From Colorful Tresses to Bold Cornrows, Why is ‘Urban’ Only ‘Chic’ When White People Do It?

Black stars with cornrows Kylie Jenner’s emerald green tresses were the center of attention once again as the reality star hit the 2014 American Music Awards red carpet two weeks ago.

And while the edgy style received tons of praise and adoration, it begged the question as to why Black stars with unconventional colors don’t receive the same positive attention. 

The 17-year-old member of the Kardashian clan garnered so much attention from the bold style that the luxury hair extension brand Bellami Hair recently partnered with her to launch the Kylie Hair Kouture hair extension line. That same emerald green is a trademark color for the line and the extensions that come in that hue are already on backorder until January.

All throughout Hollywood and in mainstream media, style and beauty trends that were once considered too urban are now being praised as “chic” and “epic”—but only after white celebrities have adopted the trends as their own.

From daring, unconventional hair colors to fabulous cornrows, it seems like members of the Black community can’t get any credit for today’s so-called trends that originated in their own backyards and have been prevalent in the community for years.

To make matters worse, there is a double standard when it comes to these trends that slams Black women as unprofessional for incorporating styles that have earned their white counterparts much praise.

2014 Billboard Music Awards - ArrivalsIt was earlier this year that the youngest of the Jenner sisters first debuted the look on Instagram and set social media ablaze when she rocked it at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.

Entertainment publications and fashion bloggers went into a frenzy over the style that one fan called “flawless” and Teen Vogue deemed “fierce.”

The unconventional hair color certainly gives the Jenner sister the bold color that fits her edgy style, but it is interesting that fashion and beauty blogs are considering this a major breakthrough when curvaceous rapper Nicki Minaj was not only known for her colorful tresses but even had to ditch the bold colors in order to be taken more seriously as a professional.

The towering wigs and hairpieces were admittedly too much for most people to handle without chuckling, but some fans might remember that there was a time when the “Starships” rapper flaunted colorful styles without the crazy theatrics.

Even then, however, the styles were scoffed at and ridiculed.

During an appearance on BET’s 106 & Park back in 2010, the rap star flaunted a green and blonde bob with a sleek white dress that wasn’t received well by fashion critics.

In Diddy’s “Hello Good Morning” remix video she rocked a turquoise and royal blue wig and she made those peek-a-boo pink highlights underneath jet black hair one of the most commonly copied celebrity styles for young Black women back in 2009 and throughout 2010.

All of these styles received negative feedback from a variety of fashion and style publications despite the fact that Nicole Richie has been praised for rocking both lilac and royal blue hair, Demi Lovato’s colorful ombre styles have been worshipped by Glamour and MTV even called the styles “glorious,” Fashion Police star Kelly Osbourne’s lilac tresses were described as “pastel perfection” by one hair blog and Yahoo! Lifestyle published an entire page gushing over Helen Mirren’s pink style, Perrie Edwards’s peek-a-boo pink highlights and Katy Perry’s royal blue bob.

For acting newcomer Camile Ervin, it’s a double standard that she is much too familiar with.

The 25-year-old has starred in several short films including My Day Life and Checkmate and will appear in the upcoming sci-fi thriller flick Deceptive Hearts in 2015.

“There are so many things we can’t do—we’re looked down upon,” Ervin told Atlanta Blackstar as she recalled her own experiences with the double standard. “We can’t do anything that they would consider edgy because for us it’s not edgy, it’s ‘ghetto’ or ‘ratchet.’”

That double standard doesn’t stop with quirky hair colors either.

Ervin explained that she constantly has been asked to tone down her nail colors or get more simplistic designs—only to see a white woman with designs similar to hers who is allowed to keep them.

“Designs on our nails is looked at as ghetto, too,” she added. “When white people do it though, it’s everything. It’s classy. It’s chic. It’s new. It’s fun.”

While Black women may not have been the first to introduce unconventional hair colors to the world and it could be nearly impossible to track down how bold nail art made its way to mainstream fashion, it’s interesting to see the different ways women of different races are treated for sporting similar fashions.

Ervin went on to point out how printed leggings are considered trashy on Black women while their white counterparts have brought the printed look into their own wardrobes with much praise and adoration.

“One [white] lady came in the office with these super weird outfits and once you kind of stepped back you got to see like, ‘Wow, this skirt is kind of short here and this shirt is showing a bit much for us to be in an office’ ” said a 21-year-old marketing student at Georgia State University whose internship had her reporting to the SunTrust Plaza building throughout the 2014 summer semester. “A few weeks later I came in with just a nice blouse kind of thing and leggings. They were thick but they were, you know, leggings. I guess some people would call them pants.”

The student, who asked to remain anonymous as she is applying for an entry-level position with the same company, said she was immediately sent home and asked to change.

The “Epic” Cornrows

Thanks to social media, fewer publications are getting away with deeming styles as revolutionary only after white stars have started flaunting them.

Marie Clarie backlash over cornrow tweet Earlier this year Marie Claire was forced to apologize for a tweet in which it claimed Kendall Jenner took “bold braids to an epic new level” by flaunting a few cornrows on the side of her head.

The LA Times also posted a photo of model Cara Delevingne with a cornrow style along with a quote that said, “Cornrows are moving away from urban, hip-hop to more chic and edgy.”

Black stars have been wearing cornrows for decades and the very nature of the style, including its name, originated in the Black community.

For the LA Times to imply that only now is the style becoming “chic,” it supports sentiments that aspects of style and fashion in the Black community hold less value until white stars start adapting the trends for their own use.

Only then is the style something worth talking about.

“It’s called ‘Columbusing,’ “ said Patrice Grell Yursik, author of the blog AfroBella, according to “It’s saying that something is new or your own without giving fair attribution to the original source.”

In most cases, not only is that “original source” not credited, but it is also shamed or targeted by critics.

The Big Booty Movement

When Jennifer Lopez teamed up with Iggy Azalea for her song “Booty,” it became an instant hit and the video, which mainly featured Lopez and Iggy flaunting their assets, became a viral sensation.

Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video received the same treatment when it came to garnering serious traction online and going viral almost immediately upon being released.

There was one major difference in how the videos were treated, however.

Mainstream media outlets, including Access Hollywood, said Lopez’s video was “empowering” for women.

The “Anaconda” rapper, on the other hand, received a “double shrug” from GQ contributor Taffy Brodesser-Akner when she tried to imply that her video was also about empowering women to be in control of their sexuality.

Even before Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” was released back in 1992, and the rapper famously proclaimed “I like big butts and I can not lie,” there was no denying the adoration for curvy women in the Black community.

Meanwhile, Vogue claims that we have only recently entered the “Era of the Big Booty.” 

Even Rihanna received negative backlash for posting videos of herself twerking on Instagram and Beyonce has been endlessly criticized for integrating her famous booty popping with her stance as a feminist, while Miley Cyrus is somehow still hailed as the pioneer of mainstream twerking and the fascination over Iggy Azalea’s rear end has grown to be insatiable.

As time has progressed it seems like Black women are being omitted from the conversation or are being targeted as overly sexualized beings while their white counterparts are dashing off with the big booty torch in their grasps, along with numerous other aspects of Black culture that have been successfully “Columbused” away from the Black community.




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