Afros And White Privilege: Why One Woman’s “Self-Discovery” With A Wig Is Pissing People Off

October 24, 2012  |  

Source: beforeandafro.com

Michelle Joni set the Internet ablaze when she blogged about donning a large afro wig over her carefully concealed naturally blonde hair and attended a “fried chicken extravaganza.”  Many people flooded the net and her blog, “before and afro,” with comments that her actions were insensitive and offensive, arguing that her wig was—and is—a caricature of black culture.  Especially since she has black friends who have let her know that her actions were disrespectful even to them. While she asserts that she has “rendered” the afro as a part of her personal style repertoire and that is has become a catalyst for a “wild life journey of self-discovery,” people have pointed out that it’s just another example of folks wanting to be “black” per se, but not being ready to handle all that comes with it. As one reader responded, “You do realize that using a facsimile of what actually grows out of non Caucasian heads as a prop/metaphor in your little self discovery mission is pretty much the definition of white privilege and appropriation, correct?”

I must say I agree with this person’s comment, and it has always been a curious thing for me to see how individuals react when called on the privilege they enjoy—be it white, male or sexual.  In the case of fro’d out Michelle Joni and her seeming white privilege, in an October 18, 2012 blog post, she finally decided to speak on it:

“Can the afro belong to any one group…For perpetually straight-haired people who love the look of a beautiful bulbous coiffure framing their face, should they be ridiculed or denied because they’ve not experienced the struggles associated with the culture to which it is most strongly tied? And if someone wants to change their look with a wig on a whim – fro or bob, blonde, brunette or rainbow – should there be freedom to do so?”

As a woman and a black person BORN with a fro of beautiful kinks and coils, I exist in a world filled with so many things to be angry about that as I read her words, I couldn’t find the space to be angry like some others, I could only shake my head at the ignorance. I was reminded of an articulate declaration by Michaela Angela Davis in her essay, “Resistance,” contained in Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool, One Thousand Streams of Blackness.

“To the white, privileged, the well-intentioned liberals who have studied us, slept with us, and sympathized with our struggle, and to the with-it pop academics who lived in the hood or built houses in Haiti because you know us, love us, worked and fought on our behalf, know this: All that affords you no rights and no access to this.  I deeply appreciate your sympathetic, possessive, or loving service, but you cannot have this.  Nope, not this, not now, not ever.  You cannot have our cool a** Black style.” 

Could she have known the shamtastery that “before and afro” would ensue? Because it sounds like she could be talking right to the blog’s author and all those who think like her.

For those who don’t understand why anyone would be bothered by a white woman simply wanting to wear a wig on her head, you might want to pay attention. The problem with behavior like that which Michelle Joni has displayed is that it trivializes the culture and experiences of an entire people.  It would seem these days that black is the new black…but only when it’s fun. It’s nice to fit in to our culture, but it’s interesting when you can slip back out once things get too hard or uncomfortable. Until people start “trying on” other elements of the reality of being black in America and then actually take the knowledge gained and change systems that keep marginalized people oppressed, I’m pretty sure I’d like them to miss me with all of this wearing ginormous afro wigs at fried-chicken fest type antics.  So Miss Joni, you like our hair, and want to wear some just like it?  Hmm, that’s cute…but not really.

But I’ve said enough, how do you feel about the situation?

Sheena Bryant is a writer and blogger in Chicago.  Follow her on twitter at @song_of_herself.

 

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