This weekend was one of healing. I got over 20 hours of sleep, lined my pockets in overtime pay, and cleaned up both my room and iTunes library to perfection. I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and re-nourished.
And then I came across a debilitating article that reminded me that, despite my restful weekend, I still live in a world where the most oppressed of us lack personal ownership, cultural authority, or a critical analysis that centers our existence with no apology or compromise.
Winnie Harlow, the Canadian-born Black model who lives with vitiligo — a chronic skin condition that causes discoloration — took a major L in dopeness when she (basically) said that cultural appropriation is a sign of love, unicorns, and rainbows.
Ever since gaining international recognition as a conspicuous standout in an industry notorious for its eurocentric beauty standards, Winnie Harlow has become a martyr of sorts — with many viewing her ascension and visibility as a mark against the suffocating status quo.
Some white women are now replicating her likeness by painting themselves in blotchy blackface.
Instead of expressing upset, or linking the blatant appropriation to blackface, Harlow responded with some colorblind/post-racial/yay assimilation!- type bullshit that would make Stacey Dash, Raven Symone, and Ben Carson proud.
From her Instagram, the now less-than-dope model said:
“My response to this is probably not what a lot of people want but here it goes: every time someone wants fuller lips, or a bigger bum, or curly hair, or braids does Not mean our culture is being stolen. Have you ever stop to realize these things used to be ridiculed and now they’re loved and lusted over. No one wants to “steal” our look here. We’ve just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and du-rags and big asses (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don’t have it love and lust after it. Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn’t mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn’t mean she wants to be black. The amount of mixed races in this world is living proof that we don’t want to be each other we’ve just gained a national love for each other. Why can’t we embrace that feeling of love? Why do we have to make it a hate crime? In a time when so much negative is happening, please don’t accuse those who are showing love and appreciation, of being hateful. It is very clear to me when someone is showing love and I appreciate these people recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over #1LOVE “
Her words read like those paternalistic slave masters and Christian missionaries who enslaved, raped, tortured, and brutalized us Black people for our own good.
There’s a pervasive sickness within a certain faction of the Black community. To them, success amounts to how much and how often white people recognize us — from our existence to our creativity. Inter-cultural “love” resembles how frequently and how well the dominant white demographic encroaches upon our artistic and personal expressions.
Winnie Harlow is ostensibly one of those Black people. Her riposte — rife in indolent critical race and gender analysis or reality — is problematic as fuck.
For one, fuller lips, bigger butts, and curly hair aren’t “things;” they’re genetic parts of a Black human self that are only free from ridicule when attached to a white or white-appearing body. Kylie Jenner’s lips– paid for by white and class privilege — are of gorgeous quality, while mine are only good for fellatio.
Which leads to another problem with Winnie’s statement. She somehow thinks white culture lusting after Black bodies is a good, commendable thing, and not *another* indication of the patriarchal hyper-sexualization of Black women.
Winnie further evokes the oft-refuted false equivalency argument. When a Black girl alters her body to assimilate into white acceptability, she could be doing so for a host of reasons: to secure and keep employment, or to avoid school suspension and other penalties chief among them.
In the Black entertainment sphere, Black women especially have to assimilate into dominant white standards in order to compete with their highly-favored, heavily-resourced counterparts.
Case in point: Nicki Minaj. The foremost female rapper whose lyrical abilities outpace most male contemporaries, had to break through mainstream barriers with a ton of makeup, platinum blonde wigs, and asinine pop music. And it still ain’t good enough. Toned-down, lyrical-punching natural Nicki, ain’t as popular as clowned-up Nicki with the blonde-bubblegum wig helmets, and has to pose ass-first to make up the difference.
The line between appropriation and appreciation is a thin one. But it’s clear that blackface is in no way a compliment. It’s an encroachment and an offense in no way deserving of Winnie’s high-five. There’s a million ways to show appreciation without stealing space.
Winnie got one thing right — white girls who wear braids and get lip injections don’t wanna be Black. They wanna be white with those parts of Black bodies they believe will make them unique, desirable, or edgy. They don’t want the stigma of Black skin, nor the obstacles and pain of Black existence. They want Blackness on an assembly-line, where they can cherry-pick what parts of us to take.
This is not love.