Is it a big deal for a white woman to wear an afro around town in a quest for "enlightenment?" It's a question that many are asking, after Michelle Lapidos' blog, "Before and Afro," has started making the internet rounds. Is she sincere, racist, or tone-deaf? Is she completely self-involved, or just parodying the "amplified ego" of aimless, experience-starved 20-somethings?
She is someone who soaks up the "FLAYVAH" of Bushwick by taking photos with black people. And she is someone who was invited to Shake & Bake, the NYCWFF's fried-chicken event that occurred last Thursday, and concluded, "this was obviously an occasion to wear the fro." All the ?uestlove tweets in the world aren't going to make that line of thinking seem any less ill-conceived.
Lapidos, a former Vogue magazine intern, described how she was inspired to start the blog after donning an afro ("a hairstyle rooted spiritually deep in black culture") for a Studio 54-theme party:
The afro is also a hairstyle that I’ve recently rendered part of my personal style repertoire. I originally got my fro for a Studio 54-themed costume party for AHAlife (where I handle the social media), and let’s just say the party has not ended. The afro changed my perspective; it made me think, walk, see and experience life differently. I wear it often. It’s not about feeling black… what I actually feel like is ME, understood more clearly. It’s not an alter ego. It’s an amplified ego.
After a summer racking my soul over what kind of blog to start, the afro was the catalyst. The catalyst to begin sharing this wild life journey of self-discovery. There was before, and now, this blog: the afro.
My ultimate goal here is to help people all over the world look deeper within themselves so they can master their consciousness and fall madly in love with every detail of their lives. I may have a contorted way of getting there—it’s a wacky formula and if I summarized it here that’d be no fun! But if you follow along, I promise to show you the way. My way, at least.
We spoke to a fellow former Vogue intern who knows Lapidos, and asked what she thought of the blog, and whether she thinks Lapidos is sincere:
She is 100% sincere. She is not joking at all. If you read through the blog posts you'll see that she honestly thinks what she is doing is enlightening. I was surprised by the blog, but only because I can't imagine someone would do such an ignorant thing.
I think she comes from a very privileged background and craves attention desperately. In that sense, I wasn't surprised, since she's certainly getting attention. She posts about how many hits her blog is getting almost every day. She is doing it mostly for attention, but she is not being "ironic" or parodying in anyway. She honestly thinks what she is doing is fascinating and awesome.
And this afternoon, after her blog went viral, Lapidos responded to her critics: "The fact that people feel I have been dressing as a caricature of a race is not acceptable to me. An act of genuine hair admiration turned into a vicious act of “white privilege” in the eyes of many, and that is a terrible feeling."
She apologizes for offending anyone, while still sticking to her guns about keeping the blog going, and arguing that associating fried chicken with African-Americans is NOT racist: "It’s 2012. Fried chicken is an American food. It’s a Korean food. I think it’s one of the most delicious foods on earth. By pointing out that it’s also something very much embraced by black culture, which just happens to be associated with my afro, I am not mocking! If I felt I was mocking, I’d stay far away from it."
And then she ends the whole thing by declaring that she's going to wear a blonde afro now, not a black one.