How Black Our Society Actually Is
By Ritika Jain
Modern-day society, from how we converse to how we dress and carry ourselves, is infused with cultural adoptions. Many of the latest hairstyles, casual slang, hit songs, and fashion trends trace back to Black culture, a source of expression and innovation. Some of these trends positively reinforce the ideas and identities of Black people while others result in appropriation.
The hippie counterculture of the ‘70s introduced white communities to dreadlocks, a symbol of Black identity, as a fashion statement. From Miley Cyrus donning dreads at the VMA’s to Katy Perry wearing cornrows, pop artists have reduced a hairstyle rooted in ethnic pride and history to a trend. Black people are often criticized for their natural hair texture and style, and it is problematic for a dominant Caucasian population to replicate an aspect of Black people’s identity for commercial benefit. The same applies to the use of racial slurs like n-word and typical Black slang. The n-word is often used within Black communities as a term of endearment and white people have had no problem adopting it in their speech and singing it in songs. What a lot of people don’t know is that the term stems from a time of slavery and increased racial segregation that belittled and terrorized Black lives. Then, Black people took it upon themselves to redefine what the word means for them, and reject further notions of oppression from white people.
Fragments of Black culture also bleed in mainstream pop music and videos. White artists like Macklemore and Iggy Azalea have embraced the genre of rap as their own, which is also a form of appropriating. Rap music often reflects the plights of Black people and has been denounced for its violent or aggressive language. Such political and social commentary is present in the works of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and 2000’s Kanye West, who are among the world’s most distinguished rappers. Rap and hip hop have become an American commodity, as it overtook rock as the most popular genre in the U.S at the end of 2017. This has had generally positive implications, allowing the works of Black people to dominate radio waves and receive recognition. In the years since, artists like Cardi B, Lil Nas X, and Megan Thee Stallion have claimed top chart positions. The prominence of rap hasn’t intimidated its counterparts either. As Vulture writer Frank Guan puts it, “Its cadences, inflections, and tones are everywhere in new music: infiltrating country, swallowing R&B, and pervading pop.”
Fashion is also embedded in Black style. Mainstream trends that have dispersed through our news feed, such as fashion sneakers and black leather jackets, originate from Black communities. The hip hop movement of the ‘80s and ‘90s was marked by bright colors, bomber jackets, and tees with political statements imprinted on them, brands like Cross Colors and Karl Kani specializing in these styles. Gold chains and hoops are also emblems of Black pride that are now chic accessories widely sold at retailers. Streetwear has boomed into an industry of its own, with designers currently incorporating it in their high fashion. Rihanna partnered with Louis Vuitton to create her own line, Fenty Fashion House and became the first woman of color to do so. Athletes like Michael Jordan popularized the coupling of tracksuits and sneakers into a common fashion trend, achieving the image of comfortable yet fashionable. Beyonce brought back the Black Panther look in her 2016 Super Bowl Halftime performance, clad in studded black leather with her dancers donning berets, making a fashion statement as well as a political one.
The most popular trends that we know are rooted in Black culture and stories. Music and fashion wouldn’t be the same without their impact, continuously growing and expanding. However, if people want the freedom to assume different cultural appearances and practices, they must also understand and appreciate their history and value their place in society. Case in point: fight for Black lives as much as you parade their hairstyles, language, and streetwear.
Ritika Jain is an editorial writer who focuses on all things fashion, pop culture, and important social events. Follow her on Instagram.