Let me start by saying that I have been a fan of Rihanna since she first came on the scene back in 2005. I’ve danced to her music since Pon de Replay! Over her many years in the music industry, she has developed various brands to call her own: pop singer, fragrance developer, fashion designer, and actress. In my opinion, she hasn’t been afraid to challenge our ideas about “appropriate” womanhood with her edgy fashion, hairstyles, choice words, and music videos. She has also shown great strength in the midst of publicly experiencing domestic violence and thriving in spite of it.
Recently, Rihanna has been criticized for her recent statements about her bantu knot hairstyle she wore during the iHeartRadio Music Awards. She posted a picture of herself on Instagram describing them as “ghetto.” As much as I am a fan of Rihanna’s, I am disappointed with her.
Bantu knots are a popular style among naturals and is an effective protective style for curly hair. It has also been a popular style within many African cultures for centuries. Bantu knots should not be linked to a word that is used to demean people surviving poverty. Using this type of offensive language to describe common natural hairstyles is nothing new. Unfortunately, Rihanna is feeding into the same negative messages that have fueled opinions of black hair for centuries. In my previous blog post, I gave a few examples of how negative ideas about Black hair have spread and existed for a long time.
This is just more of the same, but it cuts deeper because it has come from a fellow sistah. Further, it has come from a prominent figure in pop culture and among black women. Rihanna has many fans, including young girls who look up to her as an example. When they see that she views a common natural hairstyle as “ghetto,” it discourages them from possibly going natural themselves. It also undermines a deeper understanding of Afro textured hair and hairstyles that work for our natural tresses.
I am not expecting celebrities to solve all our social ills or save us, I am expecting them to have a small amount of knowledge enough to know the responsibility of their words and actions. Rihanna may not have understood the weight of her words and how it would influence others, but intention is not as important as impact. The impact has been a reinforcement of the idea that black hair is inherently wrong, and a growing amount of Instagram members swiftly un-following her (Rihanna’s Instagram account is now closed!). Now that people have been vocal about how misguided her words were, I hope that Rihanna takes this as a lesson learned, gain some pride in her HAIRitage, and do better next time.
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