Adele Faces Backlash for Cultural Appropriation With Her Carnival Look

She wore Bantu knots and a Jamaican flag-print bikini top.

London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival in London went entirely virtual this year, for obvious reasons. But Adele still showed her support for the massive festival—and the British West Indian community that organizes the event and which it celebrates (along with other Black and brown British communities)—in an Instagram post on August 30th. Some commenters, however, consider her homage less “homage” than “straight-up cultural appropriation.”

In the post, Adele wears a bikini top in a Jamaican flag print and her hair in Bantu knots, a traditional African hairstyle. “Happy what would be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London,” Adele captioned her post, along with the British and Jamaican flag emoji.

Community activist Rhaune Laslett is credited with founding the first official Notting Hill Carnival in 1966 following a wave of violence against members of the Afro-Caribbean community in West London, many of whom had recently arrived as part of the Windrush generation. Since then, the festival has grown into the second-largest in the world. Though it retains its roots in Caribbean culture, it’s also “reflective of today’s modern London,” according to its organizers, and a celebration of the city’s cultural diversity.

That said, there’s a difference between respectfully acknowledging cultures other than those into which a person is born, and appropriating customs because they’re into the aesthetic, as a few commenters on Adele’s Instagram pointed out. And that line is especially stark when white women appropriate Black hairstyles, as Black women are routinely discriminated against because of their hair.

As a white person, Adele is inherently protected from facing the same racial hatred, discrimination, or violence when she wears traditionally Black hairstyles.

“Ok for everyone who doesn’t understand. That [sic] reason people are angry is because black women have been judged by their hair for years, but when I [sic] white woman does it she is praised for it. it’s annoying and unfortunate. So yes it’s offensive,” someone commented on Adele’s post.

“Giiiiirl you about to cancelled for cultural appropriation,” another said.

Still, some people of Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean heritage came out in support of Adele, saying they saw the singer’s outfit as appreciative, not appropriating.

“I love it,” one supporter wrote. “As an ACTUAL Jamaican from the ACTUAL Caribbean, I love it! Its an appreciation of our culture. For everyone that has an issue with it, just know, we Caribbean people are cool with it. So y’all can calm down and leave her alone.” 

“Lemme say as a Jamaican.. And a person who wore this style as a child growing up.. Long before it blew up and ppl started rocking it… That we don’t give a damn about it… We’re happy she’s out here living her best life…. You look great hun…. Y’all better hop off your high horses and acknowledge that she slayin,” another person said.

One person noted that the criticisms seemed to be coming mostly from Americans who likely didn’t have firsthand experience of participating in the festival, or share the specific experience of growing up in a multicultural neighborhood in London, as Adele did.   

“The Notting Hill Carnival that takes place at this time of year is a celebration of West Indies heritage in London/UK. Adele grew up in Tottenham, one of the largest Jamaican diasporas in the UK. This seems a strange thing for Americans to now get offended about,” they wrote.

Also, the Black experience in America versus the U.K., the Caribbean, African or anywhere else in the world is different, too—as should be understood by now, Black people are not a monolith. 

As another commenter of Caribbean descent clarified, “The reason most African American people are upset is because it is literally illegal for black people to wear their hair how it naturally grows or in black hairstyles in certain spaces…Yes it may not be offensive to African people or Caribbean people but to African Americans who still get penalized for hairstyles like this it’s upsetting.”

No matter Adele’s intent, it’s not okay. This is an opportunity for us all to consider the idea of “intent vs. impact.”

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