By Jasmine of Beat of Travel

Sprawled on a comfy quilt laid out on a sunny patch of grass in Cheesman Park with friends and loved ones, drinking Red Stripe and headache inducing mimosas, was pretty, pretty, idyll. We sat gawking at the ongoing rush of cyclist in goofy costume, the prelude to the Tour de Fat festival. The spectacle was a lighthearted, and brilliant marketing tool I might add for New Belgium, but I began to notice an on going trend in the dash of silly cyclists.

Yes, most of the getups were inventive, funny, or even a little tragic (enter wobbly girl on rollerblades, encased in a Hooter’s uniform). All was well, until I spotted a reoccurring theme, riders simply adorned with ragged Afro wigs shoved on their heads without any semblance of a ‘head to toe’ costume. Most of the ‘Bros’ with curly Afro wigs, looked as though they had stumbled out of a Jack Johnson concert and into a Party City. I was embarrassed for them, and thought aloud ‘Wow, I did not know that just wearing an Afro wig constituted as a costume?’ To which the majority of the group I was with laughed uncomfortably.

The day and the drinking carried over to the festival, and the tacky, synthetic wig epidemic ensued. I felt crazed. I toyed with the idea of asking at least one of the several pseudo Afro wearing, costume slackers “Why is an Afro wig a costume?” My supportive husband nudged me enough to ask, and added stoking my conviction ‘Besides they need to contemplate their actions.’ He was right, so I thought 3 beers in. I went up to the first victim and attacked mercilessly, took a photo with her and asked my burning question.

Her photo grin disappeared, and what replaced it was an ‘oh shit’ question mark. Even as I waited for a retort, strands of blonde hair tucked sloppily under the band of her wig slipped free. I had stumped her. I don’t think she woke up that morning thinking that she would indeed have a pop quiz, at a beer drenched festival. For moments she stared at me, and then glumly replied ‘I have always wanted an Afro.’ Sure. I repeated this same tactic on another unsuspecting clueless Afro wearing casualty, and I think I blew a gasket in her hipster brain.

If the wigs worn by the people at the festival would have been accompanied by seventies inspired threads, my natural Afro-esque self would have never said a word or noticed. But that was not the case. I don’t believe that my hair texture is a spectacle or funny, it is my hair. I suppose I could plop a blonde wig on my head this Halloween, and hope to have an effective costume, while wearing my everyday attire. I am sure that it would not garner the same response, or any at all for that matter. Why is an Afro wig an acceptable costume? That style and hair type is a part of a specific group of people, which is more than just a cultural aspect, it is a physical attribute.

Interesting piece! What are your thoughts ladies? How do you feel about afros being used as a costume?

For more of Jasmine’s writings check out Beat of Travel.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

Leave a Reply

155 Comments on "Why Are Afros Considered a Costume?"

Notify of
avatar
UH

I think deep down they wish they had this style. A lot of type costume are just an opportunity to dress up in a way that you can’t everyday. The more afro the better 🙂

Lauren
Since becoming natural I’ve felt the same way when I walk in a halloween/ party store and think… why is this ratty thing an afro? and why is it that people feel comfortable making a costume out of someone else’s natural state? I think that a lot of people admire other cultures and then want to dress up like them. e.g. Geisha, Native American, Mexican but there is a fine, fine line between dressing up and appreciating a culture and dressing up and making a novelty out of a culture. Sadly, most people dont even take the time to think… Read more »
Sue

This right here:

I think that a lot of people admire other cultures and then want to dress up like them. e.g. Geisha, Native American, Mexican but there is a fine, fine line between dressing up and appreciating a culture and dressing up and making a novelty out of a culture. Sadly, most people dont even take the time to think about it.

Most times it seems people wear the wig to poke fun or ridicule.

