Who had Adele being cancelled for appropriating black culture on their 2020 bingo cards? Yeah, me neither.
The legendary singer has come under fire after posting a throwback snap to her Instagram celebrating the (cancelled) Notting Hill Carnival picture, wearing a Jamaican flag bikini and her hair styled in Bantu knots.
“Happy what wold be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London,” she captioned the picture, paying tribute to the huge annual festival that celebrates African-Caribbean culture and traditions in London.
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The Notting Hill Carnival has been a celebration of the British West Indian diaspora, led by members of the community, since 1966. It has become a hugely significant event in Black British culture and is now one of the largest street festivals in the world.
It was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic – hence Adele’s insta tribute.
White Woman Wearing African Culture, Cue Public Outrage.
Fans were quick to question Adele’s hairstyle in the snap, claiming she is appropriating African and Jamaican culture by wearing her [white, female] hair that way – which is a fair and valid point to raise.
Bantu knots, Naturallycurly.com notes, have century-long roots in Black and African culture as a traditional and protective style for natural hair. They have had a resurgence in recent years thanks to celebrities and figures pop culture – like Rihanna, Scary Spice (Mel B), and ‘Crazy Eyes’ from Orange is the New Black (Uzo Aduba).
But, as with most (if not all) Black and African culture and traditions, White people can’t help but take what isn’t theirs and claim it as their own.
I mean, colonising things is part of our brand. It’s what we do. And don’t we do it well.
Bantu Knots (and other Black and African hairstyles) have been rebranded by white fashion runways and non-Black celebrities (find Exhibit A through Z in the Kardashian-Jenner’s Instagram feeds) as “twisted mini buns”, “mini space buns” invented by White people.
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Ebony magazine called this White thievery as ‘columbusing’, a reference to magazines who give credit to White people for stealing culture from the community who really discovered it.
So you can begin to understand the anti-Adele outrage. I can empathise with the anger when it seems that Adele is doing what White people do best: test out Black culture for #fashion when Black women are discriminated against, vilified, or profiled as “ghetto” and “unprofessional” for these same protective, natural hairstyles.
But This Isn’t Appropriation, And Here’s Why.
There’s a difference between appropriation and appreciation. And the latter is where many fans (and I) believe Adele is leaning into. And, let’s be clear, this isn’t me telling you what appropriation is or isn’t. That is always up to the culture and communities at the centre of it. I am echoing the sentiments of Black British and Jamaican people commenting on Adeles post across Twitter and Instagram.
Now, over to them.
why y’all acting like adele doesn’t live in london where the jamaican culture is VERY present? this ain’t no culture appropriation it’s literally appreciation… one of her friend prolly did her hair too like are you guys okay 😅
— adele’s bantu knots (@Konyjenn) August 30, 2020
Let’s remember that Adele is at a festival celebrating African-Caribbean culture. A festival led and run by the African-Caribbean diaspora in London. Sure, she’s trying the knots and bikini top and feathers out for a fun fashion look of the festival – but it’s not like she’s wearing them without knowledge of their roots and (even) their significance. It’s even more likely that she had her hairstyled by an African-Caribbean person for or at the Carnival.
Listen up y’all! That Adele pic ain’t cultural appropriation, it’s cultural appreciation! The Notting Hill Carnival is a celebration of cultural diversity that encourages community cohesion. Do your own research if you don’t believe me. What happened to y’all being kinder?
— Tiela Leo 🏳️🌈 (@TielaLeo) August 30, 2020
Many fans have commented on the Instagram post saying that Jamaicans, specifically, love when people appreciate and represent their culture – White or Black or any race in between.
To the people pretending to be woke and dragging Adele… if u’re not Jamaican pls stfu pic.twitter.com/IgqlCrOanQ
— 𝔰⚜️🖤🌸 (@CIWYW25) August 31, 2020
This doesn’t give her (or any other White / non-Black person) a pass to start wearing Bantu Knots every other day or in any other situation. That isn’t, and never will be, okay. Ever.
But we need to take a breath to see the nuance before coming for someone’s throat for ‘cultural appropriation’. Given the context, I think it’s fair to see that this wasn’t blatant and blind appropriation.
It’s not my place to judge whether Adele’s Bantu knots are cultural appropriation or not. I’ll defer to African American activists on this issue. All I want to say is that instead of cancel culture we need to have more conversations and chances to improve and learn in good faith.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) August 30, 2020
Despite all this, I’m glad we’ve known to call Adele out for wearing the knots. It’s a sign that awareness is raising. This is what being actively anti-racist can look like. Hold her to account, yes; cancel her, not just yet.
For all the instances of cultural appropriation we’ve seen and learned from (@theKardashian-Jenners, @allthepre-2015festivallooks, @box-braid-wearing-white-women, @BLACKFISHES) perhaps we need to put down our pitchforks – just this once – take a breath, and stop shouting at each other.
There is a difference between appreciation and appropriation. It’s a fine line, but there is one. It takes a little education from everyone to learn how, where, and when to walk it.
Image Sources: Instagram (@adele)