people face for their hairstyle, in today’s society. But just as with almost everything black, white people are copying and portraying the beauty of the cornrow, without necessarily appreciating its origin and the story behind its culture.
In a 2015 article for The New York Times, titled ‘Does Anyone Own The Cornrow‘ Andrea Arterbery discussed the encroachment of white women in the black hair culture known as Cornrows, and how it is annoying to see white women on cornrows, keeping in mind the prejudice and insults and laughs she got about her cornrows while growing up. She wrote:
There’s no sugarcoating it: whenever I see white girls with cornrows, I get a flash of annoyance. Perhaps it is because the hairdo is touted as “fresh and stylish.” Or it could be because I, as a black woman, am aware that it is not a style that white girls wore while I was growing up, and that they frequently teased me for wearing it.
I understand; it’s a cool look. But the frustration persisted in September when I was perusing backstage beauty trends at the Desigual show during New York Fashion Week and spotted hairstylists cornrowing the (mainly white) models’ heads.
Edward Lampley, Desigual’s hairstylist, told me that the inspiration for the cornrows originated from Japanese street culture, with no reference to African culture.
“We discovered these great students who were simply doing things in a different way,” Mr. Lampley explained. “At the end of the day, it’s about a beautiful woman, or at the very least an interesting woman.”
Valentino did recognize that its Paris Fashion Week show in October was inspired by African culture. Guido Palau, the hairstylist, constructed cornrows with a braided bun at the top. According to Fashionista.com, only ten of the models in the show were black, and it was only a matter of minutes after photographs of the white models sporting cornrows circulated on the Internet that several individuals condemned the presentation.
“Valentino with African/tribal inspiration and 90% white females in corn rows on the runway.” Ughhhh. *continuous eye roll*” Andrea @notandyy wrote on Twitter.
“Valentino has GOT to stop with the cornrows on white models,” Brooke Windham @coleneiers tweeted.
But hair is just hair, and every woman should be able to wear it as she wants, right?
Growing up in a small East Texas town, I was smitten with cornrows after seeing them on other black girls in my class. I admired how detailed the designs could be, and I was particularly fond of types with colored beads weaved into them. Cornrows were not only a stunning aesthetic to me, but they were also a quick way to escape the dreaded weekly hair pressings.
To straighten hair, a comb (also known as a hot comb) was heated on a burner and passed through it from root to tip. This tedious, sometimes hour-long operation generally ended with my scalp or the tips of my ears burning (since I wasn’t always quick enough in gripping and folding them down).
This was normally done in the kitchen on Saturdays by my grandmother or mother, with gospel music playing in the background, so that my hair would be fresh for church on Sunday morning. I despised the whole thing, and no amount of moaning, pleading, or cajoling would make it go away.
Cornrows would be my way out, and I looked forward to obtaining them every summer so I could jump in pools and run around without having to worry about a hot comb near my head. But, as much as I liked the look, I didn’t like the white girls at school who called my hairstyle “weird” or “ghetto.”
Yes, I recognized that not everyone will like what you do with your hair, but it still hurt my feelings, and I remember wondering why these insults were piled on my hairstyle.
Cornrows were invented in Africa and were mostly worn by women. My grandmother used to tell me stories as she braided my hair about how her mother, and her mother before her, used to do the same thing to protect their hair while picking cotton in the fields.
“Cornrows was our way of reconnecting to a lost land,” said Michaela Angela Davis, a New York cultural critic and writer. “They couldn’t steal or beat it out of us since we knew where they came from.” It’s black, and they’re aware of it.”
Many high-profile white women, including Madonna, Melanie Griffith, Christina Aguilera, Kristen Stewart, and Lena Dunham, have openly worn cornrows, most notably Bo Derek in the 1979 film “10.” It’s not uncommon to see celebrities wearing them, like as Cara Delevingne on the red carpet or Kylie Jenner in a selfie pose.
Bethann Hardison, a pioneering black runway model and well-known advocate for fashion diversity, stated that she was not upset when she saw white women wearing cornrows, particularly on the runways.
“I never think there’s anything wrong with people adjusting,” she remarked of the Valentino white models. “Hair is hair, and I never feel bad about it.”