Aisha

Honestly Im not offended. I don’t think that people realize that, thats what our natural hair looks like. The last time people really saw an abundance of afro’s was in the late 60’s early 70’s so they have become a period/erra type of thing, making it a costume. If more of us wore our hair in its natural state, be it afro or braid outs etc. The world would know who we are. Its not their fault that a majority of us hide our natural hair. So to them the afro is a costume because its not the norm. JMHO

Strawberry
Well said Aisha. I was going to say the same thing. Ignore the idjits trying to twists your words up. I also want to point out that ALL ppl are held up to some kind of ridicule. Cousin IT had long straight hair. What does that say about straight hair? In fact, most Halloween wigs are depictions of straight hair. Nappy headed folks need to get over themselves and understand the world is not going to kowtow to your over-sensitivities. Quit hanging onto the history like a security blanket! Use it to propel you to have a backbone and tough… Read more »
wanda

Do a little research and find out how long Africans were in Africa before there was any such thing as a European let alone a Russian.
Please believe they had Afros and cornrows and beads and …

———————————
I am done shaking my head at the stupid insensitive stuff whites do.

June

Another “gem” of a comment we can always count on: ‘Racism is not their fault, it is ours’

Aisha

Dont twist my words, that is not what I said and that is not what I meant. Basic principals, respect yourself if you expect others to respect you. We should wear our hair proud!!! If we all do then how and when and who could make our hair a spectacle.

June

With all due respect, you are being deliberately obtuse. The vast overwhelming majority of us do not alter our lips and that has not stopped people from mocking what they consider to be the stereotype of black lips.

Strawberry

News flash, June, you are an idiot. Grow up, grow out, explore the world and stop being a victim.

vonnie

I always had that question too and had a long twitter convo about it, basically why is an afro a costume and why are most CLOWN costumes made with afros. wtf?

Vonnie of Socialitedreams.com

Momobyon

True. They modeled clowns to look like blacks. Notice the big red lips, huge nose, kinky hair and ‘goofy appearance.’ They’ve been making fun of us right in front of our faces all these years. AND NO ITS NOT BEING A VICTIM. ITS POINTING OUT FACTS to the one below…

RozB

Great insight, Vonnie. Makes you go Hmmmmm…..

Strawberry

Only an idjit could mistake clown’s hair for an afro. Damn. Do you really want to be a victim all of your life?

ARosenBklyn

While I see where you’re coming from, I don’t think it’s that serious. I think putting on an afro is something other than themselves and thus constitutes costume. If I, a dark-skinned, black-haired woman, were to don a blonde straight-haired wig, I’d be in costume- a lame one, but a costume nonetheless. And you know what, I may be funny-looking just like white people with afro wigs.

June

Hmmm. I knew comments like yours were coming. I can always count on the ‘it is not that serious’ or ‘stop making everything about race’ crowd here.

If you put on a blond wig, it would not be considered a joke. You would be labeled one or more of the following: Ghetto, trashy, someone with low self-esteem, and someone that wants to be white because they hate their blackness.

Can we stop acting brand new?

Strawberry

@June, you are the only one acting “brand new”! It is a fact that regardless of how one wears their hair, if they encounter ppl who want to be negative, those ppl will be negative. It is apparent by your commentary how uncomfortable you feel in your skin. Stop projecting your anger onto everybody else.

Eveie

@ Strawberry: my girl, great perspective. It’s so nice to read a comment written by a confident and educated black woman, so thank you.

ARosenBklyn

@June-
“Hmmm. I knew comments like yours were coming. I can always count on the ‘it is not that serious’ or ‘stop making everything about race’ crowd here.”
That’s probably because, given thought, you KNOW it’s not that serious.
“If you put on a blond wig, it would not be considered a joke.”
I didn’t say a “joke,” I said, “costume.” Which by definition would be as true for me in a blonde wig, as for white people in afros.

June

I can see you failed to address all the names you would be labeled with a blond wig….

Strawberry

@June, you need a parade to march in. Why don’t you catch a boat to Africa and try to do some good over there. Ppl over there are sadder than you, with good reason. Maybe amidst some real strife you might finally find some happiness in that lump of coal taking the place of where your heart use to be.

ARosenBklyn

“I can see you failed to address all the names you would be labeled with a blond wig….”

Those are all YOUR projections- therefore YOUR problems. If that’s how you see a Black woman in a blonde wig, doesn’t mean the world agrees with you.
I didn’t address it because I was honestly disgusted by the ignorance.

