Khloe Kardashian bantu knots cultural appropriation

Khloé Kardashian

photo: Instagram/khloekardashian

The Kardashian-Jenner family are considered tastemakers. They dictate culture. Their stamp of approval on a specific makeup method, hairstyle, or clothing brand immediately generates buzz and increases profits.

While it's impossible to knock their Kris Jenner-orchestrated hustle, it's important to grapple with how their whiteness — and rampant cultural appropriation — has aided their success. There's nothing wrong with cultural appreciation, which is far more complicated than it seems.

However, the Kardashian-Jenner family often steals bits from other cultures — and then presents it as trendy, edgy, and bold. Doing this while simultaneously not acknowledging the origin of the custom is wrong. Add that to their silence over racial justice issues, including rampant discrimination against Black girls and women, and it becomes clear that they want access to Blackness without having to bear the burden of being Black.

So, here are 10 times the Kardashian-Jenner family appropriated something from Black people while actual Black people were demonized, exploited, or mistreated for it.

1

That time Kylie Jenner "woke up" with cornrows.

Cornrows are a protective hairstyle that Black women have been wearing for centuries — literally. Cosmetologist Toni Love told Ebony Magazine that cornrows date back to at least 3000 BC.

"History tells us cornrows originated in Africa. The intricate braiding of the hair indicated the tribe you belonged to," she said. "Cornrows on women date back to at least 3000 BC and as far back as the nineteenth century for men, particularly in Ethiopia."

While Kylie flexed her cornrows on Instagram in July 2015, Black girls in South Africa had to publicly protest a school policy that forbade them from wearing their hair naturally. News 24, a South African news organization, reported that students at Pretoria High School for Girls were subjected to harassment because of their natural hair. 

The school's code for conduct forbid girls from wearing cornrows, locs, or braids because they're "untidy."

2

That time Khloé Kardashian deemed it cute to wear bantu knots.

Bantu knots are absolutely beautiful. The protective hairstyle originated in southern Africa, according to Ebony Magazine. It is now a no-fuss style that is popular among Black women with natural hair.

Khloé referred to herself as a "bantu babe" when she posted this photo to Instagram in August. After receiving massive backlash, she changed the caption to "I like this better." 

Yet, the 32-year-old remained eerily silent when a Texas elementary school told a 9-year-old that her afro puffs were "unacceptable" and violated their dress code.

3

That time women began doing the Kylie Jenner challenge to "plump their lips."

Kylie Jenner got lip injections — and there's nothing wrong with that. Now though, her augmented lips, which greatly mirror the average Black woman's lips, are considered the perfect pout. 

Her lips gained so much notoriety that ordinary people began competing in the #KylieJennerChallenge. As writer Ashley Reese pointed out in an essay for Gurl, Black women have long been taunted for having big lips.

"It's weird how people are going to ridiculous measures to get the look that so many Black women–including Black celebrities–have, but only decided to start copy catting when a cute white teenager who happens to be in a famous family started rocking them," she wrote. 

Exactly.

4

That time Kylie went fiery red with the cornrows.

Black women who wear colorful hair are often deemed "ghetto" and unprofessional. A moral judgment is often made about Black women who experiment with their hair in the way that Kylie did.

"What's problematic to me is how these conversations, whether braids or butts, are happening without the broader social context from where they came," Tiffany M. Gill, associate professor of black American studies at the University of Delaware, told Essence. "When braids are on Black bodies, they are dangerous or subversive, but celebrated as fashion on white bodies."

The stereotype is so deeply entrenched that Amina Mucciolo, a blogger and designer, had to create the Unicorn Curls Tumblr to highlight Black women who are participating in the rainbow hair trend. 

5

That time Kim Kardashian created "boxer braids."

Apparently, Kim and the UFC created "boxer braids," which are really cornrows or plaits. The #KimKardashianBraids Instagram hashtag is full of white women equating their cornrows with a white woman's iteration of the ancient hairstyle.