Similarly, Anthony Dickey, a hairstylist and the proprietor of Hair Rules, a New York salon that focuses on textured hair, stated that seeing cornrows on the runways did not bother him because he loves all things hair.
“Throughout the 1990s, I worked in fashion shows,” Mr. Dickey explained. “White females, like black girls, should be entitled to wear their hair as they want.” He believes that magazines should be more reflective of their consumers and use beauty photographs to accurately depict our diverse world. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if skin texture and hair texture were treated equally,” he stated.
Jamie Stone, a Los Angeles-based blogger, is white and initially wore cornrows when she was 18 and on vacation in the Bahamas.
“I honestly felt the women in the Bahamas had gorgeous hair, and I wanted to try it on for myself,” she explained. “There was no malice at all, and I did black hair while completely respecting and acknowledging its cultural relevance.” Ms. Stone, who blogs on HonestlyJamie.com, also expressed regret that hair had become so racially charged.
“Do I believe any woman should instruct another woman how to wear her hair?” she inquired. “No. I see why this could offend some black ladies, but not all. I’m not ignorant of it, and I recognize and comprehend its significance.”
Aly Walansky, a white journalist in Brooklyn, suggested that white people should not dress in historically black ways.
“Black hairstyles are about more than simply hair,” Ms. Walansky explained. “There is a history and culture behind black hair.” White women, such as Miley Cyrus, who believe they can go onstage and ignore the context and wear it — it’s the hair version of wearing blackface.”
There will always be different schools of thought about what hairstyles are culturally appropriate, but I doubt that the annoyance I feel when I see cornrows on white females will ever go away. Perhaps I would be more welcoming if my early circumstances had been different. Maybe I wouldn’t mind as much if I could open a beauty magazine like Allure and see more black hairstyles instead of stories about how to make an Afro with a photo of a white model attached to it.
“Our hair is a holy thing,” wrote Ms. Davis. “You can choose to accept it or not.” Although she did not blame white individuals for wanting to do it, she cautioned them to “consider what you’re walking into.” You can’t just take it and ignore us.”
The Intriguing History Of The African Cornrows
Braid styles signify a person’s age, town, marital status, power, money, religion, and social position in numerous African cultures. Cane rows may be used to represent “the planting of sugar cane by slaves” rather than grain in Caribbean culture.
Cornrows have become popular among women of various cultures in recent decades. However, many people are unaware of the hairstyle’s rich and colorful history. That it saved the lives of countless people, particularly enslaved Africans in America; additionally, many are unaware of its role in the freedom struggles that led to the privileges we now enjoy.
The hairstyle adheres to a certain plaiting pattern; the hair is braided close to the scalp employing an upward movement in the underhand. This produces the corn rows, which are made up of one line of raised rows. This hairstyle originated and has remained popular in Africa, particularly in West Africa for centuries.
Several enslaved persons were compelled to shave their hair during the slave trade. This was done to make them look neater and more acceptable, according to white standards. However, this move was also intended to make people forget about their personality and culture.
To appear more respectable, some African slaves agreed to have their hair cropped, while others chose to plait their hair in tight cornrows.
When enslaved Africans realized they might escape, cornrows were crucial in the transfer and development of maps to direct them out of plantations and the homes of their captors, as their captors would never want them to read or write.
In Colombia, Benkos Bioho, a King captured from Africa by the Portuguese and fleeing slavery, founded the hamlet of San Basilio de Palenque in the 17th century.
Bioho invented his dialect, an army of escaped enslaved people, and an intelligence network to rescue other slaves, as well as the idea of using women’s cornrows to relay messages and make maps.
Women, for example, would plait a hairstyle called departed to indicate that they needed to flee. It featured heavy, tight braids that reached almost to the scalp and were tied into buns on top. Another look featured twisted braids securely plaited on their heads.
The curled braids would represent the routes they would take on their escape. This hairstyle also acted as a safe haven for seeds and gold, which they used to survive after they escaped.
Enslaved Africans never benefited from owning writing materials, even if they did. Such messages or maps have to be encrypted to avoid falling into the hands of the wrong individuals, as they could cause a lot of damage.
Cornrows were the ideal approach to avoid suspicion in such situations. Nobody would have guessed that “black slaves” could conceal complete maps in their hairstyle. Not even the most creative slave owners. So the enslaved Africans spread them with ease, without anyone noticing.