Eveie

@June, girl it saddens me to hear you so full of hate. Name calling and labeling, getto, sad to see things through your eyes…

June

Sorry, not full of hate for anyone. Just a realist.

I am sorry you lack critical thinking skills.

Oyan

Thanks June. That’s reason number 800 why ‘things never change’. Complacent critical thinking skills.

Eveie

What!? ‘things never change’!? Where do you live that you have no understanding on history and current times? SO MUCH has changed!!! You can’t be serious in thinking that things never change. Atleast I hope not…

Eveie
…. Says a simple minded girl who would prefer to chauck something light hearted up to offensive. You are obviously unfamiliar with the concept of critical thinking. If you were you would know that to think critically is to be fair and open-minded while thinking carefully about what to do or believe. You would not make an assessment based on your emotions or on whether or not you believe someone is being “sincere”. You completely lack fair-mindedness, making you unable to give any sort of decent stance. Of course you do have an opinion, but sadly for you it is… Read more »
June

Talk about the pot…..

Kai

+1

“Chill out black people”-people need to realize that a lot of things really *are* about race. Far from everyone constantly thinkgin abotu race, not enough people recognize, discuss and try to solve issues. The girl could have easily said that she was doing a 70’s themed costume but she got lazy. The fact that she came up with a lame answer after being stumped indicates that she recognized the accusation implicit in the question as at least partially correct.

Eveie
I agree with you 100%. why are all these coments implying that we look at our naturally curly and wild hair as something goofy and an unfortunate trait?! (like a Jewish nose?) really? Big black curly Afros look funny on white people, period. Just like I would look ridiculous in blonde pigtails, therefor making a costume. This is not a race thing. Many white, Spanish ect. People have Afros. We have got to quit making everything about race, the entire world does. I over all find jasmine inspiring but I have to say I am a bit let down by… Read more »
Jasmine

“The girls pictured did have a few other token 70?s gear on. (peace necklace, high socks).”You know I thought that too at first. But when I asked her, she did not say ‘I am reppin the 70s”, she looked scared shitless and did not have much to say. Which leaves me to believe that she really did not know why she wore that wig, and that is scary.

Eveie
“…and that’s scary.” scary? Bit of an exageration I’d say. A total stranger approaches you, (all smiles) takes your picture then asks some off the wall question like “why do you consider my hair style a costume?” straight faced and serious. ie: a cat nuging your leg begging you to pet her, then attacks when you give in… Surprised? Um, ya. So she didn’t respond quick enough (probably out of shock of your switch up) and you didn’t think her answer was sincere, so that MUST mean everyone that wears Afro wigs are doing so because deep down they hate… Read more »
Strawberry

Applause @ Eveie. Glad to see everybody on here isn’t a lifelong victim. Funny how ppl are quick to forget that non-black curly hair without loads of conditioner can “afro” up and can thus be the model for these wigs.

Cat

BEST post on the subject, Eveie! Its almost like a witch hunt here.

Dolores

I agree.

Tahli

well to be on the flip side of that…theyre are many costumes that include straight blonde hair (hannah montana/ barbies) or straight black hair (witch), so I don’t think afros are necessarily costume hair, but hair in general can sometimes be over exaggerated into a costume.

tracyata

…but as the comment from “b” above said, to wear a blong or red wig would’ve been a lame costume and no one would think the hair in and of it self was funny. Wearing straight hair would require you also wear an entire costume and be a specific character like pippy-longstocking – Not just a red, straight-haired person.

Angela

+1

Angela
Good for you! I’m glad you asked the hard question. I agree with your husband. People are used to not thinking. I’ll bet the vast majority of the afro wig wearers, never gave a second thought to the underlying message of what they were doing. Some might truly think that afros are cool(If that’s the case, they should feel free to go to the salon and get some perm rods. Bob Ross and Mike Brady rocked afros and you can too!)but by wearing it as a costume, they are indeed reducing a physical trait to a joke. Like wearing a… Read more »
Pearce

I think the nose exists – Marx brothers with the black framed glasses.

anastasia

I’m right there with ya Angela 🙂

“They should feel free to go to the salon and get some perm rods” LOL!!!!

