On Culture Appropriation for Natural Hair


An avid reader of the blog asked me to share my take on cultural appropriation for natural hair. Hence the inspiration for today’s post,”What does natural hair have to do with cultural appropriation?”

Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. ~Amandla Stenberg

On cultural appropriation of hair

ShortBack Story.

Growing up, I always had my hair in a ponytail for my primary school days. It was a pretty frustrating experience for me because the school I was attending at the time. They kept insisting to have my hair cut bald. Thank God for my mommy, for making me the proud natural hair rebel I am today.

During my O-level’s, I was asked to cut my luscious hair to one inch since it wasn’t like that of the other Arabian girls. The other day while I was interning, my employer implored me to consider wearing my hair straight because it is more professional. That’s my example of cultural appropriation for natural hair.

Questioning the term.

What is cultural appropriation for natural hair?

•Is culture appropriation for natural hair like kaweke*(Luganda for 4c natural hair) when white women plait cornrows?

•Is culture appropriation for natural hair when the person is simply playing wardrobe games (for hair, I am not quite sure how that works) or is one embracing a trend?

•Does the wearer of the hairstyle recognize the historical connotation? (Honestly)

Is cultural exchange a possible solution?

In as much as I am an advocate for everything natural hair, African wear, and African woman bodies, cultural appropriation for natural hair; it got me wondering; what if the west loved Black people as much as they do for their culture?

In fact, here’s what Lupita Nyong’o said on this matter.

on cultural appropiation of natural hair

Lupita Nyongo on cultural appropriation of natural hair

Problem with cultural appropriation.

I feel like I’m channeling my inner Black Panther mode. It bothers me that people have a problem with African heritage and yet can benefit from our culture. It infuriates me to see guys take aspects of our culture that seem easy and leave out the most intricate parts of it. The easy part for them suggests that they are assisting black image. For example, the popular Bantu knots hairstyle is now referred to as mini buns.


“If someone pulls from a culture, it’s a compliment.”

“Bob Marley had dreads because it was a trend.”

“It’s just hair.”

“There are worse things to worry about.”

“I don’t see color.”

“We get it, you’re Black.”-From an interview on Medium that suggests defending cultural appropriation is dangerous.

What the interview seems to suggest looks something like this.

on cultural appropriation of natural hair

However,  they do not make a contribution to any pressing cause among the black community. (Especially when it comes to hair, culture and our African bodies).

Here’s an excerpt from a poem by Nikki Giovanni, called Oppression.

“I wish I could have been oppressed
by straightened hair
then I wouldn’t have had no problems
till after emancipation when mme. walker
captured our kinks.”

In regard to hair; Is hair braiding a human practice and not a black one?

on cultural appropriation of natural hair

In as much as it is a human practice, it is also where the most significant Culture appropriation has been traced. Various aspects of our (African)culture that were first mocked have been taken and now people are imitating them. The perpetrators of this seem to have forgotten that we don’t need outside forces to endorse us because black is beautiful.

The epitome of culture appropriation today is when hearing things like natural hair isn’t beautiful. At least not until another person deems it so. Natural hair is deeper than being popularly termed as nappy, kinky, coily or kaweke. It is beautiful, why do you think there are so many natural hair businesses whose economic impact is undeniably profiting.

I wrote a poem on this;

For Queens that wear their natural crown.

We are an empire.
Just like Amina Queen of Zaria,
We too have become active warriors,
and invite you to taste our rebellion of not having mainstream hair (that must fall).

Like Candace empress of Ethiopia in the military,
we carry might strong enough to slay dragons and spit 
 fire to burn the pages that regard natural hair as a source of shame.
Or like Makeda, Queen of Sheba, small in stature but great in conquering nations, we too
choose to conquer our roots.

Understand that
We are collectively built of adventure like
Nefertiti Queen of Ancient Egypt
Or Yaa Asantewaa of Ashanti who loved bravery down her people’s spines

We choose to love bravery down these strands 

Don’t call me nappy, kinky or shabby!
Just call me Phoenix!
Rising above the notion of not having mainstream hair
And acknowledge that I am more relaxed, NATURAL!

If you have any further questions on cultural appropriation on natural hair, I will be glad to respond them in the comment section.



  1. Faith Wacha

    Every naturalista’s been there. It’s colonisation of the mind. It’s been ingrained in us to believe that straight hair is better.. Professional ..More acceptable .Thank you for this! ! *several handclaps*

    • Patsy Mugabi

      Thank you, Mama, for this!It’s high time to take our power back!

    • Patsy Mugabi

      Honestly, I think they played a big role in regards t the western clothing culture but the hair I think that’s on them.

  2. You never fail to impress nyabo!

    The formal work spot should focus less on the so-called “informal” styles we choose to show and worry about our work production and efficiency.

    I see this a lot in firms based in Kenya; ladies can’t have coloured hair or hair that doesn’t look “formal” enough for the work environment. The time for wearing head-scarfs out of necessity to please the formal world should end with our generation!

    The sad thing is that abroad, for black men, the freedom to style different afros is greater than that of Kenya, Uganda and several other countries in our beautiful continent. If only we could all take pride in our cultural styles, whether it’s hair-based or clothes-based!

    Until then, we keep pushing to show the beauty in African self-expression.


    • Patsy Mugabi

      First of all, wow all this insight.Thank you for sharing your honest two cents.
      Turn up the volume, a little louder for those in the back to hear you clearly. I really would love to see the men’s gorgeous manes as well in the work setting.

  3. Humphrey A

    How can a guy deal with the societies approach to him having a hairstyle(not of short hair) especially in the corporate world.. .Is it even possible? In Africa.. In Uganda?or is it totally out of context?

    • Patsy Mugabi

      That’s a very valid debate if you ask me how t we deal with that,I would open the floor to the rest of the family here for discussion.

    • This, honestly speaking, taking Uganda for example, is a delicate matter. Once a man is seen with a hairstyle say dreads, he is branded a ‘muyaye’ even before giving him an ear. H.E Bobi Wine had to cut off his hair before running for a parliamentary position because he was obviously putting into consideration societal judgement. I howver don’t think it is totally out of context. Perhaps there is hope.

      • Patsy Mugabi

        There is indeed hope.Hum4 you can be the CEO who changes the game even for men at your place of work!

  4. We have been brain washed to believe straight is good. This has led us to forgetting our culture. Who we are as Africans. Where we come from. Our ancestral heritage has been lost in an abyss only few choose to wander on. We need more natural hair warriors. Individuals proud of who they are when they look at themselves in the mirror no matter what society says of them.

    • Patsy Mugabi

      Victoria please say this louder for those in the back!
      Thank you for sharing your two cents!
      Natural hair warriors forever!

  5. First of all, what did you respond to this employer? Those kinds of comments infuriate me, and so do the Kardashians. They are the EPITOME of cultural appropriation, and it goes back to even just how all the sisters are able to get their buttocks largened with implants (to resemble the natural figures black women have) and become role models in the eyes of society, yet black women who are born naturally with these features are seen as a freak-show. Their privilege allows them to colonize what is ours and become famous for it, yet remain safe in their whiteness.

    • Patsy Mugabi

      As much as it broke my heat I had to be submissive and compliant with their rules. It is not going to be like that for very long, we are claiming what is ours in full force.

      • I can’t imagine hearing that from someone. Whenever it happens to another woman, it always feels like it is something from a distant land that would never happen to me. But then I remember that this is the climate of the environment I will eventually be working in, here in North America. SMDH

        • Patsy Mugabi

          I hear you, however, maybe we get to change this by becoming employers who give liberty to the employees to wear in styles freely!

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