Braiding is not only one of the world’s oldest hairstyle techniques (with origins tracing back to roughly 3500 B.C. during the Nok civilization in modern day Nigeria), but also one with an incredibly vast cultural reach. Braids have been worn to signify everything from wealth in Ancient Egypt, to marital status in the Indigenous Quapaw tribe, to virtue and modesty in Medieval Europe. However, there are some types of braids that should only be worn by members of certain communities in order to preserve their cultural significance and avoid appropriation.
Box braids and cornrows are two styles that are often appropriated and incorrectly donned by everyone from vacationing tourists to celebrities (think Kim K at the 2018 MTV awards). However, these braids should be worn only by members of the Black community, due to both their historical and current significance. Cornrows originated in Africa as a protective and heat-combatting hairstyle, and during the height of the transatlantic slave trade, women in West Africa used to braid grains of rice into their hair to prevent starvation on slave ships. Even still, braids worn by Black people today are often deemed “unkempt” and “unprofessional,” while the same hairstyles on white influencers are called “edgy” and “fashionable.”
Does this mean you can only use braids styles originating from your own culture? Of course not! There are plenty of braiding traditions that come from cultures that either have never or no longer face discrimination in the United States, such as Dutch braids, French braids, or halo braids. What’s important is that before trying a new braid—or any hairdo for that matter—you make sure it doesn’t originate from a marginalized community that faces discrimination for practicing and preserving their own culture.