Kendall Jenner and Marie Claire Re-Invented the “Cornrow”

If you’re like me, then you have awesome friends on Facebook who share their thoughts about the oddities of the privileged set. Today, Marie Claire published this dull picture of Kendall Jenner with part of her hair cornrowed. (I’m proud to say I didn’t even know who Kendall Jenner was until I *just* Googled her.) Marie Claire lauded Jenner for her “bold” and “epic” hairstyle.

The hairstyle that revolutionized the world.

The hairstyle that revolutionized the world.

Oh really?

Côte d’Ivoire, 1939. Photo Cred: Center for Cultural Design

Côte d’Ivoire, 1939. Photo Cred: Center for Cultural Design

We all know that cornrows haven’t been around for centuries, and that women of color did not originated the style for religious purposes, familial customs, social mores, or the basic need for managing thick and luscious hair. That absolutely never happened.

It never occurred to me, a proud Black woman, to look at the expressive cornrows I see everyday on Fulton Street. Those hairstyles are nothing compared to the daring fashion-forward Kendall Jenner!

Social media quickly responded with the backlash I would expect. Realizing their mistake, or, at the very least, trying to avoid a publicity nightmare, Marie Claire apologized for the obvious oversight. But for me, the apology changes nothing. I don’t know the story behind the tweet; maybe an ambitious intern thought this would be an innocuous way to generate retweets, and did not weigh the cultural depth of their words. Whatever the situation, it’s evident that the privileged set does not understand the roots that run deep in Black culture.

I’m grateful that we live in an integrated global society where educational resources and cultural access are just a click away. I am thankful for social media, and its ability to connect people from different backgrounds. In this remarkable interconnected society we live in, we are charged with paying close attention to the cultural nuances of society.

Black hair is one cultural nuance that is gaining significant exposure in mainstream conversations. Black hair, especially for women, is inherently tied to our identity. It’s how we show love for ourselves and our families. For some its a source of pride, a political statement, or a method of customary expression. I don’t like speaking for the entire culture, but I’ll hazard a guess that most Black women in America have a humorous, tragic, or exhaustive story about hair care. Sitting around in the living room while our mothers and older siblings did our hair. Learning how to use hot combs and curling irons without burning our foreheads and ears. Prepping our hair for that job interview or that first date.

Black hair is who we are, whether we like it or not. 

So, it causes substantial reaction when white people begin to investigate or fetishize our form of survival, especially without proper recognition or cultural courtesy. The reactions vary depending on motive. For me, if a white friend of mine asks me about my hair and hair care, I have no problem giving tutorials or letting them touch my natural curls. Because I know the curiosity comes from genuine love and authentic acceptance. But for the white strangers who do not know me, and prefer to act as voyeurs instead of friends, I have no tolerance.

Kendallgate isn’t rousing. It’s not something to fume over. However, it is more evidence of my belief that a large sector of the white community has little to no understanding of Black culture. And they gain interest when doing so will affect their bottom line.


5 responses to “Kendall Jenner and Marie Claire Re-Invented the “Cornrow”

  1. Just a small question: are you upset because the tweet made it look like Kendall started the cornroll hairstyle, or is it because a white person cornrolled their hair? I understand the tweet was pretty over the top considering it was on little bitty part of her head. It’s not like she is amazing for doing what some people do everyday to their while heads.


  2. And besides, Bo Derek already did her whole head of hair not to mention with beads that created an actual fashion-sex symbol stir in the 70’s so that means Bo is the real “revolutionary white chick”. Anyone who can steal a style and make it the new original and get away with it, simply does. The entire history of fashion is a recycling venture which creates uniforms we identify ourselves by so we understand our roles in the empire (if we choose to do this). The artist Picasso ripped off everything and “made it his own” and got credit for being the guy who changed the art world. The black community is not in any jeopardy from Kendell going through a hair phase, enthusiastically “plugged” by a sloppy fan writer. Rest assured.


  3. The other day while I was a work I saw a white dude and some chick with dreadlocks in their hair and they’re “praised” for how their hair looks, but when it comes to a Black person who deserves having that hairstyle because it’s their culture and identity, they look at him or her like he’s repugnant. I truly don’t get that idea that white people should “imitate” what the Black community does without knowing what the Black community has endured over centuries to built their own identity and culture, I believe. Kendell should do a pixie instead next time. And yes, thank god I don’t read stupid magazines!


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