The story, in brief: Teen girls in Tokyo have started a trend of styling themselves in the mold of hip-hop. In contrast to the prevailing beauty ideals of light white skin and straight hair, “b-style” girls are tanning to darken their skin tone, braiding and cornrowing their hair.
Ran across this video in a MetaFilter thread in the middle of the night, and then found myself in one of those Internet wormholes where all of a sudden it was two hours later and I still just wanted to read more. There is so much that is fascinating about this phenomenon. E.G.: Hair extensions are a pretty entrenched part of black American fashion and the hip-hop aesthetic these girls are emulating, and many of those extensions are made from the hair of Asian women. E.G.: Beauty ideals in general, and how they get made, reinforced and subverted. E.G.: How notions of race and culture get translated from the US to Japan and vice-versa.
One commenter in the MetaFilter thread who seems to understand Japanese said that the video’s translation is pretty rough, so take the subtitles with a grain of salt. But read the whole thread, it’s fascinating. I’m going to excerpt one comment in particular:
We had maybe ten black people that I knew of in our school, and they always seemed interesting and with-it, and my grandmother had inadvertently (at first) taken me to see a string of blaxploitation films at the then-ruinous grand theater in downtown Baltimore, so I was primed for a keen interest in the curious world of blackness. Read through my Malcolm X and I was set. The man was not going to keep me down anymore—no sir.
I bought a couple dashikis at a yard sale up the street where the first multiracial couple in our neighborhood lived, and they were lovely, albeit the kind of funky plastic fantastic seventies dashikis you say in, say, a Pam Grier film, and not the properly traditional kind. I got up one morning, intent on honoring my African ancestry, which I presumed I had since all of humanity had sprung from the mother continent, and spent a good hour in the bathroom doing something atrocious and painful to my hair. I had hair that had a bit of the old oirish lilt to it, but nothing kinky, so I used my mother’s turquoise rattail comb and ratted the [$%#@!] out of my hair until I had a huge, fluffy, off-center orb of hair-don’t hanging around my pimply face like a cloud.
Pulled on the dashiki, touched up my frightening wad of hair, put on sandals because sandals seemed blacker than chukkaboots, and wore the bell bottom pants that were a hand-me-down from a girl cousin that my mother always claimed looked perfectly masculine, despite the embroidered butterfly on the backside, and walked to school instead of taking the bus, so I could maximize my reveal. I was fairly sure I looked superfly, though I suspect I was deluded in this belief.
Read through my special ed session in giddy anticipation, and was vibrating like a tuning fork in anticipation of being embraced in my new and hip identity, and— <read the rest at MeFi>
Also read through this very interesting thread at Clutch Mag. What’s powerful about both this thread and the MeFi thread is that folks seem to very quickly reach the conclusion that “Is this racist blackface, or mostly harmless cultural appropriation?” is a really limited question, almost the least significant question this story raises. Instead, people are really wrestling with its causes and effects, which seems to be much more fertile territory.