To a majority of people, Braids are viewed as a protective style to enhance our most recent clothing or a stylish way to keep hair out of our eyes.
But few will know and acknowledge that they are so much more than that. Within each braid style, history is hidden inside. Within the iconic securely wrapped tresses lites the story of the trial and tribulation, the struggle of billions that is both historic and ongoing. By considering braids as merely an accessory, we ignore thousands of years of practices and experiences that have shaped Black people's identities all over the world. Let's delve into the story of each style.
How Braids Have Revolutionized Black Culture
You might be asking why braids are so important in Black culture at this moment. Yes, many forms have roots in Black civilizations, but other styles have their origins in European and Chinese cultures as well.
The reality is that how slaves utilized their braids as so much more than a hairdo during the Transatlantic Slave Trade era gives the technique such a profound and significant significance.
Enslaved women's hair was shaved off before being transferred to the Americas or Europe to remove them from their roots. However, after it came back, slaves wore their braids for three vital reasons while working under the harshest and most brutal of conditions:
A Method of Communication
Intricate, detailed patterns that were meaningless to slave owners translated to helpful maps that would lead slaves to the North. Maps braided onto the scalps of people communicated by the pattern and number of their braids, transmitting escape routes and meeting information. In the South, for example, the braiding technique was used to communicate one's wish to flee to others. In addition, Slaves frequently secreted memories and accessories from home they weren't allowed to bring behind their braids, among other things. As a result, braids helped to connect individuals to their pasts as well as their homelands.
Braiding After Slavery
After slaves were liberated under the Emancipation Proclamation, they felt compelled to distance themselves from their traumatic recollections of slavery. Unfortunately, braids became a painful reminder of these, as well as a way to stand out in a culture governed by Eurocentric aesthetic ideals, and individuals abandoned the practice for years.
However, with the development of the 1960s Black Is Beautiful movement, Black women began to openly use braids to express their pride in their identity and embrace their ancestry. To this day, braids serve as a subtle declaration that slavery will not be allowed to destroy such an important aspect of people's identities, and that Black people are proud of their heritage.
Braiding In Pop Culture
After witnessing English artist Adele wear a bikini with the Jamaican flag and tie her hair in traditional African Bantu knots during the Notting Hill Carnival in 2020, Twitter erupted. Users disputed whether her approach was cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation, trapped in a web of misunderstanding that seemed to blur the distinctions between the two. So, what's the distinction between the two?
When "members of one culture adopt certain characteristics of a different culture without consent" or when a minority culture is brazenly distorted by a more dominant culture, this is referred to as cultural appropriation. As a result, preconceptions are reinforced, and the appropriator frequently gains personally in some way.
Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, is when someone has a genuine desire to learn about or help others learn about a specific culture while giving full credit and respect to people who are a part of that culture.
I remember working at a braid shop and having clients call in requesting "Kardashian Braids". Each and every time I would give the person over to my higher up in confusion, asking myself, "What in the world is a Kardashian Braid?", The expert braider assuming I didn't know what I was doing in the shop also was confused and stumped after hearing the name of the style.
Little did I know, Feed-In braids a popular style prevalent for years, had suddenly grown in popularity after Kim Kardashian was spotted wearing them. Expert braiders of 10+ years were turning down clients left and right over this new style.
In my opinion, had the style been worn as an homage to the origins people wouldn't have been upset, but due to the stealing of the style and rebranding as one's own, I consider this to be cultural appropriation.
Braids are a popular style among black culture and social media, but we must remember the roots of the style in order to appreciate the power it held for our ancestors and still holds today.
While learning and spreading awareness about a variety of cultures is a good thing, we have to constantly make the effort to ensure that valued traditions are never diminished to shallow trends.
When you walk into a room, the way you carry yourself, will either create walls or break down walls for you before you've even said a word. Because of this braids are a symbol of Black Power, Black Excellence, and the undying favor our crown holds from the creator.