Don’t touch a Black woman’s hair. That is a law that I thought everyone was hip to by now—but clearly not. Just take a look at Evening Standard magazine, which took one of the biggest Ls I’ve seen in the past 24 hours. (As someone who is constantly tapped into the internet, that is a big statement.)
The magazine shot one of modern day’s Black feminist deities, Solange Knowles, for its latest cover but then decided to Photoshop out her meticulously crafted, sculptural blonde braids. The original image featured a circular braid that, to me, is reminiscent of a divine aura—but her crown was edited out for the actual cover.
Solange then called out the magazine on Instagram, posting the unedited image and referencing her powerful song, “Don’t Touch My Hair.”
I’m left questioning all that media does these days in order to appear “woke.”
Sure, it’s cool to be “socially aware” and promote the faces of the Black revolution, but how aware can you be if you choose to erase such a big part of the Black experience?
Black people get talked down to, judged, and excluded from lucrative opportunities all because of the magic that’s growing from our scalp. Children are threatened with suspension from school for a Black hairstyle. Black girls have needed to organize campus protests just so they can wear afros.
For Solange to be where she is in her career, to have her enormous platform, and still choose to rock unmistakably Black hairstyles is a proclamation. Her hair is a big “fuck you” to oppressive entities, so when you edit her hair, you edit her essence.
I spoke with Daria Ritch, the photographer who captured the original image, and she shared a similar sentiment. "The image itself is quite simple. I purposely shot it in that way because Solange is such a strong figure and the choice of hair was also a strong statement. I wanted the photo to emphasize that. For me, taking out the hair changes the power of the image."
The team was also left in the dark about the decision, according to Ritch. “No one told [the team] anything,” she says. “I didn’t see the cover until it came out either.”
The accompanying cover story has also been renounced by writer Angelica Jade Bastién, who asked to have her byline removed “because [the magazine] distorted my … reporting in ways that made me very uncomfortable.”
Knowles actually spoke on braiding in the article, saying, “It is an ‘act of beauty, an act of convenience and an act of tradition’—it is ‘its own art form.’”
This is true—braiding has deep roots in the Black community. In a piece on the history of cornrows for Ebony, hairstylist and author Toni Love discussed the ancient relationship between Black people and braids, saying “[h]istory tells us cornrows originated in Africa. The intricate braiding of the hair indicated the tribe you belonged to.”
Braids were also used to display escape routes during the era of slavery, as women created maps with their cornrows. Like I said, this shit is deep.
Knowles also elaborated on the importance of bodily ownership in the piece, which makes the Photoshopping that much harder to swallow. "To be honest, owning my body this year was really important to me ... That can mean a lot of things. That can be in the physical form—wanting to have control over my physical body—and also wanting to have control in the way it is presented to the world. And it isn’t always easy. I often lose opportunities based on my will to want to navigate through that ownership of my body in the most authentic way."
Simply put, Photoshopping Solange’s braids is a slap in the face. Did y’all actually listen to the lyrics on A Seat at the Table? The woman has a song that she co-wrote speaking on this exact issue—and it still got fumbled. I want to say I can’t believe it, but that would be a lie. Let’s do better. Please.