Michelle Lapidos, a white Jewish woman with long blonde hair, has started a blog chronicling her experience wearing an afro wig, “Before and Afro.” Joni first wore the wig for a Studio 54-themed costume party and over time, it evolved to become a tool of self-discovery.
In her words:
The afro is also a hairstyle that I’ve recently rendered part of my personal style repertoire. I originally got my fro for a Studio 54-themed costume party for AHAlife (where I handle the social media), and let’s just say the party has not ended. The afro changed my perspective; it made me think, walk, see and experience life differently. I wear it often. It’s not about feeling black… what I actually feel like is ME, understood more clearly. It’s not an alter ego. It’s an amplified ego.
People have spoken out in criticism of Lapidos’ exercise, saying it is rooted in an ignorant and elitist perspective on black culture, and it fetishizes how hair naturally grows out of our scalps. Lapidos counters by saying:
I’d like to think of the hair game as equal: If Black people can choose to get a weave to be more like “what society encourages,” why can I not choose a style that is far too often concealed because of society, but that I happen to think makes me look great?
What’s troubling for many is the idea that Lapidos feels “enlightened” and “more tolerant” because she chooses to eschew her own straight, blonde texture for a big, costume afro. Some feel she is mimicking black hair and feeding into the idea that our texture is less desirable than hers, as evidenced by her writing. For example, Lapidos says “I know that women of color do not have the option of taking off their fro at night to have long, soft, blonde hair.”
Many feel Lapidos’ blog is an exercise in white privilege, cultural appropriation and conscious ignorance.