British pop star Adele is the latest celebrity to get into trouble for the imaginary sin of “cultural appropriation.” The singer stirred up controversy this week when she posted a picture of herself sporting Bantu knots, which is a traditional African hairstyle featuring multiple buns or knots. Adele has, presumably, worn many hairstyles over the years. All of those styles have origins somewhere, and it’s doubtful that any of them originate in modern Britain. Is she supposed to check an encyclopedia every time she wants to put her hair up to ensure that she does not fashion it in a way that bears similarity to hairstyles worn by non-white people? Apparently so. Racial justice demands it.
So, as cities burn and our country deals with multiple major crises at once, our friends on the Left still had time to worry about the way a woman across the ocean fashioned her hair. Ernest Owens, a self-described “award winning journalist” and rich guy on the Forbes list, spoke out valiantly on the issue. “If 2020 couldn’t get anymore bizarre, Adele is giving us Bantu knots and cultural appropriation that nobody asked for,” he tweeted. “This officially marks all of the top white women in pop as problematic.”
If 2020 couldn't get anymore bizarre, Adele is giving us Bantu knots and cultural appropriation that nobody asked for.
This officially marks all of the top white women in pop as problematic.
Hate to see it. pic.twitter.com/N9CqPqh7GX
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) August 30, 2020
Owens, an alleged grown man, is himself appropriating from 19-year-old, pink-haired gender studies majors by calling an utterly innocuous thing “problematic.”
Other luminaries like Jemele Hill, last seen when claiming that the United States is analogous to Nazi Germany, swooped in to deliver a scolding to the white woman who wore too many buns in her hair. I can only assume that the problem here is the number of buns, not the bun itself. Ancient Greeks wore buns (yes, I actually looked this up). It’s safe to assume that many people in ancient times even wore hair styles that include multiple buns. So, the age old question: How many buns can Adele have before she becomes racist? What is the bun threshold? I counted nine visible buns. Would she be racist with just five buns? What about six? And are we certain that the nine or ten bun style originates with African women? Do we know that no other culture anywhere on Earth ever thought of doing that many buns?
These are questions that the Appropriation Police never answer, and can’t answer. But that doesn’t stop them from enforcing their nonsensical rules. Left-wing bloggers leapt into action over BunGate. A writer for the website The Root wrote a lengthy article on the issue. She lamented that the singer would do something so callous as to put her hair in a bun when Adele has to this point been, says the writer, “among the least problematic faves of the Caucasian persuasion.”
One might argue that labeling someone a “least problematic fave” of a certain race is far more racist than wearing too many buns in your hair, but what do I know?
Rebecca Fishbein over at Jezebel proved that she’s one of the good white people by joining the pile on, quoting from an Instagram commenter: “Black women are discriminated against for wearing cultural hairstyles like bantu knots and locs but white people are not, that’s not fair and that’s why people are pissed off.”
But isn’t Adele being discriminated against right now? Has any black woman ever been criticized in publications across the globe for wearing her hair in a bun? And even if some black women have been discriminated against for wearing the hairstyle, why exactly does that mean other people can’t wear it? We are told that some people of one race are discriminated for wearing something and therefore people of another race shouldn’t wear it, but it seems we’ve leap frogged over a few of the steps in this logical progression. There is no apparent connection between the premise and the conclusion, and no one ever tries to explain the connection.
The problem here, and the reason why the Appropriation Police can never quite explain what appropriation is, and why it’s wrong, and why any of this matters at all, is that the whole concept is meaningless. You would think that the people who love to see everything as “fluid” and “on a spectrum” and “a human construct” would understand that culture is, by definition, the most fluid human construct of all. Culture is simply the customs, traditions, arts, and institutions of any group of people. And those customs, traditions, arts, and institutions are always evolving, always in constant exchange with other cultures. In this era of global connectivity, that process is in hyperdrive.
This is why, even if it made sense to accuse one culture of stealing something from another culture — which it doesn’t, because theft deprives the victim of the thing being stolen, but nobody is being prevented from wearing buns just because Adele is wearing them, as if there is some sort of scarcity of buns and Adele is hogging more than her share — we still couldn’t identify who is actually guilty of stealing from whom. Humans have been making culture, in some form or another, for tens of thousands of years. For most trends and fashions, it is not possible to identify a definitive date or place of origin. Even if you could, what influenced the person who came up with it? And what influenced the influences of that person, and so on?
This was illustrated recently when a white business owner in Seattle was forced to issue an apology for wearing dreadlocks, which supposedly “appropriated” from African culture, too. But dreadlocks have a diverse history (yes, I actually looked this up too) and have been worn by people of many different races. Vikings wore dreadlocks. Hindus wore and still wear dreadlocks. Who owns them? Answer: nobody, because style is not a thing that can be owned. We might as well say that whoever first baked a loaf of bread now owns the concept of bread and only the direct descendents of the first bread maker are allowed to experience its considerable joys.
Of course, I am trying to engage with the concept of cultural appropriation honestly and logically, which means I am missing the point. It is not supposed to make sense. It is simply supposed to be accepted and obeyed. It is just another means of controlling people and sewing division and discord in a society that already has a surplus of both.
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