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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  • amar

    i honestly dont understand the offense as long as us black women are still wearing all coloured straight wigs and weaves, tbh im a natural who is not offended by her wig, i refuse to take some things personally i think all of us black ppl should too. getting offended about every little thing is what makes ppl call us crazy, ratchet and rude. why cant we be just laugh some things off? we struggled in the past, isnt now the time to find peace and happiness instead hunting for new ways to bring one another down?

  • Guest

    i honestly dont understand the offense as long as us black women are still wearing all coloured straight wigs and weaves, tbh im a natural who is not offended by her wig, i refuse to take some things personally i think all of us black ppl should too. getting offended about every little thing is what makes ppl call us crazy, ratchet and rude. why cant we be just laugh some things off? we struggled in the past, isnt now the time to find peace and happiness instead hunting for new ways to bring one another down?

  • Annoyed with us blacks

    That’s just up black all over. How many black person you know are born with 18″ blond hair yet if a white person talk about it there is a problem. So now she if wearing a ‘Fro’ because its fun people have a problem with it. Please. These are the same people who have a problem with a Black man dating a white woman while they stay lonely and afraid to look on the white man who would love to talk to them. I say if it does not affect you personally, leave it alone

  • I don’t care about her fro if she wore it to the store to her job but to wear it and then go to that extravaganza, that raises questions.

  • H.Bellz

    Its her head. If thats what she wants to do why not? As black people sometimes I think we are hypocritcal. I see lots of black women wearing straight blond hair, Indian hair, european, brazilian, etc. Let her wear the wig. I know theres something more important in the news to care about.

  • TJ

    Why is everyone speaking bad about the fried chicken extravaganza? Sounds delicious I love fried chicken! 😀

  • Leillah

    Really? There is an election on, and all other things going on in the world and people are arguing about this! I am outraged at the attention this is getting. She wants to wear a fro, so what? Fried chicken extravaganza, I am into that, where is it? Fried chicken in a stereotype in a lot of black comedians acts about black people. But wait, she is white, how dare she repeat what all comedians are saying out there. Get a grip world! This is NOT newsworthy.

  • not a fan at all! I have an issue with this.

  • Topazhoney

    I could care less about the white woman’s afro nor the “chicken extravaganza” she went to, because I am not defined by my hair, nor by the stereotypes they may have of me. What offends me is not getting equal pay or equal opportunity.

  • corine

    I alway say that black ppls is sooooooo racist men y all those arguments over a afro sssshhhhhmmmm nonsense

  • Pivyque

    I’m one of those people that’s not offended lol She can do what she wants with her hair.

  • Guest

    This is the bone I have to pick with his article: We want out hair to be embraced as being just as beautiful and lovely as the next race’s….but we get upset and uproarious when someone outside of our race embraces it. We have to get over the fact that other races are going to be doing things like this. We can’t get offended by every person who outwardly shows that deep down they have a love and affinity for our kinks, coils, and curls, because in the end, all they are really doing is showing other people to love them too. So in a way, I kinda commend ole girl for being bold. Hella bold, because all she’s really doing is helping us prove our point. Our hair is beautiful, our hair is unique, and y’all love it.

  • gmarie

    Fried chicken extravaganza? NO. Not funny. As for the Afro..how can anyone else be convinced that we TRULY love our kinks and coils if we feel like we need to attach “struggle” to wearing the look?

  • Candacey Doris

    I don’t feel offended, just confused. What did she think she would learn by putting on a afro wig? I’m definitely wondering about the fried chicken extravaganza. Did she think that black people have some sort of secret rituals that take place with fried chicken and she would learn if she went undercover? We only eat it because it tastes good, i swear. This is not worth getting worked up over.

  • Machelle Kwan

    I think blondie needs to take that off Asap. She doesn’t have a CLUE about the trials and tribulations that come with being a black woman. She wants the hair but I bet she wouldn’t want my life. If she wants dark curly hair, she should get a perm and die it black. Europeans have their own culture. So why are they so obsessed with ours?

  • DianaDT

    The issue is not her wanting to wear an afro hairstyle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, what is wrong is to trivialize a culture of an entire group of people down to an experience characterizing it by using it as a symbol (afro wig) for “Black” people. If that is in fact what she is doing.
    I am a Black American, currently studying in the UK. I met a very kind woman today, also a foreigner who did not understand when I said that I am originally from America. She didn’t know Americans had Black people were actually from America (She thought all Blacks are immigrants). I thought how funny, there are many Americans who feel the same way.

