It’s that time of year again when we dust off imaginative costumes, carve a few ghoulish pumpkins and go off in hunt of treats. Or if you were like me as a child, you sat at home with your Afro-Caribbean parents, reaching for the Word of God instead of the Wham Bar as Halloween gets underway. However, regardless of how you spent 31st October, there’s no doubt that you would’ve been privy to a scary folk tale or two, designed to make your skin clammy and your heartbeat race. Gather round, for we have such a myth – the tale of Chenise Benson is one of valiance, woe and ultimately, tragedy.
The thirteen year old schoolgirl was sent home from George Pindar School in Scarborough, North Yorkshire after sporting a unique look of white box braids – not “dreadlocks” as many news sources would have you believe. As it turns out, this year, young Chenise didn’t want to be a bat or a witch not even a cat, she wanted to be a black woman.
Black women don’t just wear box braids, twists and faux locs because they look fly, they work as a crucial technique of hair protection. Changes in weather, harsh hair products, straighteners and even cotton pillowcases can take a massive toll on black hair. So extensions help protect the hair from extensive damage and breakage. It’s more than a cool hairdo. It’s a technique passed down generations; it’s sitting watching Fresh Prince between your sister’s legs whilst she combs through your knots; it’s booking the whole day off work and cancelling all social plans; it’s supporting black business because the black hair industry, worth billions, is predominantly owned and run by non black people.
All of this means nothing to Chenise and her father, Darren Benson, who forked out a ridiculous £140 on the platinum extensions – probably the amount black women pay annually on braids. Might explain why Daz believed this hairstyle would last for a whole year. Shoutout to the sister who delivered the con of the year, pocketing 140 of the finest pounds from these British Isles.
The horror that is cultural appropriation is nothing new as time and time again, we have seen examples of white people taking and imitating the cultures, clothes, styles and food of people of colour often without knowing or caring about the meaning and importance of it to people from minority communities. Such entitlement is epitomised by Mr Benson accusing the school of doubles standards “because his daughter’s friend of Jamaican descent, is allowed dreads” – outrage at a girl for having hair that naturally locks whether she likes it or not.
But what about the hundreds of examples of black women, femmes and girls globally who have been excluded from school and rejected from positions simply for having the hair that grows out of their scalps or the protective styles they’ve chosen to wear? And then what about when you see those same hairstyles hailed as fashionable and noveau when worn by a non-black person? You won’t see us in photoshoots looking sorrowfully into the lenses on our sofa with a disgruntled father in the background. You won’t see us because this is the norm for us, not news.
And to you Mr Benson, be prepared for the most frightening of all horrors this Halloween, the moment you realise your £140 has gone to waste and you find your daughter’s platinum braids scattered all over your house because they’re about to slip out in 2 days, we can tell you that for free.