Can White Kids Wear Hairstyles Like Their Black Friends? Consider This.

One mom asked Reddit whether it was appropriate for her daughter to wear braids like her Black friends and responses were mixed. Here's what to think about.

A white mom sparked a discussion on Reddit discussion about whether or not it would be appropriate for her blonde daughter to wear braids like her Black best friend. She’d initially told her daughter she couldn’t wear the hairstyle because it could be considered offensive. While some commenters responded in agreement, others felt that the girl should be able to wear the style to fit in with her friends. 

Ultimately, Mom decided to allow her daughter to wear braids that weren’t modeled after Black hairstyles and posed no cultural offense. She even said she planned to explain the significance of the friend’s hairstyle to further the idea of appreciation. While this story has a tactful ending, there's still more conversation needed when it comes to appreciation versus appropriation. 

Navigating these kinds of conversations with your children can feel taxing, especially when your innocent child just wants to do something they see other people doing. However, these discussions are pivotal to rearing culturally responsible adults who respect others and understand that even something that seems as harmless as a hairstyle means has deep cultural significance.

Luckily, that doesn’t have to be as tricky as it might seem. Here are some things to consider.

Primary school students sitting in a classroom writing on a mini whiteboards in the North East of England. The girls are laughing together.

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Cultural Appropriation Hurts

There is a fine line between showing appreciation for something and appropriating it. In the case of hairstyles predominantly worn by Black people, the word appropriation comes up when non-Black people style their hair similarly. While the concept of no one culture owning braids may be argued, styles such as cornrows, box braids, Bantu knots, and Fulani braids are inherent nods to Black African cultures. They possess a deep significance to heritage and are appropriate for tighter curl patterns not generally held by those outside of the Black race.

Further, while beads and braided designs may look beautiful and cool to some onlookers, Black people are still advocating to end hair discrimination and have such hairstyles respected as professionals. Seeing a non-Black person be lauded for the same styles while fighting for your own natural hair rights is a terrible feeling. When you take all the glory and no discrimination, you turn someone’s culture into a costume, which is painful.

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Wearing Protective Hairstyles

Understanding why Black folks wear braids can help you navigate the conversation with your child. Braids are protective hairstyles for tighter curl patterns that lack moisture. These hair types can be easily damaged by daily detangling and styling. To give the hair a break from potential harm, it is styled in a way that requires no combing or similar management.

Unlike the protection offered to Black hair, such hairstyles can actually pose damage to looser curls, straight hair, and oily scalp types. Black braided hairstyles put a lot of tension on the scalp, and the looser the hair, the tighter the hair must be pulled, increasing the level of potential breakage and scalp disruption. Keeping in mind that a protective style isn’t necessarily for your child’s hair type will help you choose a more appropriate hairstyle for them that won’t cause cultural or physical harm.

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Individuality Is Important

Children love to dress like their friends and revel in their similarities. While this can be fun, childhood is also a pivotal time to help your little person explore their individuality. When the time comes for them to ask to have their hair styled like their Black friends, you might opt to teach some important lessons.

Consider finding the loophole—if the Black friend's braids are pulled into a ponytail, you could give your child a ponytail and explain that while both children are wearing ponytails, they look a little different, and that’s OK. Since the early school years are when children begin exploring individuality, you might even use the moment to help your child realize that they don't have to participate in things to appreciate them and that there’s beauty in their own appearance, too, even if it’s different than their friends.

This allows you to explore the variety of ways one may respectfully compliment someone while maintaining a sense of self-confidence. Early experiences in appreciating someone’s differences go a long way once a person reaches adulthood.

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Learning About Others

One of the best ways to show appreciation for something is to become educated about the subject. This can be tricky because you want to be mindful not to exploit anyone in your quest for knowledge. In the case of the mom on Reddit, she was able to talk with her child’s friend’s mother to find a solution to her braid dilemma. If you have someone in your proverbial village interested in assisting you with your questions, that’s fantastic.

If you don’t, you want to rely on the resources available to learn about different cultures. You can do internet sleuthing or lean into books featuring stories about Black hair, keeping in mind that many of these stories exist to uplift Black children who sometimes struggle with hair self-esteem. 

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Honoring Your Own Culture

One of the easiest solutions is explaining to your child that their friend is honoring their culture while offering to help your child celebrate their own. What do hairstyles in your culture look like?

This allows you to help your child explore their background and pay homage to it. They’ll also have a really cool story to tell their friends about why they chose the hairstyle, which might even open up a more extensive discussion on different cultures.

La Trobe University, which boasts having more than 100 cultures on its campus, has a great resource on respecting others' cultures which begins with honoring your own.

In the end, we can say “It’s only hair,” or even quip, “What’s the big deal?” but when you truly take a moment to understand the issues involved in such a conversation, you are investing in your growth as a parent and person. You’re also helping to shape culturally responsible, empathetic, and kind adults who will later help create a better world. Remember, everything we are starts with childhood. 

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