    • Machelle Kwan

      See this is the stuff that gets me angry. I’m sick and tired of the stereotyping,the mocking, and the lack of respect of African Americans. We’re not immigrants. Our ancestors built this freaking nation and we’re born here.

  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    I’m confused – she’s upset because this woman wanted black people hair and experience for the day? like can we stop getting petty black people about little things?

  • Is there more to the story? Am I missing something? I’m not quite sure why anyone would get upset with a Caucasian woman wearing an Afro wig because a few decades ago, Afro’s were in for all cultures. It doesn’t make me upset that she wore this, but what she chose to wear it to is what is upsetting. Its mockery in a way. Fried chicken fest and oh yeah I’m going to wear an Afro there. hmmm…not a wise choice but its also upsetting to know something so small as this would upset the African American Community.

    • Yes it was mockery. I’m glad someone else sees that.

  • I was pissed, but it’s the same as Nene Leaks bleaching her hair blonde, shaving her nose and hanging around rich white people talking ‘proper’.

    lol.

  • Angie

    I’m a black female and in all fairness I think it is unfair to address her Michelle Joni so harshly and not address the other side. For me the afro wig on a white person bothers me just as much as the long straight blond tracks/ wigs and blue and green contact lenses on black women. At the end of the day everyone has a choice and I try very hard not to be bothered by the choices of others; however, sometimes boths sides can get pretty ridiculous.

  • Sandy

    How many black women are walking around looking like they scalped some white chick and slapped her hair upside their head? She looks as stupid as they do ,but I wouldn’t’ call it racist and it doesn’t offend me.

  • GalaxyEmpress

    How is what this white woman is doing any different from the many black women who don weaves made from the hair of white, Arab and Asian women??? Are you all serious?? Or is it that some of you feel embarrassed that a white woman has more appreciation for the same natural hair many of you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing??? smh Anyone care to explain this to me??? And last time I checked, imitation was the best form of flattery.

    That is all!!!

    • get real

      Maybe because these blk women aren’t chinking their eyes, straightening their hair just to attend a Kung-Fu “extravaganza”. Maybe these black women aren’t dressing like Arabs with veils over heads just to attend a mocking of the Twin Towers being knocked down. If she went to Halloween party with a Afro with the attitude of “hey screw yall I think Afro’s are cool” then no problem. But to a fried chicken party? What if she went to a Watermelon patch rocking a Afro? Or taking a picture with a foodstamp card while rocking a fro? Something tells me you folks still wouldn’t have a problem with that.

  • Nenah

    We can’t have it both ways. If a black woman can wear a blonde wig or weave, then she can wear an afro. I’m sure she looked an a**, but thats on her. What concerns me more is that there is something called a fried chicken extravaganza. Ya’ll need to do a story about that bull isht.

  • Kourtney

    It isn’t offensive at all. I think people get so sensitive over little thing. I think it is actually pretty cool that she has the courage to even try the afro and- blog about it.
    But on a side note, the fried chicken extravaganza, where they do thazt at?

  • I can see the issues of privileged coming into to play. Many black women have gone natural and worn their kinks only to be criticized, mocked, and ridiculed. Here a white woman wears textured hair, and is celebrated. As far as a double standard regarding weaves, wigs, and the like, historically people of color needed to assimilate and attempt to reflect what was deemed acceptable by the dominant group.

    Eurocentric aesthetics have always been promoted, and made to be the standard, so why would a white person be offended by a person of color attempting to fit that mold? A white person, such as Michelle, wouldn’t have to deal with the insecurity associated with establishing, upholding, protecting, and discovering cultural expression and identity, to the same degree a person of color does.

    Overall, I’m not that invested in the Afro controversy, but I’m not going to pretend like I don’t understand why some people are upset.

    • queenbee2u

      So based off of your second paragraph are you saying that she shouldn’t wear a black afro wig because she has no reason to be insecure about her texture, but black women should wear weaves and relaxers because we should be insecure because of what someone else says is acceptable? I’m confused? Sounds like you have a complex.

      • No. That’s not what my second paragraph is stating. And I’m wasn’t stating anyone should or shouldn’t do anything.

        However, a white person should not and would not be offended by a black person wearing straightened hair/wigs/or weaves because they should be able to acknowledge the fact that straight hair has been praised, while highly textured hair like ours has been (historically) criticized. SOME black women manipulate their hair to be straight to avoid negative criticism. And because they are taught this is what they need to do.

