Culture

Students Allegedly Assaulted White Girls because Their Braids Were ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Actress Amanda Seyried at the premiere of Ted 2 in 2015. (Reuters photo: Shannon Stapleton)
You don’t have the right to demand that another person in our free country not wear her hair in a certain way.

A Hampshire College student has pleaded “not guilty” to charges related to the alleged physical assault of a white basketball player over the fact that her braids were “cultural appropriation,” and I just have to ask: What happens inside of your brain to make you think that that’s okay?

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, 20-year-old Carmen Figuera approached some apparently non-Latina members of the Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team and demanded that they remove their braids from their heads because it was “cultural appropriation.” Now, anyone with any logical ability whatsoever should be able to understand that it takes a very long time to unbraid tight, cornrow-style braids, which means that Figuera’s take-them-out-now demand was absurd on a practical level as well as on a philosophical one. But apparently, not everyone has been gifted with basic logic, because when the girls refused to remove them, Figuera allegedly started a fight with one of the girls, and then an another Hampshire College student allegedly physically attacked one of them as well, pulling the girl’s hair and causing her to fall down.

Wow! What a victory for social justice! What a productive dialogue! And by that I mean, what a complete display of absolute unhinged behavior for which there is absolutely no acceptable excuse.

I don’t care what race you are, you don’t have the right to demand that a person remove their hairstyle. You can dislike it, sure. But the truth is, no one has the right to demand that another person in our free country not wear her hair in a certain way, and so just deciding to appoint yourself as the Social Justice Hair Police is really not a thing you can do here.

Unfortunately, however, these kinds of demands are not new. Just last week. A group of Latina students at Pitzer College demanded that all white girls on campus remove their hoops immediately for cultural-appropriation reasons, with at least one student going so far as to think she had the authority to send an e-mail to the entire campus on the issue. And even more unfortunately, someone resorting to violence in the name of social justice isn’t new either: A black San Francisco University student was caught on tape physically assaulting a white student over his dreadlocks for the same reason just last year.

First of all, let me say that in most cases, it’s dumb enough that so many people are running around claiming that a certain modern culture “owns” any modern style at all. In case you didn’t know, humans have been around for a very long time, and that at this point there is really no such thing as an “original idea” that hasn’t been borrowed from someone else. Hoop earrings, for example, date back to ancient Greek, Roman, and Sumerian cultures, meaning that technically these Latina students at Pitzer would be appropriating their style from them.

Wow! What a victory for social justice!

Second of all, regardless of whatever your diversity training has taught you about braids or earrings or anything else, just what in the the hell are you experiencing mentally that leads you to decide that assault is the appropriate action physically? “Cultural appropriation,” whatever you consider it to be, may make you personally upset, but do you know what? It’s not illegal. You know what is, though? Pulling someone’s hair and knocking them to the ground. Pushing someone. If a white kid were to show up to a basketball game wearing cornrows, hoop earrings, and a costume that’s half geisha and half sexy-Pocahontas, you still wouldn’t have the right to assault that person.

Writing a little buzz-word-salad op-ed is one thing, but under no circumstances is it legal — or even remotely appropriate — to get violent, and the fact that people are increasingly seeming to believe that they have the authority to act as culturally-sensitive-hair-and-clothing-enforcement agents makes me think that we need to include some serious reality checks in our treatment of these issues.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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