Even when carnival is cancelled, it will still attract some controversy around it.
But this year, the controversy was not the usual. It wasn't around the numbers of people who got stabbed which, by the way, is always sensationalised by the media. Nor was it around all of the mess on the streets Notting Hill carnival leaves in its wake.
This year’s carnival (or non-carnival) attracted controversy because of Adele’s hair. Yep, to celebrate non-carnival, the pop star decided to tie her hair in Bantu knots, a hairstyle typically worn by black women to protect their afro hair.
And many voices within Britain's black community were in an uproar.
To some black observers, Adele had shown poor taste by ‘culturally appropriating’ a hairstyle that is traditionally worn by black women. Many of her critics pointed out that Adele would never wear that hairstyle on an album cover and has never worn that hairstyle in any other context outside of carnival. For many, this demonstrated that Adele is not really appreciating black culture but culturally appropriating a black hairstyle only when it is safe to do so.
Would Adele wear Bantu knots on her album cover? Probably not. Does that mean she is culturally appropriating black culture? Probably, but how harmful is it really and does it warrant this much aggravation from the black community?
Cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural discrimination
I would never make an argument that cultural appropriation of black culture does not exist and that, in specific contexts, it's not an insult and exploitation of black heritage. Films which cast white actors to play African people (e.g. all those Egyptian epics from the 50s). That is negative cultural appropriation. Britain plundering Africa of its cultural artefacts and displaying them at museums without any permission from those who created those artefacts. That is negative cultural appropriation. White people who wear blackface at parties as some kind of grotesque joke. That is negative cultural appropriation.
But Adele wearing her hair in Bantu knots? Yes, it is undeniably cultural appropriation but is it the type that is dangerous or harmful to black culture and black heritage? Of course, it isn't. You'll need to come up with a convincing argument that it is without looking very, very silly.
Scrolling through the internet and reading some of the criticism, something became apparent to me. Many of those who are deeply upset with Adele's choice of hairstyle (and it is understandably coming from black women) are looking at cultural appropriation and cultural discrimination as if they are the same. It is for this reason that the black community's anger is misplaced.
Yes, it is true that if a woman were to wear Bantu knots to her corporate job, she would be met with raised eyebrows and probably an email from HR. There is no denying the stigma against black hairstyles in the workplace and within other institutions in western society. But that is a matter of discrimination which should not be conflated with cultural appropriation.
Every one of us culturally appropriates other cultures, including black people. Whenever a black person goes to a Chinese restaurant and uses chopsticks to eat food, we are culturally appropriating Chinese culture. Black people who read a lot of manga and go to cosplays dressed as their favourite anime character are culturally appropriating Japanese culture. All of these examples are done in the spirit of celebrating that culture. How do we celebrate it? By consuming it and sometimes adopting its customs.
Justified but misdirected rage
Adele, who, don’t forget, grew up in Tottenham, which has a sizeable black community, was celebrating the spirit of carnival with her chosen hairstyle. To think otherwise means you are projecting your unjustified and misplaced rage onto her because of the stigma around black hairstyles perpetuated by the white elites in western society. The fact that she wouldn’t wear it on an album cover is because her record execs, who control her image, decide what is and what isn't an appropriate look for a pop star. If you want to have this rage, you should direct it at them, not at Adele.
Furthermore, why does the black community pick and choose which forms of cultural appropriation is deserving of their wrath? The Indian community have been profiting from black hair and black hair products for a long time, but black people are curiously silent about this. Yet we have our pitchforks raised when a white woman decides to adopt a black hairstyle. I can't help but think that Adele being a white British person is the reason she is getting this much heat. If she looked more tanned, would black people have cared? The cynic in me says no.
Lastly, black people have a lot more urgent and essential matters where we need to be channelling our energy and rage. The killing and imprisonment of our black men, lack of job opportunities for young black men and lack of economic prosperity among the global black diaspora – these are matters that need our urgent attention. Remember, only very recently, a black man was shot in the back and paralysed in front of his children by white police officers.
Black people’s fight is not with Adele’s hair. It’s with the elites and the establishment. Can we please redirect our rage back to the real battle?