        Michele (the afro lady) and white people as a collective do not have to combat these types of racial, negative messages. Nor do they have to deal with “establishing, upholding, protecting, and discovering cultural expression and identity” in order to remind themselves that the many negative messages/stereotypes about them as a people, aren’t true. This can be said for natural hair. Many black woman had to learn how to accept and love their natural hair, despite what others may believe and Michele’s actions somewhat trivializes this.

        That’s what I was trying to say.

        • mmmmmm

          Thank you for speaking the truth! A lot of people are saying “oh, we don’t tell black women not to wear straight weaves, so why tell her she can’t wear an afro wig” it’s because long straight hair is the acceptable norm, duh and white people will not complain about being followed. In history they have always had an intolerance to different. They told our ancestors to cover their course hair up, etc. Again, they are intolerant to different and always want us to assimilate. Therefore they have no problem seeing us with straight hair.

          They know nothing about what it takes to take care of our hair. In junior high, after getting hair extensions a white girl who hated me, said brightly to me, “oh your hair grew.” This shows they obviously know nothing about our hair and our hair practices. Some of them might even assume the wig you’re wearing is your hair! So self-absorbed are they.

    • eyeconic1

      Well, maybe if we would embrace ourselves more, we wouldn’t be criticized as much. Hell, we are our worst crticis we don’t need other cultures to do it for us. You can flaunt the yack but cant flaunt what God blessed you with.

  • realadulttalk

    I don’t get it. 90% of the time I think a woman is white until she turns around and I realize that she’s simply wearing a long, flowing, not-matching her natural hair texture weave. How can we then be upset when a white woman wears an afro wig? I’m refusing the whole fried chicken extravaganza…REFUSING!!!!

  • eyeconic1

    So whats the difference in her wearing the wig vs. black women wearing blonde, paltinum blonde hair down to their asses or people like NM who wears all types of weaves, colors and textures. Knowing damn well this not whatyour hair is like. Half of black women don’t even embrace their own hair. They swear the creamy crack is where its at. And msot wouldnt be caught dead with this fro. Sooooo why get mad now? Now the fried chicken extravaganza should be raising eyelids, WTF is that and where is that held? LMBO!

  • She gave the same response black women give to justify why they wear wigs/perms etc. IT’S JUST HAIR. Admittedly the fried chicken extravaganza was a bit much. But why is it when white women date black men/have big behinds/round lips/get tanned/wear afros… Or do anything that relates to black culture they are automatically labeled as wanting to be black? But weaves/wigs/perms and dating white men are labeled as one’s own personal choices. Can’t have it both ways. I also find it interesting she wears a fro with no problem and gets criticized for it when alot of black women don’t have he courage to go out in a fro. Imagine the outcry there would be if a white woman went up to a weave wearing black woman and accused her of hiding who she was and how she is trying to be like her. She would be labeled a racist so quick. Smh

    • queenbee2u

      church!

  • Where was the outrage during the 60s and 70s when whites and jews were actually rocking fros of their own natural hair? pick up any album cover from those areas and you’ll see them left and right. (sigh)

    • H.Bellz

      Exactly, I agree. Next subject.

  • So What

    So should white women get mad at Beyonce for wearing a wavy #27 Yaki???? I’m confused about how this is offensive. And why does she have to endure the whole “black experience” because she wants to wear an afro wig? So are we saying she should move to “the hood” get denied jobs because of her race and time travel to the 50’s and march with dr King before she buys an afro wig? I know I’m gonna get a thousand unlikes but I don’t understand why people are getting upset when so many black people are doing everything unhealthy to make their hair look anything from kinky and natural anyway. At least someone besides me is embracing our natural beauty. Smh.

    • queenbee2u

      I swear sometimes black people can get so offended by the most silliest things. Why not get offended that Romney said that our president is the “best food stamp president of all times.” And we are made about the one of few white people that actually like something that represents black folks? Come on black America lets do better.

    • SunshineBlossom

      #DEAD @ #27 yaki!!!

    • realadulttalk

      I’m not disliking!!

    • frustrating

      I was going to say the same thing. look at nicki minaj, tyra banks, and lil kim. Hell even kim kardashian. all of them look like they want to be white woman. but you don’t see them getting offended or saying anything about them. Not saying that what she did wasnt inconsiderate but why continue with this racist ignorance. everything is racist this or racist that, why i like something cause i like it? frustrating.

      • frustrating

        * why cant i like something cause i like it*

    • To not only wear the afro but to go to a “fried chicken extravaganza” you don’t see the problem with that huh? ok *raises eyebrow*

      • Machelle Kwan

        Of course these whitewashed black folk don’t see a problem with it. They’re brainwashed. Oh my bad. I”‘m just being too sensitive.

