Adele’s cultural appropriation is being excused ‘because she’s Adele’ and I’m not having it

I really don’t care if you’re from South London – you’re white

On the weekend, Adele posted a photo of herself wearing a bikini depicting the Jamaican flag and sporting a Bantu knot hairstyle, with the caption “Happy what would be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London 🇬🇧🇯🇲 “.

From the background, we can assume that she attended a carnival-themed party. Adele stands alone, looking vaguely uncomfortable. As you’d expect, Adele’s post received accusations that she was appropriating Black culture. 

But the usual cries of cultural appropriation were muffled because of how widely Adele was defended. The people who came to Adele’s defence claimed she was exempt from scrutiny because of her history as an ally to the Black community and because she grew up in south London’s predominantly Black neighbourhoods. Adele’s friendships and relationships with black people (she’s rumoured to be dating Skepta) were used to suggest that she’s woke enough about black culture for it to “be okay”. The Black men behind her in the photo were also put forward as evidence that black people had been involved in her choice of hairstyle. I’m here to tell you that I don’t think this is good enough.

Notting Hill Carnival, introduced in the 60s as a move toward improving race relations in London, has since become a staple of Caribbean culture, but also party culture in London. The carnival retains its traditional elements and purpose, but because of its popularity has become infamous for what Caribbean people like to call “bacchanal”. Though the carnival has made progress in strengthening multiculturalism, criticisms have also encouraged criticism of Caribbean culture itself, which is why non-black involvement can be sensitive.

Moreover, the hairstyle Adele wore isn’t even a carnival specific look. Though many hairstyles span across the black diaspora, Bantu knots are not associated with Caribbean carnival at all. Bantu knots are also commonly used as a protective style for afro-textured hair. On straight hair, it is harder to style Bantu knots and can damage it. Adele’s choice cannot be justified because it is an attempt at a black costume rather than carnival costume. The purpose of Notting Hill Carnival is to encourage other cultures to partake in Caribbean culture. Adele took a part of black culture and reduced it to a gimmick, which is where the problem lies.

Non-black people can wear black hairstyles as a costume when they please, just as they can pick and choose parts of black culture they like, and then put them down when it no longer benefits them. But black people are born with hair that is discriminated against in its natural state, and we can’t just pick and choose which parts of black culture we want to exhibit that day. Black women are less likely to be accepted for jobs if they don’t straighten their hair and students are often sent home for wearing braids or dreadlocks because of Eurocentric dress codes. For many black people, the double standard in response to these hairstyles depending on the colour of the wearer’s skin, is just another reminder of their oppression.

So if Adele truly had black friends that supported this decision, they probably don’t like her very much. It’s just disappointing to see that people are still using the “I have black friends” excuse. How many celebs have we seen befriend, adopt, date or marry black people and still manage to be anti-black or let the n-word slip? Madonna, anyone? Kim Kardashian’s constant appropriation despite being married to Kanye “slavery was a choice” West? 

Other celebrities have been condemned despite their use of this same defence. Why is Adele not held to this standard? Proximity to black people doesn’t grant you a pass nor does it give you an understanding of the discrimination black people face. Just be honest and admit you’re not cancelling her because well, duh… she’s Adele.

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