Let’s try this one last time: quit playing games with black culture

Illustration by Jeffrey Black

Bryce Randall, Contributing Writer

Black History Month is officially over. I’ve gotta say, we did not end it on the best of terms. 

Apparently, some people still think that cultural appropriation is permissible. I don’t know how many times y’all need to hear it, but not everything the black community produces is for you. 

We have Nikita Dragun to thank for bringing us to this conversation once again. Dragun is a YouTuber and beauty influencer from Virginia who is no stranger to scandals — including showing up to the MTV Video Music Awards walking three crawling men on leashes. Her latest scandal certainly takes the cake though. 

In an Instagram live story that was posted on Feb. 20, Dragun was seen sporting a do-rag and an exceptionally dark tan. As expected, she received backlash on social media for her appearance because she is not black and had no reason to be wearing a do-rag. 

https://twitter.com/rosesweave/status/1230678551470448642

Do-rags vary in definition, but they’re often worn by the black community to develop the “waves” hairstyle, in which curly hair is brushed or combed out then flattened and pressed to create the signature ripple-like pattern. As part of the process, a do-rag is worn to preserve the hair’s moisture, compress the hair and hold it in place.

To the point of the issue, Dragun made an attempt — in a now-deleted tweet — to defend herself from the mass criticism she was bombarded with. Dragun argued that do-rags are used to protect wigs from flyaways, friction, and frizz, which only resulted in more backlash. 

On the surface, this seems like your classic case of appropriation. A celebrity gets a tan that is much too dark for their natural skin tone and then does something with their hair that they have no business doing. This is not something new nor special. The internet is constantly accusing non-black celebrities, such as Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian, of “blackfishing” or adopting black features through heavy makeup, tans, textured or artificial hair and photo filters.

Looking beneath the surface though, the Dragun situation seems to be more than just another predictable blackfishing or appropriation story. Any celebrity, or human being for that matter, who has ever plugged into the social media universe is well aware of how quickly drama can start and spread. As a result of this, the majority of us think twice before streaming, uploading and posting. 

Taking another glance at the screenshot of her Instagram story, this case of blackfishing seems a little too obvious.Her appearance had the potential to spark controversy, which brings into question if this was an honest and unlucky moment or a stunt to gain a little publicity. 

To be completely honest, I am not mad at Dragun. I am not even really surprised. I am just disappointed and upset. On one hand, if this scandal was intentional blackfishing and appropriating aspects of black culture, that’s a sad and desperate way to get a little bit of fame and attention. On the other hand, if this was actually an accident, Dragun’s attitude about the incident was still disrespectful and insensitive.

The day after her Instagram live, in the height of the drama, she made a post to Twitter saying she didn’t care about the backlash. I can’t speak for the rest of the black community but I know that at the moment I read her post, I felt cheated and disrespected. Not only was a piece of my culture taken and made a mockery of, but the person who took it couldn’t even be bothered to offer up a simple apology. 

The lessons that can be taken from this whole scenario are simple and things most of us should already understand: It is never okay to steal from another culture, and if you’re going to have the nerve to steal from another culture, the least you could do is handle the situation respectfully and show some appreciation.

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