Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Cornrows in African Culture

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCD chapter.

Styles in the beauty world often fade away with time, with new ones constantly emerging. Very few have strong cultural meaning, as beauty/styles rarely go beyond what is the current trend. Cornrows, a traditional African style of braids, are an integral part of Black culture and have remained prevalent throughout time — dating back to ancient Africa. The braided style protects hair from breakage and loss of moisture. The possibilities for cornrows are endless; they are slick and low-maintenance, lasting for weeks, as they act alone or as a base for wigs and sew-in extensions. The history of cornrows is beautiful, with immense cultural significance to the traditional Black hairstyle.

There is a deep history of the braided style, dating back thousands of years ago in North Africa. The braids not only had a purpose of upholding customs in society, but they were also worn for fashion. A certain style could represent one’s age, religious beliefs, wealth, the clan they belonged to, and marital status–passed down from one generation to the next. Fast forward to the late 1900s, and cornrows developed into a representation of self-love and acceptance. The hairstyle is an intricate expression of art and creativity, as countless designs are possible. I recommend visiting https://www.byrdie.com/cornrow-hairstyles-4782386 to see a beautiful variety of cornrows hairstyles. The braiding process can either take a few minutes or many hours; it depends on the hair density and braid size. White Americans attempted to impose their beauty standards onto Black people, but the Black Power Movement enabled African Americans to further embrace their heritage and reject white influence. 

For centuries, white people have imposed their beauty standards on African Americans. However, ironically, they have recently started to wear cornrows. They see the braids as a trend rather than a style, as cultural appropriation is exhibited. This can be seen in white celebrities, such as Fergie and Justin Timberlake, who wear cornrows for the purpose of following a trend. The popularity of the hairstyle among public figures has stirred the public’s attention–along with the discussion of cultural appropriation. This is a definite example of the privilege white people still maintain in society today; many are unaware of African Americans’ cultural backgrounds and the origins of their hairstyles. Many still ignore the fact that racial inequality and discrimination remain prevalent in society. White culture robs so much from Black culture, varying from fashion to beauty. Many believe this act represents inclusion, but racial inequality still remains as they perpetuate negative stereotypes. Black culture has such a significant influence on America and needs to be further respected and appreciated.

With cultural appropriation and discrimination still existing in society today, actions are slowly being taken for African Americans to reclaim their rights, as they should not be treated any differently because of their hair texture and style. In Black culture, braids enable people to express themselves and show others who they are. Cornrows and braiding in general are a symbol of tradition and determination in African American culture, and they should always be celebrated.

I am a third year at UC Davis majoring in Communication and double minoring in Technology Management and Psychology. In my free time I enjoy playing sports, traveling, going to Trader Joes, and watching New Girl on repeat.