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Be f-cking for real, says the small white girl with beach blonde hair and dressed head to toe in bright pink preppy clothes. “Be f-cking for real,” the newest phrase meaning “be serious,” or in response to something so incredulous it cannot be real.
Yes, “be f-cking for real” is correct. But not in the way she probably means it.
The phrase, originating from a Black woman, has now been adopted and popularized by white creators in America. There is nothing new about this phenomenon — dominant populations have co-opted minority culture, ideas, and innovation for their own use throughout recorded history — and this theft will, in all likelihood, continue to occur unless something changes.
However, this seeming inevitability should not discourage marginalized communities from fighting back, and being vigilant in protecting their intellectual property.
Perhaps the word “theft” is too strong. A more accurate term would be “borrowed,” because white creators frequently take ideas and phrases from minority communities, only to discard them and move on to the next trend. “Borrowed,” because once they get tired of playing with our culture, they throw it onto the floor, like a doll that has exhausted its temporary lifetime, and play with their other toys. All the while we, the ones who created the ideas in the first place, lie battered and used on the floor, unwanted and unseen.
African-American Vernacular English — the unique grammar, vocabulary, and accents used in Black communities — is not the only aspect of our culture that has been borrowed by white American society. The pattern extends to fashion trends as well. For example, in recent years, the aesthetic of wearing a slick bun with chunky gold hoops, which originated from Latina and Black women, has resurged into mainstream media but has been rebranded as the “clean girl” aesthetic by white women.
Another example is the trend of “Brownie glazed lips,” popularized by celebrities such as Hailey Bieber. Where this trend originated, however, goes unacknowledged by Bieber when describing a style that was seen predominantly in Black and Latina cultures throughout the 1990s. This “revamp” of Black and Latina culture, which includes the use of other “borrowed” phrases by white TikTok creators, not only erases the cultural significance of these trends but also perpetuates the marginalization of those communities.
We’re told that it’s not inherently harmful to us that these trends are being borrowed. But as Black and brown women around the world have shared tidbits of knowledge from their cultures, the tremendous oversaturation of consumer culture has made it more difficult for the people for whom the products were originally intended to acquire them.
For instance, Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Oil, a version of a product used in Black and brown cultures for generations, has found its way into white women’s hearts recently due to a video posted by the famous white TikToker Alix Earle. The problem with this recommendation is not the product itself, but that the over-purchase of this oil, designed mainly for curlier hair, in stores across America has caused the product to go scarce.
To be clear, we as Black and brown women are not trying to harm white women, or imply that they do not deserve to thicken their hair, as the oil claims that it can help them do. Instead, the issue is that since hair care companies often appear to prioritize white women, their Black and brown counterparts have less accessibility to hair care products, thus highlighting the disparities between us.
Additionally, and worryingly, some Black hair companies have in the past allegedly abandoned formulas created especially for Black hair in favor of reworking their products to appeal to a white audience, strengthening the market dominance of white women. The contagious effects of this market power lead to panic among marginalized groups to stock up on things before formulas change, which exacerbates the problem of product scarcity. The overarching domino effect set off by a single video is what minority creators have been trying to spotlight, to little avail.
The perspectives of oppressed populations must be sought out and amplified in order to remedy this problem while addressing white influencers’ liability for their behavior. White influencers should make an effort to learn about the cultural relevance of the trends they are supporting, seek out and work with creators from underrepresented groups, and utilize their influence to advance representation and equity in their fields. It is crucial that society as a whole amplifies the voices of marginalized communities within the fashion and beauty industries, for the purpose of providing fair representation, resources, and opportunities.
It isn’t difficult to solicit the perspective of the people whose culture is being appropriated before promoting a product or homogenizing a new phrase. And to those that tell us that that’s too much to ask, I say…
Be f-cking for real.
Kelisha M. Williams ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Psychology concentrator in Kirkland House.
This piece is a part of a focus on Black authors and experiences for Black History Month.
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