Notting Hill Carnival is an 2-day summer event celebrated annually by roughly 1 million people from London and surrounding areas alike, officially set up in 1966 as an offshoot of it’s Trinidadian antecedent, it aimed to promote diversity and cultural unity. 2020 has been an extremely tumultuous year to say the least, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, on the 7th of May Carnival was cancelled for the first time in 50 years. Instead of getting to run wild and free in the streets of West London, if you still wanted to celebrate you’d have been instructed to watch the online ‘equivalent’ at home. This almost made me miss even the worst setbacks of Carni: The losing your friends in the sea of sweaty drunks; The screaming down the phone to arrange the remeet; The menacing stare of the mandem on the wall whilst doing so; The ridiculously overpriced and under-portioned jerk! Sigh.
A series of free live-streamed events were broadcasted simultaneously across four channels on the Notting Hill Carnival website, including various sound systems, calypso dancers, steel bands and the famous main parade. But some people still tried to keep the spirit of carnival alive in the traditional fashion. Most notably, Adele made headlines for festively adopting Bantu knots, a Jamaican flag bikini and customary feathers in a somewhat controversial Instagram post. The picture aroused short-lived mockery and anger amongst other reactions, begging the question: was she appropriating, or appreciating?
Irrespective of the image, I was initially inclined towards the latter, 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. Innocent enough, I thought. But, after a closer look I realised the source of scandal was not her profession of love for the event or her city, or even really the bikini; it was her hair.
‘Bantu knots’ are a protective, normally feminine styling used for afro hair. It originated in southern and central Africa and is named after the people who speak the Bantu language. The hairstyle has since been adopted by celebrities like Mel B as well as many everyday black women across the globe. As said by Dazed & Confused Magazine, the questions that you have to ask yourself when determining whether you’re culturally appropriating or not are:
- “Am I reducing this to a fashion statement?
- Are people of this culture profiting?
- Am I in an environment where this is appropriate?”
So, is Adele reducing the hairstyle to a fashion statement? Strictly speaking, yes. Protective stylings are used by those with afro hair to prevent it’s damage. But since it would have been carnival maybe her appearance should have been a fashion statement, and anyway, the function of the style within the black community isn’t exclusively protective, Mel B being a prime example. Although, the desired look could have been achieved without the hair. There is definitely a lack of necessity that places it in the fashion statement tickbox.
Are the people of this culture the ones profiting from this? No. Black hair is heavily politicised as I’ve previously mentioned, and 1 in 4 adults (24%) in a 1000 person UK survey carried out by WAD (World Afro Day) said they’ve had bad or very bad experiences with their Afro-textured hair and identity. So, when a white woman is seen adopting a hairstyle considered black, it can understandably engender tensions because similar ramifications don’t apply to her.
However, in reference to Dazed’s third question, Notting Hill carnival is seemingly the only environment within the year where this would arguably be appropriate, in London at least. Unless you want to really throw the book at her. Anyone who has been knows these kinds of spectacles aren’t out of the ordinary. But being a prominent public figure, she is inevitably subject to more scrutiny. This is unfair. Not only this, but I really don’t think she’s too far removed from the culture. She’s a working-class girl from Tottenham and clearly takes pride in the cultural influences she grew up around. Despite the conclusions the first two questions brought me, I ultimately believe the situation was blown out of proportion in typical social-media style. I believe if most of the people whining saw her as she’s dressed in the picture, at Carni, and she wasn’t famous, they wouldn’t bat an eyelid. The detached and revocable nature of commenting on social media, combined with the politically correct world we live in today encourages impetuously drawn ‘scandals’ that, frankly, seem to cause more harm than good. There are more important things to worry about. Forever Sauce wishes Adele the best.
Edited by Declan Agrippa