Is It Fine When It's a Fave? Adele's Bantu Knots Reveal the Subjectivity of the Appropriation vs. Appreciation Debate

Singer Adele during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Singer Adele during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Photo: Christopher Polk (Getty Images)

Adele is a multi-Grammy award-winning singer whose soulful song stylings have made her a fairly universal fave (we still think that the 2017 Best Album of the Year Grammy belonged to Lemonade, though—and seemingly, so did she. She’s a Beyoncé stan, too!). She also seems to be an affable, humble and entirely relatable superstar, rising to her now-worldwide fame the old-fashioned way: on MySpace.

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In fact, if you were to ask around, Adele would likely routinely be among the least problematic faves of the Caucasian persuasion, presumed to have an understanding of the nuances of appropriation, given the fact that like fellow blue-eyed soul singers Dusty Springfield, Teena Marie and (early-aughts) P!nk before her, Adele’s sonic style is largely based upon a vocal blueprint laid by Black women.

But what even the most ardent Black lovers of Adele likely weren’t prepared for was the singer’s spin on Caribbean carnival regalia—replete with a Jamaican flag string bikini top and her hair styled in Bantu knots—which she posted to Instagram Sunday in tribute to London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival, yet another event canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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“Happy what would be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London,” she captioned the post.

Aside from the now-requisite ogling and commentary on the 32-year-old singer’s now-svelte frame (people lose weight sometimes, folks. Get over it), on Sunday, social media was a-twitter (see what we did there?) over the image, sparking a debate between those crying foul on what was widely deemed to be an appropriative “costume” and others defending the singer’s choice of homage as appreciation.

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Most of the criticism leveled at Adele had to do with the Bantu knots atop her head, which we fully assume were created by a Black stylist or friend. And frankly, after years of reporting on cultural appropriation and watching countless celebrities either reckon with or lowkey troll us in response to the criticism, we’re tired. In fact, we’re less interested in the cringe-worthy gaffe (and if you absolutely must have our opinion, yes, it’s a gaffe, though far from the most offensive of the many we’ve seen) than the debate around it—because let’s be honest: If this were a Kardashian, there’d be far less debate and much more vitriol. Should Adele be exempt from the same critiques simply because she has a widely recognized and more highly respected talent? Most importantly, why, with yet another white woman at the center of the discussion, did the debate somehow devolve into an increasingly nasty “us vs. them” between Black Americans and other Black people across the diaspora?

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Umm...OK...go awf, we guess—because last time we checked, anti-Blackness spans the globe, and hairstyles traditionally worn by Black people of every origin have been criticized, marginalized, and, in some cases, outright outlawed in deference to Eurocentric beauty ideals. Case in point: Earlier this month, Jamaica’s Supreme Court ruled discrimination against dreadlocks legal—yes, in the predominantly Black country of Jamaica.

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While we don’t believe Adele is anti-Black (far from it, in fact), we do think it’s fair to observe her choice to wear this hairstyle through the lens of those who haven’t been able to do so as freely. If Black people wearing hairstyles indigenous to their heritage are regularly deemed inappropriate, surely Adele can weather a bit of the same criticism? (We have a feeling she’ll be just fine—and we’ll likely still buy the next album, so there’s that.)

Via our sister site Jezebel:

As one commenter on Adele’s above Instagram photo pointed out: “Black women are discriminated against for wearing cultural hairstyles like bantu knots and locs but white people are not, that’s not fair and that’s why people are pissed off.” So, yes, note to all fellow white women: honor Carnival respectfully, but leave the cultural appropriation at home, i.e. nowhere.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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DISCUSSION

I didn’t see yall cry appropriation when a bunch of white democrats wore african tribal scarves on the floor of the house. The hypocrisy is so disgusting and stifling.