Kylie Jenner hit the streets for New York Fashion Week ready to wow her fans and get people talking — something she and her sisters always manage to excel at. What Kylie also succeeded in doing, yet again, was making an offensive and inappropriate fashion choice by sitting front row at the Jonathan Simkhai spring 2017 show, sporting a denim suit and a du-rag over her hair. And Twitter, as usual, said "hell no" to her shenanigans. Although on the surface, Kylie wearing a du-rag seems like a silly, trendy borrowing of '90s hip-hop culture, what is actually happening is that the reality star is carrying this look into public spaces where Black people also wearing du-rags might be denied access or harassed for wearing them.
For those unfamiliar, a du-rag is a hair accessory used mostly by Black men, but also by women, to help mold or shape our hair. Black folks use du-rags to keep our braids and locs fresh, and also to keep our fades, waves, and low-cuts in place. Du-rags are like satin bonnets, or doobies, or stocking caps — items and techniques used to preserve certain hairstyles that have become a part of Black cultural fashion and style.
So, how is sporting a du-rag an example of cultural appropriation?
Kylie Jenner is practicing cultural appropriation while wearing a du-rag because when she dons one she is lauded as being edgy, hip, and trendsetting. When young Black men and women wear du-rags they are viewed as appearing unkempt and uncivilized. They can likely be viewed as mischievous or criminal. Du-rags, like baggy pants and hoodies are used as reasons to profile Black people — to see them as suspicious, because those clothing items are tied to urban fashion, and thus urban crime. When Jenner wears fashion shaped by Black experiences and Black culture, without acknowledging where that fashion comes from, she is erasing and devaluing Black people and the challenges (like racial profiling, for instance) that they experience.
Cultural appropriation is a serious issue, and I’m not naïve enough to believe that Kylie Jenner hasn’t been aware of the many ways she has appropriated and commodified Black culture both in the past, and apparently still today. Kris Jenner didn’t raise no fools. We know that, for Kris, any press is good press, even if that press depicts the Kardashian/Jenner clan in a negative light.
How can we form any opinion about Kylie Jenner’s cornrows, or acrylic nails, or plumped lips or questionable outfit choices without acknowledging that Black girls sporting those same cultural and fashion choices are rarely celebrated as beautiful or chic. Kylie and her sisters benefit (both financially and socially) from what Lindsay Peoples refers to as “the fetishization of Black women’s features,” while Black women are often condemned for rocking the same looks. Who can forget the Paper Magazine cover, where the most popular Kardashian sister agreed to mimic an image created by photographer Jean-Paul Goude (who has a very public and controversial fetish for Black women)?
Countless Twitter posts and think pieces have been written exposing the culturally problematic behaviors of Kylie and Kim, but the sisters, most often say little (or nothing) to address those choices or the marginalized groups they often offend. Why? Because the Kardashians are more interested in the scandal that these images create, and the attention they’ll surely receive after the images are published, than they are in having conversations about historical and institutional racism.
With the demands being made to recognize the value of Black lives (and why they matter), we can no longer pretend — as a nation — that we are living in a post-racial society. We cannot say that Kylie Jenner’s (or any celebrity's) fashion, makeup, and hair choices are no big deal. Being able to wear anything with impunity clearly demonstrates privilege. More specifically, the privilege of enjoying the benefits of Black cultural expression, without having to take action in solidarity with (or even show concern for) what is happening to Black lives.
This is deeper than the white, dollar-store du-rag Kylie Jenner wore during NYFW. Kylie (and the entire Jenner-Kardashian clan) must be held accountable for their repeated decisions to appropriate the culture of Black people as we literally fight for our lives each day.
Kylie, Kim, and the rest of the clan have a platform that they could (and should) use not only to speak about the origins of the trends they take from the Black community, but to speak about the injustices those living in Black communities are experiencing in myriad ways. The time for silence and faux ignorance is over. The moment to practice cultural exchange and appreciation, instead of cultural appropriation and commodification, is long overdue, and marginalized, oppressed people are sick and tired of having to explain these facts over and over again.