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Ethnic Features & Culture as a Trend: The Displacement of Black Women

I originally started this post 5 months ago, it sounded scattered. It was hard because of the complexity of this concept. I remember sitting in my bed thinking how can I explain to others that my identity in particular my physical features as a black woman are not celebrated until on a white individual. Along with not being celebrated, I personally saw other black women being sexually harassed and hypersexualized for features they were born with.

It is hard for individuals to view this perspective because they do not live within it. But here is an example, Kylie Jenner posted a picture with cornrows in her hair. I automatically thought about how she created normality through her privilege. Shortly after, Amanda Sternberg (under the handle “@novemberskyys) commented with the following and it expressed the exactly how I felt as an African-American woman:

 “when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter.”

Although Sternberg goes farther with her claim of the stratification of ethnic traits on white individuals over the black bodies  and discusses the lack of attention of police brutality, she still covers the point that many fail to realize. As someone who grew up with fuller lips and a wider nose due to my ethnicity, it is very hard for me to see white individuals praised for something that black individuals have been teased, ridiculed, shamed and hypersexualized for.

I think back to caricatures that represent the hypersexualization of women of color and in particular, Black women. The jezebel was an image portrayed in the Jim Crow era. As Ferris State University states, “The descriptive words associated with this stereotype are singular in their focus: seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. Historically, white women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty – even sexual purity, but black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory.” Even today, Black women are portrayed as animalistic and ghetto for natural features that do not adhere to Eurocentric features.

I believe the same goes for pieces of African-American culture. As Sternberg discusses in response, pieces of Black culture on white bodies (even white passing bodies) are considered trendy unlike on Black bodies. Recently several magazines (an examples here) have called pieces of Black culture like braids and dreads to be the new hot trend. But  Zendaya Coleman, a black woman, wore faux dreads to 2015 Oscars and Giuliana Rancic from E!’s Fashion Police stated, “I feel like she smells like patchouli or weed.” There was an outcry of criticism that resulted in an apology on Rancic’s part. This is where I question the comfortability to label black culture on black bodies as “other” and “bad”.

I, as an African-American woman, do not adhere to Eurocentric beauty standards with my big curly afro, wide nose and full lips. But my being is authentic and true to my culture, my roots, and my ancestry. It is appalling for mainstream media, content creators in the realms of art, and even individuals to state or even think that the features of people of color are unappealing and animalistic unless on white bodies. To make it even worse, now individuals and mainstream media are trying to reclaim long standing parts of Black culture and call it a trend. Throughout my day to day life, I see non-people of color express that ethnic traits are part of a trend on social media. This topic has been highly discussed within communities of color, but it is not acknowledged by mainstream media that ethnic traits, culture and features are not part of a trend. Have you wondered where the origin of cornrows, braids, jazz, funk, hip-hop? It wasn’t created yesterday by a Kardashian. Black culture was cultivated along with the survival and strength of black bodies. Look for the origins of a culture before claiming the culture.

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