The discussion about cultural appropriation is more than just topical. It’s a critical move to rebalance power dynamics. But what is its effect on real people? And is there a difference between appropriation and appreciation? For Heritage Month, we asked eight women to weigh in as part of our #HERitage series.
Sho Madjozi (aka Maya Wegerif) on braids
A 25-year-old rapper and actress of Tsonga and mixed-race heritage
‘My braids are inspired by West African styles and Thandiswa Mazwai, who was inspired by Fulani braids.
‘My braids represent Afro futurism. The question is: what would a globalised young African be if she was not interrupted by the horror of colonialism and apartheid? My braids are the answer.
‘I know that there still exists this idea in some spaces that braids are not professional – that black women should wear weaves or straightened hair, otherwise they aren’t serious or polished. I think that is changing, though. For me, I’m an artist – so I don’t generally encounter negativity around my braids.
‘In wearing braids, I want it to be seen as stylish, chic and high-end. They’re a sign of love and belonging. If you have your hair braided in many African cultures, it meant that you were taken care of. That someone loved you enough to sit down and braid your hair. Even if you were very poor, you could have braids – as long as someone cared enough about you to give you that time.
Cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation
‘The idea that Africans belong to one specific “culture” is so outdated. We are globalised, just like everyone else. My xibelani represents my Xitsonga culture. My Air Maxes represent my global culture. And these braids fall into global black culture. So I guess the question is: how would I feel if a non-black person started wearing these braids? Pretty annoyed, I guess. Mostly because I feel that white people often get the praise and the credit for adopting things that we have been doing all along.
‘Every single case of potential cultural appropriation is different and should be looked at as such. In many cases, the biggest issue is money. People who create the culture and the art don’t benefit, while people who are copying it get the money for it. Too often, the originators of culture are poor.
‘Sure, there are cases where if you obtain “cultural” items/services from the right people, you’re supporting their livelihood. That’s awesome. But when you adopt a style, make sure you add something to it. Add a unique twist so that you are also growing culture. Don’t just take.
‘I love wearing braids because I look beautiful in them. The geometry, the beads … when every single braid is the same size. It’s art, really.’
Read more about our #HERitage series, and the other women weighing in on the conversation, here.