Oh Bother

I really want to believe they all just had the same love of the very soft spoken painter from PBS that rocked a fly fro. Unfortunately I’m sure that’s not the case.

b.

Happy Trees! Bob Ross…he was awesome. Thanks for putting that wonderful memory in mind for me today. But yeah…I agree with you.

Anonymous

OMG I loved that guy! He was the soft-spoken painter that I watched when I was bored as a kid!. I second b.- thanks for the memory! (But yeah, I don’t think that’s what these people were thinking when they put on those afro wigs).

anastasia

I ADORED the soft spoken free-lovin talented Bob Ross!!! Happy trees, happy shrubbery, soft strokes! 🙂

Li

I used to love that guy also; always put me to sleep. lol but anyway, I could never understand the concept of other races putting on an afro wig and thinking its funny.

Carla

What a great memory! I loved watching his show on PBS. RIP Bob Ross.

BlackOnyx03

This has ALWAYS bothered me — ever since I went to my first high school summer program for the supposedly “best and brightest in the state” and there were a group of stuck-on-stupid white boys running around in afro wigs. Not celebrating Halloween myself, I’ve had few occasions to run into any others doing this on a regular basis. But you can best believe that, now that I’m a grown woman unafraid to speak her mind, I’ll have no problem asking my own questions about this foolishness if it crosses my path again!

HairItIs
AGREED. I have always loathed the whole “Hahaha, look! I have an afro!” phenomenon among non-blacks, and I will definitely be calling out the next frat boy or sorostitute I see wearing an afro wig as a joke. I usually try to stay out of stuff like this, and I’m not offended easily by any means. But, why is it that our hair is automatically funny? It’s just accepted culturally that for an instant “costume,” all you have to do is add an afro wig. Hell naw. Afro wigs are frequently used as an instant sight gag, and I really… Read more »
LaDolo

LMAO at “sorostitute”

deena

oooh…i would have loved to see those convos recorded. You’re too awesome.

b

So true! No one would ever think of putting on a long blonde wig or red pigtails. There’s no such thing as dressing up as “a white person”. That’s not a costume, and your friends would think you were lame. You’d have to come up with someone specific to be, like “Lady Godiva” or “Pippi Longstocking”.

But, typical of the dehumanization of African descended people, putting on an Afro wig is totally ok: “Hello world, I’m black for Halloween.”

Angela

“Hello world, I’m black for Halloween.” That’s profound. And bone-chilling.

julia

“Hello world, I’m black for Halloween.” wow. That is so true.

b.

Funny…that’s the first thing I thought about too. What would a woman of color look like with a long blond wig on and street clothes? Well…in all honesty I see it sometimes outside the context of a festival.

The thought of someone saying “I’m black for Halloween” gives me real pause. Sighhhhhhhhhhhh…

nana
I love this because I have always wondered the same thing. This is particularly of interest to me because my hairstyle of choice(as in 90% of the time) is a chunky afro. I think it comes from the perception that afro’s were a hairstyle from the 70’s and has since dissapeared. I would go even further and say a majority of “non-black” people don’t realise than afro =natural hair for most people of African origin. People often ask me “how I get my hair to do that” and I love clarifying that I don’t have to have an afro. Bottom… Read more »
anastasia

“Best thing we can do is educate and clarify out of a spirit of honesty.”

+100 …Kudos to Jasmine and her husband!!

June
Great article and good question. It would have been nice if any one of those questioned gave a thoughtful response. But, we all know that would never happen. I have always wondered why donning an afro wig was supposed to be instant hilarity or why dressing like a pimp meant automatic afro purchase. All pimps are afro-wearing black people??? International sex slavery all committed by afro-wearing black people?? I am going to borrow a phrase* from Dr. Joy Leary and extend it to the world – the pathology of (a too significant amount) of white people is denial. If people… Read more »
BJ
I’m a college student living in Spain for the year and I saw some stereotypes on a poster being sold in a media store. It showed male and female symbols (like on restroom doors), each with a costume and a description. For example, on the male side the caption of one was “Stoner” and there was a marijuana leaf in the place where the head should be. On the female side, one said “Celibate (liar)” and the symbol had a nun’s costume on. I was offended when I saw that the female symbol described as “Hoochi Mama” was the only… Read more »
EG

Why acknowledge something that you benefit from?

