In a post on former Hills star Lauren Conrad’s blog The Beauty Department, a seemingly innocent post about keeping hair healthy while swimming in the pool/ocean on vacation took a wrong turn and kept on going down the wrong street when she equated cornrows with jail time. Stylist Kristin Ess used deep conditioner-slathered cornrows as an example of a technique to protect the hair (something us BGLH-ers are very familiar with, but I digress) from chlorine and salt water. I could harp on how Ess presented this technique as her very own new idea, but I’m going to leave it alone. Let’s just start with comment that followed the picture below: “Okay, she kinda looks like she’s going to jail, but I promise she’s not.”
Why is it that the first correlation to cornrows is jail time? Cornrows go as far back as 500 B.C., to the Nok Civilization in Nigeria. Black women and men of all ages wear or have worn cornrows at some point. Heck, popular websites and online news sites have even declared cornrows as the “hot new trend”. So remind me again, how we arrive at this jail thing?
It’s called being ill-informed and culturally insensitive. And that’s putting it nicely.
What runs me really low is the series of “sorry not sorry” pseudo-apologies and justifications issued by Ess and The Beauty Department.
“Wait…tell me why this has anything to do with race or culture? She looks like a bad ass who is standing in front of a gate you guys. And I stand by my opening line…because if I were going to jail I would wear my braids for a low maintenance look. My goodness, you can’t say ANYTHING on the interwebs anymore.”
No, you can’t. It’s called writing responsibly. The internet never forgets. And because she looks “bad ass” (by virtue of her cornrows because well, we can’t ever see her face), she must be getting hauled off to the slammer, right?
“OMG I wish you could see my face RN. I’m offended by you telling me I’m racist. And if you’re looking for an apology, you’ve come to the wrong place. Stop associating braids and jail with black culture.”
No Kristin, you stop associating braids with jail. That’s a good place to land.
My favorite clapbackpology (yes, I just made that up) was left by Ess just yesterday:
“If anyone was offended by me associating a gate, 4 Dutch braids or a female (which initially looked so OITNB to me, which I love)with jail I am truly sorry. Clearly, my post came across offensively and my responses came across even worse. I never, in a million years, would have thought about it from the angle being pointed out. I would love to go back and change it, but what do I do? If I edit the post I will be criticized for that as well. This comes from the bottom of my heart (not a PR team because we don’t even have a PR team). I saw a few comments yesterday and thought “That’s a ridiculous take on my post.” Then I saw more comments and I thought, “Wait. Check myself. Is this culturally insensitive?” I thought it over and I honestly didn’t see ANY harm in saying what I said. I got defensive immediately, because I know there’s not a single malicious bone in my body and I don’t think it’s okay for those who don’t know me to say such derogatory things to me in regards to where my heart and head were at. BUT as the perfectly communicative Melanie Turnbull points out, you can say something racially offensive without being a “racist person”. I’ve truly never thought about it that way. It made me stop and consider two completely separate angles. I’ve never been in a heated argument with my readers and I respond best to a dialogue vs. accusation. It’s human nature to go on the defense when you feel attacked, and when I’m in defense mode I can’t get any new insight on a situation.
Melanie–thank you for your words and for helping me understand that I could offend without even knowing or intended to do so. For that I am truly sorry.”
It’s a disappointing “it’s not me, it’s you” faux-pology. The “it’s not racist because I’m not a malicious person” is a terrible defense. If a person with an otherwise spotless driving record rear-ends another car, it doesn’t necessarily make him or her a terrible driver. But at the same time, the spotless record does not excuse the offense. It’s called accountability.
What do you think, ladies? How do you feel about the way Ess and The Beauty Department handled the backlash?