Months ago, when Kim Kardashian was credited for making “boxer braids” a thing, Brande, our managing editor, was sure that we were being trolled. I wasn’t. I’m never too quick to dismiss the ignorance of White folks when it comes to Black culture, particularly Black hair. Even though Black girls and women have been wearing corn rows for centuries, I’m not sure that White people pay enough attention to us to even notice. Or perhaps, they were so busy learning how to recreate the style, they forgot to learn the actual name. I don’t know, can’t be sure.
But the most recent incident of cultural appropriation or example of revisionist history comes from Vogue.
This past Monday, Lupita Nyong’o stunned on the Met Gala’s red carpet. It wasn’t just her shimmery jade green dress; but it was the hair, sculpted to point up toward heaven, that had the people really talking. Of course it was African inspired. Black women have been crafting our hair into gravity-defying shapes for centuries. And most Black folk and cultured others could see that. Unfortunately, Vogue was not among that group.
While they reported that Nyong’o herself cited Nina Simone as an inspiration for her hair; in an attempt to bring a White woman into the mix, the publication dug through their archives to locate a picture of Audrey Hepburn rocking a beehive. And to add insult to injury, the headline asked:
Is Lupita Nyong’o the New Audrey Hepburn? Celebrating the Star’s Met Gala Hair
Instead of placing Lupita next to the woman she actually named as her inspiration, it was Audrey Hepburn. They mentioned that folks were saying her hair was reminiscent of a character in Dr. Seuss’ “Whosville.” They referenced a Marge Simpson meme before trotting out that picture of Audrey Hepburn’s updo from their 1963 photo shoot.
They didn’t stop there.
“And the similarities between the two ingenues extend beyond hair; both, like Hepburn’s famous incarnation of Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady,’ have mastered the art of transformation, from head to toe.”
Now, we’re likening a fictional character’s transformation to a real woman? I’m confused. Not only is one fact and one fiction, Lupita is nothing like Eliza Doolittle. If you recall, at the beginning of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle was busted and disgusted. She was dirty, couldn’t speak clearly and had never been anywhere or seen anything. That’s not Lupita’s story. Her father is a politician, her mother the leader of a cancer foundation. She attended Yale’s School of Drama. There is no struggle story here.
Even if Vogue wanted to compare Nyong’o’s character Patsey to Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle, it still doesn’t compute. Patsey was literally whipped for her desire to be clean, while Eliza was content to be filthy.
But if we’re talking about Lupita, the actual woman? From the moment she burst onto the scene, after 12 Years a Slave, she was flawless, fly, red carpet royalty. There was no need for a transformation.
Fascinating that because Lupita seems to have gained the approval of the mainstream that she must be likened to someone White people know, someone White people loved, someone who looks like White people, in order to be fully appreciated.
Not only is Lupita her own woman, she just wasn’t looking to Hepburn on the night of the gala. Furthermore, Hepburn’s stylists in the sixties would have likely been unwilling and unable to create that style on afro-textured hair. It’s a completely different process and an entirely different look. And Vogue knew this BECAUSE LUPITA TOLD THEM.
Their choice to ignore the information, to redirect the attention back to a White woman is more than just a matter of being ignorant, failing to take the time to do the research, or not having a full grasp of cultural appropriation. It’s just irresponsible. And, as Brande said at the top of the year, it is indeed trolling. They know better at this point and are simply refusing to do better. And that decision not only represents a clinging to the past, a refusal to update with the times and be more inclusive, it is truly disturbing in the way it attempts to silence yet another Black woman’s voice and her decision to pay homage to the Black women who came before her.
Thankfully, Lupita, with all her grace, handled the situation very tactfully. She created a slideshow featuring her real hair inspirations, all Black women, and @ mentioned Vogue in the caption.
If it were me, in addition the “think piece” above, they would have gotten this gif.