Black people are the blueprint. For years, we have influenced fashion, culture, slang, music, etc. Most of today’s “trends” were started by black people, and while that may be hard to believe it’s because we are seldom given credit. However, with the help of social media, people are learning more about black history and the influence we have on virtually everything. Today we’ll be discussing a few of those examples.
Black women have undoubtedly played a role in the cultural emergence of artificial nails. Even though modern acrylics are not necessarily a black invention, black women have played a major role in their use and popularity. Black icons like Donyale Luna, the first black woman to ever appear on the cover of Vogue, and FloJo, a track and field athlete who is still considered the fastest woman of all time, adorned false nails.
When black people have on acrylics, they are viewed as unprofessional and ghetto. We are faced with questions like “How do you work with nails so long?” or “Do you think you’ll get a job with nails like that?” For a while, acrylics had the social connotation of being trashy. Take a look at this forum where the question at hand was “Are acrylic nails trashy?” and scroll through a few responses. One user said, “I’ve rarely met well-to-do women with fake nails. Tacky tacky tacky!” This question was asked in 2008. Back then, black people were the only individuals who religiously wore acrylics. Now, white people have taken on the trend and the response is completely different.
Just this past week, People Magazine published an article about tiktokers starting a trend of wearing long acrylic nails. Twitter erupted with response, citing the fact that black people have worn false nails for years and faced backlash but now that it has been whitewashed and mainstreamed, white people are flocking to this “new” trend and public opinion has shifted.
African American Vernacular English otherwise referred to as AAVE or Ebonics, has been a popular topic recently because of the growth in the number of non-black people using it. AAVE originates from the time of slavery.
When slaves were brought to the United States, they adopted an english based pidgin language to communicate. As time went on this language became more complex and was referred to as a kind of creole. Later down the line, through a process called “decreolization,” the language morphed with English, thus producing what is now referred to as AAVE.
In past years, AAVE/Ebonics has had the stigma of being an “improper” way of speaking and often described as a “ghetto language”. While I could go more in depth on how black people are forced to “code switch” due to AAVE being equated to being uneducated, that is a discussion for a different time.
The reason this was included in this article is because AAVE is now a trend. Words like “finna”, “sis”, and “chile” are being used by white people on apps like Tik Tok and Instagram to “act black.” They are using these phrases and their “blaccent” for followers and referring to it as “Gen Z” and “stan” language. This is highly offensive and problematic because the very phrases that cause black people to be marginalized and looked down on, are benefitting white people and used for a good laugh.
White influencers have built entire personalities off of these phrases and are realizing that without it, they just aren’t funny. AAVE/Ebonics is yet another example of black culture being used in mainstream media.
Another example of the influence black people have on modern trends is oversized clothing.
The trend of wearing oversized clothing is believed to have been started by black American Crip and Blood gang members. When people were arrested, they would take away their belts and shoelaces because some inmates would use them to kill themselves or hurt others. They would also get a white shirt to wear while in lockup, but it was often too big and baggy. When they were released, they would have on loose pants (no belt), loose shoes (no laces), and the oversized white shirt. This quickly became a style and gang members rarely wore fitted clothing.
This eventually transferred over to rappers and as people saw the baggy clothing during music videos and live performances, the trend took off. Until recently, oversized clothing was strictly associated with rappers, hip-hop, and gang members. It was looked down on and referred to as “ghetto,” but now it is considered a part of “street-wear” and has been inducted into mainstream fashion. Further, artists like Billie Eilish are praised for their baggy style when just a few years ago artists like N.W.A. and Snoop Dogg were belittled for it.
Recently, a motion was filed to eradicate hair discrimination in schools and the workplace. Box braids, dreads, cornrows, etc. have been styles that were nearly exclusively worn by black people for centuries and so has the discrimination that goes along with it. For years, black men and women have been denied jobs and suspended from school, solely because of their hairstyle.
These styles are unique to black culture and were actually used during slavery to help slaves map out their escape. However, white influencers have started to wear these styles and are being credited with starting it. In 2018, Kim Kardashian had her hair styled in cornrows and referred to them as “Bo Derek Braids”.
While we could come at Kim for “cultural appropriation,” it is my opinion that you can style your hair however you want. My issue here is the erasure of the black creators who actually started this trend. Influencers need to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that their styles originate from black people. The braiding style she had has been traced back to the Fulani Ethnic group in West Africa, which was inspired by two african groups: the women of the Wodaabe tribe and several other tribes in Ethiopia and Eritrea who wear similar styles.
Not all of the examples in this article are necessarily “cultural appropriation.” It’s important to be aware of who started the very trends that we see everyday, around the world. It’s not fair that trends are considered inappropriate or unbecoming until white people do it. Wearing acrylics and an oversized shirt isn’t limited to one race, but when you stop and look around, you realize how much of an impact black people have and how bleak the world would be without us.