Getting braids is a rite of passage for Black women. Most of us can remember the excitement of having our hair braided with synthetic hair for the first time. For some of us, we get our first set of cornrows in a cute little style at 7-years-old. Others of us first get box braids for our middle school promotional ceremony. Still some of us reach early adulthood before we first sit in that chair until our butts are numb for a a braided hairstyle that is heavy in both weight and cultural significance.
For as much as society attempts to change the narrative, braids belong to Black people. We are the only appropriate models for braids, the rightful owners, the proper wearers. And among Black people, Black women are the experts, the preservers, progressors, innovators, presenters, inspirers, adorners and guards of the cultural phenomenon of hair braiding. Box braids, cornrows, twists, crochets and all other styles of braiding created and connected to Africa are synonymous with Black women.
And for the past few years, Black women, the vanguards of braiding, have been forced to watch as a charlatan in Blackface profits from and disrespects our culture. Rachel Dolezal spent years stealing employment and other opportunities from actual Black women. Since being exposed, she’s continued to receive publicity and opportunities that should be reserved for Black women. The most notable of these revolve around some branding her as an authority on Black hair.
“She is an expert in black hair, both as a practical matter and as a subject of academic inquiry,” a Vanity Fair article ludicrously contended just a month after she was revealed to be pretending to be Black. Yes, a Black woman penned an article for a white publication affirming that a white woman who made a living pretending to be a Black woman is an expert on the Black hair that will never grow from her roots. The qualifications and applications of her expertise? “…Dolezal says she is surviving on one of the skills she perfected as she attempted to build a black identity. At Eastern Washington University, she lectured on the politics and history of black hair, and she says she developed a passion for taking care of and styling black hair while in college in Mississippi. That passion is now what brings in income in the home she shares with Franklin. She says she has appointments for braids and weaves about three times a week.”
And it doesn’t end there. In 2016, Isis Brantley, a Dallas-based braider who fought a two-decade long legal battle to “deregulate the hair braiding industry in Texas,” booked Dolezal to headline a natural hair rally. In February of this year, legendary Black hair care company Bronner Bros. reposted a video of Dolezal giving a “tutorial” showing a “method for thin/fine ends to keep ends in the braid” to their Instagram account saying Dolezal was displaying an excellent use of one of their products despite the fact that Dolezal was instructing people to use lip balm to keep their hair from slipping.
Now after much uproar from the Black women who buy their products, Bronner Bros. deleted the post. But the larger issue is the very Black women who built up these brands and braiders being completely discarded to endorse this white woman masquerading as one of us. And until now, it seemed that there would be no redemption for Black women disgusted with the embrace and continued promotion of this white woman who believes she has a place in any conversation about our hair.
But this week, as a photo of Dolezal in court facing charges of welfare fraud surfaced, – Here is your welfare queen, America! – we were redeemed. Dolezal stood before the court in braids, still refusing to stop appropriating Black culture. Her middle finger to Black women would have been infuriating had not the biggest baddest bitch of us all had the last laugh.
That’s right, karma taught her the lesson none of us could, as she stood there looking like a Klingon, her hairline starting at her ears because despite her delusional claims of metaphysical and spiritual Blackness, she ain’t one of us. Black girls not only learn early about the importance of protecting our edges, but we also learn about how the tension of braids will pull your edges out. We also have hair that is quite literally built for this shit!
The reason white hair falls out with braids is because braiding was developed by Africans for Black hair. Our ancestors crafted this art for our kinks and coils. These are our crowns. And crowns don’t fit heads they weren’t made for.
She can imitate Black people all she wants. She can try to darken her skin, wear Black hairstyles, imitate Black speak and employ whatever other means she believes will legitimize her “spiritual” Blackness. What she cannot imitate, recreate or produce is our hair. She cannot manipulate her DNA to produce the texture of hair meant to hold braids. She cannot change force her hair to not be too oily to hold onto a box braid. She won’t ever have the fucking range.
And for now, that will have to be our consolation. We can’t stop the coons from welcoming her and bestowing some ridiculous notion of honorary Blackness on her. We can’t stop Netflix from documenting her scamming ass. We can’t stop her from making a mockery of Black oppression, pain, tradition and existence. But we can and damn sure will laugh our asses off as her hairline recedes further and further.
Take solace in the fact that she is in edge purgatory and headed straight for baldness.