OPINION | "I'm not racist! My favourite hairstyles are black"

Image: Karyn Maughan

The cultural appropriation argument is a tired one: it’s been done to death but yet, people keep appropriating. Sometimes you can’t even get mad about it anymore – you can only sigh. Or, in Vicki Momberg’s case, you can only laugh because her act of cultural appropriation is more ridiculous than it is infuriating.

We all know who Momberg is and what she’s done. No need to go into it again. Last week, she was sentenced to three years for crimen injuria (one year suspended) and yesterday she appealed that sentence.

The woman who not only referred to black people as “k*****s” 48 times but then showed absolutely no remorse decided it was a good idea for her to show up in court sporting a new hairstyle: cornrows.

Yes, yes, we know – the Vikings braided their hair, but cornrows specifically are a hairstyle popularised by and 99.9% of the time worn by black people. Cornrows are what 90s and early 2000s rappers rocked (today’s young rappers have loose braids instead). And while they’ve yet to make a comeback, they – like Bantu knots and dreadlocks – are a hairstyle pretty much reserved for black people. Especially in this country (white men with dreadlocks are a hippie festival staple, but cornrows not so much).

So what led Vicki Momberg to wear cornrows for her court appearance yesterday? It’s not difficult to figure out: the same way a felon would show up at court wearing an ill-fitting suit as an attempt to look more respectable and less dangerous, Momberg thinks her new hairstyle makes her look less racist.

As @THISisLULE so brilliantly put it on Twitter: “I’m not racist! Some of my favourite hairstyles are black!”

But one could argue that this in fact is not an act of cultural appropriation: Vicki is simply channelling Kim Kardashian, who said she was channelling Bo Derek when she sported cornrows recently. So it’s not really cultural appropriation because the crime was actually committed by someone else, whom you are now copying. It’s six degrees of cultural appropriation (Andrea, this phrase probably doesn’t make sense).

So who did Vicki’s hair? Was it one of her cellmates (if indeed she has been kept in jail since her sentencing)? Was it a family member’s maid? Did she venture into the Joburg CBD to get her hair did, sitting on a plastic chair on the pavement like many of her country folk?

Good on her for managing to put aside her repulsion of black people for however long it took for those cornrows to be done. But the damage is done: not even Olivia Pope could manage the crisis that is Vicki Momberg’s reputation. That’s a mess that cannot be “handled”.

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