When Sasha Obama wore "boxer braids," The New York Daily News attributed its popularity to the Kardashians.

"The first daughter joins a raft of high-profile beauties sporting a version of the now-ubiquitous boxer braids," Alev Aktar wrote. "Fueled by celebrities and the popularity of UFC fighters, the center-parted reverse French-braid style has surged back into fashion."

It has been "in fashion" for a long time.

6

That time Kylie wore a yaki ponytail to New York Fashion Week.

Kylie wore a high Yaki ponytail to Alexander Wang's New York Fashion Week show last February. Yaki is typically used for braiding, not for ponytails. Furthermore, Yaki hair is designed to blend in with a Black woman's hair, which is why Kylie's texture doesn't match the ponytail's texture. 

Black women who choose to add extensions to their braids — or rock weaves — are often accused of attempting to be "white."

Yet, Kylie's Yaki ponytail is considered high fashion. Zeba Blay, a writer for The Huffington Post, summed up why that's an issue.

"Black hair is not just hair. There’s history and context tied to these styles that cannot be ignored, a historical legacy forever linked to the ongoing cultural remnants of slavery and institutional racism," she wrote. "A white person who wears these styles dismisses that context and turns Black hair into a novelty, a parody, a subtle form of blackface."

7

That time Kylie accessorized with a durag.

Black men wear du-rags to assist in the process of waving their hair. It's also a way to protect a Black person's hair while they're sleeping. It's not, however, a fashion accessory as Kylie wore it in September.

In fact, most Black people, especially Black men, leave their du-rags at home. Wearing it outside can often cause Black men to be stereotyped as thugs. As Josie Pickens explained in an essay for Refinery29:

"When young Black men and women wear du-rags they are viewed as appearing unkempt and uncivilized. They can likely be viewed as mischievous or criminal. Du-rags, like baggy pants and hoodies are used as reasons to profile Black people — to see them as suspicious, because those clothing items are tied to urban fashion, and thus urban crime. When Jenner wears fashion shaped by Black experiences and Black culture, without acknowledging where that fashion comes from, she is erasing and devaluing Black people and the challenges (like racial profiling, for instance) that they experience."

8

That time Kylie sported faux locs, which she called "dreads."

Locs have a history that traverse over thousands of years. However, in modern times, locs are associated with spirituality, especially among those who identify as Rastafarians. 

Lori Tharps, an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University and co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, told Revelist last March that locs aren't exactly a hairstyle.

"It’s interesting because locs are not necessarily a style per say," she told Revelist. "A lot of different cultures claim locs for religious reasons."

Kylie hails from none of those cultures. She chose to wear faux locs, but called them "dreads," a terminology that many people who wear them oppose.

"In the United States, [locs are] associated with those of Kenyan warriors who wore their hair in dredlocs against the British," Tharps said. "The British said Kenyan warriors' hair was so dreadfully scary. Some people don't like to refer to them as dredlocs because it includes the the word 'dread.'"

Locs are often considered unprofessional when worn by Black people. For instance, Giuliana Rancic said Zendaya's faux locs looked as if they smelled like "Patchouli oil and weed." The Army only recently overturned a rule that forbid soldiers from wearing locs.

9

That time Kim "broke the internet."

photo: Gawker

In November 2014, Kim Kardashian graced the cover of Paper Magazine. The "break the internet" photo is a re-creation of Jean-Paul Goude's 1982 "Jungle Fever" photo. Goude took both photos. 

Beyond that, Kim's photo recalls the exploitation of Saartjie Baartman, a Black woman who lived during the nineteenth century. The native South African was captured, sold, and sent to Europe to perform in a human-oddities show — because of her large buttocks and elongated labia. 

She became known as the Hottentot Venus, and spent the remainder of her short life being exploited in freak shows.

That historical context can't be divorced from the celebration of Kim's body and autonomy.