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Zendaya Sets the Record Straight on Braids & Cultural Appropriation

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

With stars like Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Vanessa Hudgens rocking them, braids have become one of the hottest trends in hair, recently. But there’s also a bit of controversy swirling around the style, as many black women find its newfound popularity to be offensive.

In a recent interview with Popsugar, Zendaya breaks the whole thing down for us, explaining how these “new” trends can be hurtful and damaging to women in the black community.

When asked her thoughts on cultural appropriation, the 19-year-old said:

“Well, first of all, braids are not new. Black women have been wearing braids for a very long time, and that’s another part of the frustration. We’ve been using that as a protective style, as a hairstyle. That’s been in our culture and our community for a very long time. So it’s not this new, fresh, fun thing. Another problem is it became new and fresh and fun, because it was on someone else other than a black woman. You know what I mean? So that is the frustration. That’s where the culture appropriation element comes into play.”

The singer also talked about how the media can do a better job reporting on the issue:

“If something feels personal to your culture or to your background, then you take that personally and you feel affected by it. You can’t tell someone not to be upset about it… Talk to women of color and hear their personal experiences. Get to know the background, understand why people are offended by it, and [learn] how we can be more sensitive of other people’s cultures — how we can enlighten ourselves. Use it for good other than just something to click on. Because you click on it and then you read about how people are upset, but you don’t know why. You don’t learn anything, and you just feel like people are upset for no reason.”

When asked how celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry can appropriately wear the traditionally black style, Zendaya offered caution:

“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I would be careful, I would definitely be careful. I don’t know if there is an appropriate way — that’s not something I can answer.

My girl Amandla [Stenberg], who is super dope, brought up another problem. She wished society loved black people as much as they love black culture. That’s the truth. The credit gets taken away from us when we make certain statements or when we do certain things. That is the frustration. People want to be around for the positives and the things that we bring as far as culture, but they don’t want to be around when we have problems or when we’re getting shot in the streets. You know what I’m saying? You have to be there for the whole experience. You can’t just decide when you want to be a part of our culture.”

Zendaya’s statements are a reminder that even if you don’t experience cultural appropriation personally, it’s important to be aware of its impact, rather than taking on an attitude of passive tolerance. She also made it clear, for those who think black women simply wish to forbid non-black people from wearing braids, that the real issue how the style is perceived. For black women, braids and cornrows are typically seen as “ghetto” and “unprofessional,” which discourages them from wearing the styles in certain settings, like the workplace. However, non-black women who wear braids are being praised as “trendy” and “stylish” — which simply isn’t fair.

Check out Zendaya’s full interview, here.

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