For some reason when I sat down to write this, the first words that came to mind were Tupac’s “First off, eff yo btch, and the clique you claim.” I don’t know how fitting that is - but I’m going to leave it here because it’s how I feel about Kimberly Shaquanda Kardashian West appropriating every inch of black culture possible and the saints of God letting her get away with it because, “it’s cute.”
This morning I woke up to a photo of Kim Kardashian on my Twitter timeline with some gelled down ”baby” hairs on the side of her face. I instantly got a knot in my stomach because seeing black girl culture appropriated by a white woman that is regularly appropriating black girl culture is violent, it’s harmful, and it’s terrorism at this point.
Terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation towards a specific group of people
Kim, and her Ksisters (the K is pronounced b/c the K is never silent), seem to wake up every day and think to themselves, “this is the day that black girls have made, I will rejoice and be celebrated in it - instead of them.” That is targeted aggression towards a specific group of people - terrorism. From receiving praise for their curvy bodies (I won’t shame them for buying those bodies but just note that black women’s natural aesthetic has been used against us in all professional settings and highlighted to perpetuate and excuse actual rape and violence against us throughout the world - but it’s no big deal, you say. I’m just overly sensitive, you say). To a blind eye to their black-fishing darkened skin, overly exaggerated use of “urban language,” and type casting their boyfriends, husbands, and the father of their children as a collective. It’s painful: to have to watch white women be celebrated for trends that (1) they’re 50 years late on and (2) black women have been ridiculed for 100’s of years for. Unfair is an understatement.
Let’s start by acknowledging that gelled down “baby” hairs are dated back to the 70’s. You can find photos of The Jackson’s (the men and the women) with their edges gelled down - or “laid.” This became a trend, first, amongst many black entertainers - popularized again in the 90’s by Chilli from TLC and Genuwine, a baby hair connoisseur.
However, we are just NOT going to have a conversation about black people and gelled down edges without addressing (1) European beauty standards that (2) created a story around black textured hair being bad and straight “relaxed” hair being good. European beauty standards can also be credited with the why and how of black people, especially black women, struggling with a little thing called “Traction alopecia.”
Traction alopecia is a form of alopecia, which is a gradual hair loss as a result of frequent manipulation to the hair (or edges) due to tight pony tails, braids, and harsh chemicals on the weakest portion of the hairline. Edges weren’t even a thing until black women, en masse, started experiencing a weakened hair line due to frequent manipulation of this portion of their hair, especially with chemicals.
This is where “baby hairs” comes from. They aren’t “baby” hair - they are shorter parts of the hairline due to hair loss or a weakened hairline - and they are manipulated, with the use of gel or (in the past) hair spray, to achieve a slicker or “laid” down (relaxed) look. To be clear - the manipulation happening on the black hairline is absolutely linked to the enforcement of European beauty standards as right and black hair as wrong. It is called “baby” hair because it resembles the softer hair of many black children when they are first born.
But black people took pig leftovers and came up with pigsfeet and hogmogs so baby hairs are to black beauty as chittlins are to black food. Eff your critique of my metaphor - you get what I’m saying. Baby hairs are a response to an unhealthy reality that white supremacy enforced on the black body. Black people just took what was meant for their bad (broken edges) gelled them down and created a trend (baby hairs). That’s what black people always do; take nothing and make something.
But let us be clear. Black girls in the 80’s and 90’s with gelled down baby hairs was considered ghetto. Especially because black girls STAY doing the most and would be making all kinds of designs with their edges and their “side burns” so it was easy to say, “This eccentricity is unprofessional.” Boom. Black Girls are ghetto. However, when a white person wears their hair slicked down just for the purpose of being “on trend,” all of a sudden it’s fashion. Why are y’all like this? Somebody tell me why?
Not only does it look ridiculous (because let’s be reality - it looks absurd having a long strand of hair sticking to the side of your face or wetly swept across your forehead) it is also triggering. For black women who were forced to believe their kinky or nappy edges were bad so they gelled them down to finally be enough… what a slap in the face when you see a white woman, who has ZERO relationship with an unhealthy public perception of her nonexistent edges, taunting black women, once again with the fact that she gets to be praised and celebrated for being a strong black woman (without the negative parts that come along with it) and basically… you will just deal. *Also of note: this woman had the shorter hairs on her actual hairline removed several years ago so that her “edges” would be nonexistent. (blank stare) Why are she? I mean that literally.
I am an advocate for ignoring people that want a response. But some things we can not love and light away. Because if we keep letting Kimberly Kardashian get gwap, endorsements, and celebrated for black girl aesthetic, we gonna look up and she’ll be on the cover of Essence Magazine as “The Most Important Black Woman In America” and the rest of us actual black women will be dragged for wondering, out loud, when Ashton Kutcher is going to hop out and tell us we are being Punked — because that’s what this has to be. This celebration of black girlness in EVERY form, except in the form of an actual black girl, it has to be a joke; one that has violent ramifications and has gone on for far too long.
EbonyJanice is a black girl activist, a scholar, and a cultural anthropologist. She is the founder of Black Girl Mixtape -a multiplatform lecture series centering black women’s intellectual authority in a safe think space. You can find her on Twitter and IG @ebonyjanice and learn in community with her at patreon.com/ebonyjanice