The History of Bantu Knots

Rihanna

[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace Bantu knots to the Zulu tribes of Southern Africa

If there was ever a contest for the family who has crossed the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation one too many times, the Kardashian-Jenner clan would likely finish in first place.

The cultural appropriation of Black hair, features, music, fashion, etc. has become so common that most of us are no longer fazed when the latest white celebrity misses the memo and suddenly finds themselves at the center of scrutiny.

Khloe Kardashian was schooled by Black Twitter a few months ago when she shared a photo of herself wearing Bantu knots with a caption that read: “Bantu babe.” After getting dragged online, Khloe deleted the photo, uploaded a slightly different one, and re-captioned it with, “I like this one better.” But, needless to say, the Internet never forgets. More recently, Black Twitter was reminded how much they disliked Khloe’s Bantu knots when they appeared in a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Need another example of cultural appropriation gone wrong?

Back in January, Valentino was criticized when predominately white models were spotted wearing Bantu knots in the designer’s pre-fall 2016 lookbook. Marc Jacobs is still trying to live down spring of 2015 when he sent his models down the runway wearing Bantu knots. To make the situation worse, the folks at Mane Addicts apparently had never heard of Bantu knots because they published (and later deleted) a tutorial titled, “How-To: Twisted Mini Buns Inspired by Marc Jacobs SS15 Show.”

The popular beauty blog attributed the hairstyle to Jacobs’ SS15 show hairstylist, Guido Palau—who also styled the models’ hair for Valentino’s pre-fall 2016 lookbook. They took it one step further when they referred to Bantu knots as “twisted mini buns.” This was problematic because the name of the hairstyle is Bantu knots, and they’ve been worn by Black women for centuries. In other words, they’re nothing new, but by now we all get how columbusing works.

“Cultural appropriation by definition means norms that are valued by one culture being absorbed and claimed by the dominant culture,” says Banke Awopetu-McCullough, professor of developmental reading and writing at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Virginia.

“In regards to hair, cultural appropriation is particularly offensive because Black women have to fight for our natural beauty to be featured and valued,” Awopetu-McCullough continues. “When white women rock our styles without at least giving credit, it’s another example of the ways Black women are marginalized.”

Bantu knots made a comeback in recent years with celebrities such as Mel B. a.k.a. Scary Spice, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Rihanna, Blac Chyna, and Teyana Taylor stunning the masses. These women and plenty of others slayed Bantu knots, helping to bring them to the forefront. However, the hairstyle can be traced as far back to at least 1898.

Read more of my latest piece for EBONY.com [here]. 

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