Lets get one thing straight, says writer Hannah Pool (above). A hairstyle cannot be racist. And neither, for that matter can a wig. So if a white woman, like blogger Michelle Joni, puts a black Afro wig on her head and runs around New York taking photographs of herself for a blog Before and Afro and subsequently has so many ‘life changing’ experiences she feels the need to blog about it, the things she is most guilty of are ignorance and staggering naivety.
If, on posting a few blogs, people start to tell her that they find the way she’s referring to herself and the wig offensive, she’s within her rights to carry on. But she’s now doing so in full knowledge that she’s offending a huge number of people. And that when things get a little tricky.
When Michelle Joni, who describes herself as ‘a white blonde woman’ with a ‘privileged white upbringing’, started her blog she clearly had no idea of the storm it would cause. Had Michelle ditched the wig and posted a clever, informed response to the criticism she might have won over her detractors. But instead her clunky mea culpa made things much worse with jokes about fried chicken, and banging on about how many black friends she has – Michelle dear, if you have to wheel this one out you’re already in way too deep.
Tellingly, despite her protestations that she’d done nothing wrong, Michelle has now switched to a blonde afro wig. But the damage has been done, and besides, the fact that Michelle first wore the wig to a fancy dress party says it all.
Everyone knows that the perfect fancy dress costume is one that is both funny and cool. And that’s part of the problem with the ubiquitous ‘comedy Afro’. At some stage in the proceedings, the wearer has gone through a thought process that started with the question “What’s funny but also cool?” and come up with the answer “an Afro of course!”
The trouble is, as someone with a real Afro, it’s annoying that anyone thinks my hair is the perfect fancy dress costume. I’m not angry about in the same way I’m angry about poverty or sex trafficking, more irritated by it, like a wasp at a picnic. Not because I can’t take a joke - black people are funny, remember - but because I’m sick of being told that my Afro hair is messy and ugly, adding ‘comedy’ to the list just irks. The same goes for assuming I am any cooler or a better dance than you. I may be both, but that’s not because I’m black and have an Afro.