        • I don’t know why their trying to delude themselves here. It is clearly evident she did this as some crass joke of acting black. it might as well have been a Halloween costume.

          Anyways the whole argument that Nicki Minaj and them do it so its fine. No, Nicki Minaj and them are rewarded for doing that. That’s an illness in its own right. When is the last time an unweaved unrelaxed black woman gained major notoriety. . . .I’ll wait for the answer to that. yet we shouldn’t say boo when some white chick gets her yuppy liberal rocks off by being black for a day. PUHLEASE!

  • islandman

    MOST HATED, MOST IMITATED.Are we really surprise people?Nope..

    • Black wifey

      So true….everyone hates black people but they all want to mimic us.

  • Adrina

    I only have two points to this:
    1. If she was “acting black” and saying stupid ish, then yeah it’s offensive to the culture but if she just showed up with a fro then I don’t see the problem. I mean
    Did white ppl get offended when we were/are wearing relaxers that make our hair bouncy, straight and free falling like there’s? Is this a double standard? BW wear that god-awful blonde hair and blue/hazel/green contacts all the time, and you never once heard a white person go crazy over the internet

    2. WTH throws a fried chicken extravaganza?

    • It’sMe

      Took the words right out of my mouth!

    • bits

      ignit white folks thats who!

    • IllyPhilly

      LMAO, I just wanted to know that answer to number 2 as well.

    • jen rn

      I completely agree – with all the true problems in our world, I find it almost offensive to make an issue of something that is really a non-issue. Besides, I have a girlfriend (she’s white) & she has really coarse, dark blonde, tight-curly hair; she prefers to wear it afro-style. Are we to damn her because she was born with hair that has similar characteristics to a black woman’s hair?!

      • jen rn

        To clarify- I agree w/Adrina 🙂

  • diggy.p

    Fried Chicken Extravaganza? Where is this mess held? I see nothing wrong with her wearing the wig. If she wants to waste her money then so be it. But it is true that women who wear the kinky texture are treated differently. UNLESS, they are beautiful/have a pretty face & shape to match that afro. I haven’t met an African American guy since I went natural and have decided to don a curly afro. I only have met foreign guys. Surprisingly, ALL Haitian. My current boyfriend is Haitian and he treats me like a doll. If AA men don’t want me, that’s fine. But I’m not going to straighten my hair to be accepted because I CHOOSE not to.

  • NikkitaMichelle

    One of the members of LMFAO that have that party rocker song, dons a afro wig and no one is tripping on him. The issue that I see with it is that this chick doesn’t see the tackiness in dressing herself up like a walking stereotype and then going to to fried chicken ganza to add insult to injury. The fact that she doesn’t see the disrespect in it is my problem. Since you can’t be us you want to mock us. You could never walk a mile in our shoes. You need to have several seats.

    • Miss K

      Redfoo was born with his kinky curly texture.

    • ashley79

      The members of LMFAO are black and Jewish (I think about the Jewish part) but this article is like saying people of Jewish ancestry can’t rock the fro because their skin isn’t dark enough.

      • NikkitaMichelle

        That’s his natural hair? Good for him. Looked like wig to me. I don’t think they were really speaking about people who can actually grow an afro out of their own head.

    • I agree. This wasn’t her saying I love afros so I decided to wear one to work. She purposely wore an afro to a FRIED CHICKEN EXTRAVAGANZA. Come on now she did so because she thought it was ‘cute’ to mock black culture.

  • ijs

    My problem isn’t with the hair, but “the fried chicken extravaganza”! Black women have been wearing weaves and getting our hair relaxed for years; where’s the outrage? Some BLACK WOMEN refuse to wear there OWN hair in an Afro and have the nerve to be offended because a white woman is wearing an Afro wig? Really now?

    • Miss K

      I agree with you on this one. A double standard. Is there not an aspect of trying to access the “privileged,” straight-haired, caucasian culture in wearing tresses other than our own? It goes both ways in my opinion. It just seems so much more radical and offensive to see a white woman flipping the script on us. I have to say, she made a valid (if slightly dismissive) response. We as a people are perhaps the most notorious for changing up our look. And then we get offended when “Becky” asks us why our hair grew three feet overnight! #justsaying

  • Ms. Cambri

    I get just as offended seein black girls with blonde hair and blue contacts. SHe could have left the fried chicken ganza and the crazy shades and gaudy jewlery. Matter of fact chick could have gotten a perm and called it a day!!