Tonna

I agree!

anastasia

+1,000 🙂

Annie L.
Brava! Just awesome! I did the like with the board of a large, foreign supermarket chain and some kinky ‘Mammy-like’ ceramics they sold. Despite going in guns blazing (tact is better, lol!) the response was AMAZINGLY positive. I believe if more of us questioned these images face-to-face, confronting these parodies with their real-life counterparts that real human beings are born with, love and style every single day, then more people would reflect on how ‘harmless’ distortions have influenced how they view curly hair and more importantly its association with people of African descent. Engagement, questioning, and self-reflection can change entrenched… Read more »
anastasia

+100

Babs

This is one of the many things, the urk the hell out of me, that people seem to think oh it’s okay it’s a joke without seeing the underlying context. it’s the same thing, with the hipsters wearing native american headdress as a costume. Cultural appropriation, i hate and it hurts my soul to know that millions of people have been systematically trained to think this is okay.

Cacey
well i mean, you gotta consider. white ppl have no distinct culture. so it’s very much in them to destroy other people’s and then make mockery of it as some sort of twisted, sick tribute. maybe my inner racist is coming out- lemme stop. i remember when i went to private school, my classmates were mostly white, and without fail, every time one particular girl and her friend saw Asians on screen in a movie, she would just burst out laughing and point it out. “Every time I see an Asian, i just crack up laughing!” she guffawed. I hadn’t… Read more »
anastasia

+ 1

amadis

I have thought the exact same thing! So glad you made them think twice.

Trini

I recently read about a contest in Australia to attend a sporting event. The winning duo (two males) wore afros and black face (to be real authentic). I suppose some individuals think of us as open season!

Carla

I wonder maybe, just maybe, (hopefully!) that they had no clue about the history of African American culture and the original meaning of “black face”. A part of me hopes it was sheer ignorance.

Rachel

No Carla. Australians are just unabashedly racist. I studied abroad there and could not wait to get out. The next year, a black woman from my school studied abroad at the same Australian university and someone spat in her face. I won’t get into how even the white American students felt uncomfortable with, as one California student claimed, “Australians dropping n-bombs.”

I know Oprah was promoting it, but I would advise African descended people to take your tourist dollars to New Zealand.

Dionne

Australia and new zealand are very different.

Pearce

were you subjected to this just on campus? What part of Australia were you in? City, coast or country? I’ve known a few Australians and never had anything but generosity and kindness from them compared to some other nationalities.

Rachel
Yes, the Australians that travel would be open minded. I was in Canberra at ANU. This is supposed to be the Harvard of Australia. Students were from various Australian coasts and cities. I had a boy on my floor run away whenever he saw me. This was in 2008. A young Australian man at my table said America was screwed because “Nobody liked black people.” Everyone at the table got quiet, or looked away. Then thirty minutes later the same young man wrapped his arm around me asking, “What are you doing later tonight?” Not to mention the various “random… Read more »
foxyr

I’ve met a white lady that travels worldwide yearly. She told me that Australians can be quite racist, too! Some places even have signs that say they only serve whites! Therefore, I believe what Rachel said! :\ It’s a pity, too, because I always wanted to see Australia, but no more!

Pearce

Sad. It’s a big country and I suppose like any other western country there will be racists to be found.

Carla

Wow, thanks for the heads up!

Fabre
the story on that incident http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/83860,people,news,qantas-blackface-two-australians-defend-tribute-to-radike-samo Not sure how the player thinks it’s honouring him as they could have done that without all the ‘blackface’ and blatant mockery of his physical features. Sport has it’s problems when it comes to racism especially football (soccer for US) but over in England fans tend to honour their favourite player by wearing the same number he does with his name on the back. I just think these fans and Qantas were completely ignorant and felt quite comfortable placing these two idiots as the winners of their competition, confident in the knowledge that they… Read more »
wpDiscuz