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.

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19 thoughts on “Can I wear a head wrap even if I’m not Black?

  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.

  2. This is so silly that this question even has to be asked although headscarves have a history with African Americans , headscarves are also a big part of middle eastern, Hispanic & even European cultures. I’m Puerto Rican I grew up wearing braids, greasing our scalps, wearing headscarves my grandmother & mother who never left Puerto Rico did as well. Culture appropriation is not a real thing it’s only real to those that want something to be angry & cry about. Live & let live got loves us all equally. And if a black man & a white woman love each other who cares who are we to be angry about it.

    1. Hmm not really into shaming people for asking a simple question. What might not be real to you may be real to others so let’s not speak for everyone. Thanks for sharing your story though.

  3. I’m still kind of conflicted even after reading all that. :/ I’m white but I have a ridiculous amount of hair – easily down past my butt – and I live in an area with fairly hot summers. I was thinking about using african style wraps to keep my hair off my neck and stop myself from boiling alive, but at the same time I don’t want to be an absolute jerk. Would it be okay if it’s clearly for a practical purpose and in no way intended to be rascist/yet-more-white-appropriation?

    1. I think the consensus was that hair wraps are in multiple cultures so go ahead and wrap your hair. Just not with the knot in the front.

  4. Come.on.already. If it’s not okay to wear a head wrap, why is it okay for a woman of color to emulate a hairstyle that is not necessarily “theirs.” Time to grow up. All women can be beautiful with all hair types. POC should be able to straighten their hair just the same as a white woman should be able to wear a wrap or braid/dread her hair. It’s HAIR. If we all want to be equal to one another, than all hairstyles should be equally acceptable. It’s actually super petty to decide who gets to do what with their hair. We should be building women UP. Not banning them from expressing themselves. Sounds a lot like behavior from a time where people were actually segregated. It’s 2019. IF YOU WANNA WRAP YOUR HEAD OR STRAIGHTEN YOUR HAIR…DO IT GIRL.

  5. What about for medical reasons? I’m struggling to learn how to wrap my head, and the only thing that’s working and not falling off is this video that a black woman made on youtube and she knots it in front?
    You guys, I have to go to school tomorrow and I don’t want to look like a half-bald idiot or like I’m appropriating african american culture! What do I do?!!

    1. Hi! I’m far too late with replying, but maybe someone else can use my advice 🙂

      I (white woman) have been bald for medical reasons for a few years now (extreme eczema and psoriasis all over my head and scalp) and I tie my headwraps like a turban. Drape it over my head, both sides equally long, cross them in my neck and wrap around my head just behind the ears until I run out of scarf, then tuck it in wherever I can tuck it. It’s really simple, I can do it without looking now, and it protects my sensitive scalp. It also stays put while running for my buses and trains, and I think I once did pushups in it, so it’s definitely a secure style.

      Hope this helps someone!

  6. Do some research. Every culture has used cloth to cover their heads since the beginning of written history, at least. Jewish tichels, Catholic mantillas, Roma, Europeans, Ancient Rome and Greece, Egypt, And even in America up to the 1960s women kept their hair covered for many reasons and in many ways.
    I have spent 5 years researching it, and have yet to exhaust resources!
    Ladies, cover your crown! Find a way that is comfortable to you and do it.

  7. Just my two cents. Take it for what it’s worth. I’m a Jewish lady and head scarves are one of the way women demonstrate “modesty”. (Wigs and hats are more common). Veils and head covering are cross cultural. (Think nuns or Orthodox Church attendees, if you’re Christian). If you are white, I.e. of European descent., there is hands down hair covering in your heritage. The beauty of multiculturalism is you get to borrow other ways of covering your hair. I’ve only recently become religiously inclined and tbh the thought of covering my hair after marriage (getting married in 2 months) was extremely weird. Thank god for Muslim girls. I mean it. Hijabs are the only type of head covering that suit me. Turns out it’s not cultural appropriation at all. There are near identical head covering styles in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism (that’s most of the planet in terms of population).

    I think that any woman inclined to cover her head should be encouraged. (Like I said earlier it’s still a little scary to me, even if I know it’s what I want). Even if it’s just for stylistic reasons. Feeling beautiful without your hair exposed is an art. I honestly don’t care if you culturally appropriate the millions of ways Jewish women have hid their hair throughout the centuries. Rock it girl! 🙂

  8. I’m totally confused now. My Caucasian daughter is marrying the love of her life, a Sierra Leonian man next month. Both his family and our is participating in the Aso Ebi tradition and will be wearing the family fabric Do I pass on a head scarf because I’m not African? Wear a smaller headwrap,? What’s appropriate in my situation? Thank you for any advice.

  9. I say we continuously talk of equality so by saying that headscarves belong to one specific culture aren’t we stabbing our standings in the back. I personally love to participate in other cultures and experience what they stand for and how it affects them (without overstepping my personal beliefs). I understand the feeling of entitlement to your culture, but what is a culture if you aren’t willing to show what it means to you or how it makes you feel. Those feelings are what make a culture, a culture. Yes I understand it is for religious purposes as well, but just because I’m Pentecostal doesn’t mean I’m going to hate everyone who wears a skirt that isn’t Pentecostal. In conclusion I would personally wear a headscarf as a white person, but I would be aware of where I am and how others will see/feel it. This is just another reason why equality is so hard to grip and understand because where does equality meet entitlement? But hey I’m just a high school student, so what do I know.

  10. I’m Caucasian and grew up with my Eastern European grandmothers covering their hair every time they left the house. Modesty, protection from sun, protection from water, protection from wind. People with thin hair need to protect their hair to prevent breakage and tangles. I cover my hair when I go outside just like my grandmothers. I don’t like A/C so my hair is always wrapped in the car when my windows are down. If it’s windy, it’s wrapped. If it’s sunny, my hair is wrapped and my skin is covered. For me, it’s a personal choice and has been part of my families culture. I will continue to wrap my hair and cover my skin from the sun. I’m not taking from anyone else’s culture. I’m sorry for those who are so offended by what others choose to do for themselves. It’s not always about you. I’m sorry for those who feel the need to “own” covering hair when hair should be covered and protected anyway. And sorrier for those that need to put others down for living in a way that makes them comfortable if they aren’t causing direct harm.

  11. I wear head wraps, baseball caps, headbands, scully caps, hair bands & hair ties. I wear my hair straight, curly, braided, cornrows, parted to the side & down the middle. I wear my hair up, i wear my hair down. I wear it brown, blonde, red, green, black & blue oh & purple too! I wear wigs & weaves & everything in between…WHO AM I? I am human, I am women HEAR ME ROAR! I wear my hair the way I want because its mine & if I dont have what I want or need I’ll buy it! Just 1 more thing god gave us to not appreciate & to divide individuals cuz of color maybe we should all just be bald so we can focus on bigger issues the world is having. Next itll be a crime to wear ur nails a certain shape & length!

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