Just when you thought that the year couldn’t get any worse, Notting Hill Carnival was cancelled in May. Instead of losing your friends in the crowds and calling them to meet at the nearest tube station, while getting screw faced by the mandem on the wall, those who still wanted to the celebrate the event were instructed to watch the performances and virtual parade online. But some people did try to keep the spirit of carnival alive in the traditional fashion.
Most notably, Adele made headlines for adopting Bantu knots, a Jamaican flag bikini and customary feathers on her Instagram page. However, the picture begged the question of whether she was culturally appropriating or appreciating.
I initially thought that she was appreciating the culture rather than appropriating, since the caption read: “Happy what would be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London” capped off with a British flag emoji followed by a Jamaican one.
Notting Hill carnival is event celebrated every year by Londoners, officially set up in 1966 to promote diversity and cultural unity.
The main issue was her hair though. Bantu knots are a protective style used for afro hair. It originated in southern and central Africa and the term Bantu refers to people who speak the Bantu language. The hairstyle has since been adopted by celebrities like Mel B, controversially Khloe Kardashian and of course everyday women.
According to Dazed & Confused Magazine, the questions that you have to ask when determining whether you’re cultural appropriating are: “am I reducing this to a fashion statement? Are people of this culture the ones who are profiting off of this? Am I in an environment where this is appropriate?”
Is Adele reducing the hairstyle to a fashion statement? Yes. Protective styles are used by black people to tuck their hair away and prevent it from damage – of course they have also become fashionable. But since it would have been carnival maybe her appearance should have been a fashion statement. Either way, the desired look could have been achieved without the hair.
Are the people of this culture the ones profiting from this? No. Black hair is politicised as I previously mentioned and the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) act reported that black women are one and a half times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair than other women in the United States. So, when you see a white woman adopt a hairstyle that would be considered black, it can make people feel uncomfortable because the same ramifications don’t apply.
But and as always at carnival, there is a big butt, carnival is environment where this would arguably be appropriate. To anyone who’s been to carnival, this isn’t out of the ordinary. If I saw a white woman wearing the same thing as she walked down Portobello road in any other carnival year, I wouldn’t think much of it. But being Adele, she is subject to more scrutiny. I don’t know who did her hair, maybe linking back to who profits from her actions, but it could be deemed as her way of celebrating the culture of Notting Hill carnival.
I ultimately don’t think that she’s too far removed from the culture. Maybe this is me giving her a pass but it’s Adele from Tottenham clearly showing her influence and not claiming to have invented the style that she’s adopted. It’s certainly not as bizarre as some of Chet Hanks’ videos and it’s on her followers and spectators to educate themselves on the history of the hairstyle and the history of Notting Hill carnival. Anyway, there are more pressing issues that we should be concerned about.