Can I wear a head wrap even if I’m not Black?

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions everyday and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. 

POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red at the bottom is the takeaway of the discussion.

Question:

After months of deliberating, I bought a head wrap. I was mindful to buy from business owned by a POC. Is it okay for me to wear said head wrap in public? I think they are beautiful, convenient, and comfortable, but absolutely don’t want to appropriate Black culture.

White Responses:

Ooh this is a toughie because usually I feel these questions should be answered by both sides, but I don’t know if White girls should really weigh in on this one. Just because my knee jerk reaction might be, “it’s just a head wrap, go for it.” I have no basis for that opinion and certainly don’t experience the cultural side or truly understand the significance (and it’s damn significant especially when it comes to hair) of fashion/utility of these within POC culture so, hmmmm.

I say no way. If you think it’s appropriating a culture, than it usually is and you shouldn’t do it. Unless there’s a legit spiritual reason/practice for your head wrapping, no. White people already appropriate too much of Black culture as it is. It’s not ours. And we know that. We have to stop with the colonial mindset of, “if I like it, I get to claim it even if I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not quite right.”

Maybe just stick to the cute little handkerchiefs and little bow ones that seem to be really popular? I feel like a full on head wrap is appropriation.

Well shit, I wear them. I have a Jeep. Bitch needs to cover her hair or she will have to cut it all off. Plus, I try not to over wash my hair and hats are ugly (don’t work in the Jeep either). I usually use oversized headbands, but sometimes I wrap it.

When I was in Ghana, there were a few times where I was the only woman not wearing a head wrap (certain church denominations, a funeral). At the funeral in particular, I was told by my Ghanaian friends that the next time I’m in a similar situation (in Ghana) I should wear a head wrap as a sign of respect. But that was a SUPER specific context and I personally wouldn’t wear a head wrap here in the US.

People can try things…especially if they’re doing it in a respectful way by making sure they’re supporting the right businesses. But in this specific circumstance, a head wrap and covering your hair isn’t something that’s owned by one specific group of people/race. Women all over the world wear headscarves in different ways. I don’t know. I would never tell someone that they don’t have the right to be offended.

White people hold more power and therefore appropriating someone else’s culture is using that power and privilege yet again in a way that feels icky and like it’s not their place if we are working towards more equity in the world. I can’t speak to power and privilege within POC communities obvi cause I’m White.

Really quick: what if it’s not for fashion but it’s functional? I’m White but I have extremely curly and frizzy hair and when I lived in Cambodia I wore a wrap a lot because it was literally the only way to look put together in public. My hair would not behave! I obviously tried to make it as cute as possible, but it was really a necessity…does this change the question at all: function/fashion?

POC Responses:

Hahahah idk but this question just makes me think of Julia Styles in Save The Last Dance. Haha tell her she can only wear it if she’s going to Steps to show off her dance moves.

It ain’t gone stay on her head anyway.

I just Googled it and to some extent I knew it had something to do with slavery. “During slavery, White overlords imposed its wear as a badge of enslavement! Later it evolved into the stereotype that Whites held of the “Black Mammy” servant. The enslaved and their descendants, the simple head rag worn by millions of enslaved women and their descendants has served as a uniform of communal identity; but at its most elaborate, the African American woman’s head wrap has functioned as a “uniform of rebellion” signifying absolute resistance to loss of self-definition.”

I mean if she Googled the significance of how the head wrap came about and still want to rock one by all means, but if I were in her shoes, I probably wouldn’t want to, but that’s just me.

Nope.

My African ass really don’t care! But also I’m like, “Can we have some things for ourselves?” Y’all keep coming for our mans, hairstyles, and now style/fashion! She can wear it, but I will judge her. And it really depends on the context. If it were back home, I would have encouraged her! But in a Western country, I’m not so sure.

I sell head wraps and I get White People asking me this all the time. First, thanks for asking versus just doing it. But I would say no. I usually direct them to other products. To me, this is another thing that is part of Black culture and dates back to slavery times when we HAD to cover our hair. Now we celebrate both our hair and express ourselves with head wraps and it’s just not the space for you. (Also no to cornrows and microbraids, just so we are clear, don’t let Kim K fool you, ish is not okay.) There are certain things that we want to keep from these times in both remembrance and celebration. It’s not just a wrap to us. Or just fashion. It’s way deeper. For example, braids were used for maps to escape slavery. Therefore, it’s better to respect the culture and support in other ways.

At the end of the day, a Black business owner chose to sell it to her. She obviously has a choice on whether or not to wear it if she already bought it.

She already bought it and I’m assuming wears it, just not in public. It’s obvious her mind is already made up on this lol. If she wears it in public, then she should prepare herself for several side eyes and maybe a lecture or two.

Yo, white-passing Middle Easterner here and was about to interject with this exact point. Not being American, I was super confused about why everyone immediately associated head wraps exclusively with Black culture because it’s actually very widespread in the East, and not just in the Middle East but quite a bit of Europe as well. Obviously there’s a very deep and important history that I didn’t know about slavery and headscarves, which should definitely be respected and never emulated by non-Black people. But all the same, I feel like headwraps/scarves are widespread enough in the rest of the world to not ‘belong’ exclusively to one culture.

I don’t mean to be mean or disrespectful but I think you Americans make life much harder for you guys. I’m from Tunisia and we don’t care at all! We wear whatever we want from whatever culture, we’re happy to always give tourists our traditional clothes to wear and we just don’t judge each other or care about small things like that. I think there are much bigger problems in the world than fashion and clothing.

Takeaways

When in the United States, wearing head wraps in a fashion exclusive to Black history should not be emulated e.g. the wrap with the knot in the front. If in another country and encouraged by a Black community to partake in their culture within their community, please do so.

However, head wraps in general are a common item of clothing to wear around the world. If you bought from a Black-owned business, wear the headscarf in a way that is not appropriating Black culture.

2 Comments

  1. Great range of answers here, it’s good to see the dialogue being less formal too as it’s accessible to anyone. Fascinating responses, love the idea behind this series.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: