This Korean YouTuber Just Educated Herself And Her Audience On Cultural Appropriation
"In South Korea, there are plenty of people trying box braids or dreadlocks, but they barely discuss the issue of cultural appropriation."
This is xoxosophia. She's a 28-year-old YouTuber from Seoul with 44,000 subscribers and counting. Alongside her growing YouTube channel, she's also a model and the owner of a fashion accessory brand.
Recently, she debuted a new look where she rocked box braids, a style commonly associated with black women and protective styling. The hairstyle is also often a source of debate around cultural appropriation when worn by nonblack people.
"Honestly, I was initially attracted to box braids just because of its beauty," she told BuzzFeed News. "I wouldn't deny that. Because, at that time, I did not have a good understanding of the culture behind the style. So, at first, I started by searching numerous tutorials about braiding."
"Besides the basic form of braids I used to know, I found that there are such diverse patterns and methods of them. I was so impressed and thought they are magnificent. That encouraged me to search clips about its history and meanings besides simple tutorials. I was born and raised in South Korea in my whole life, so I had to turn on the captions and search words on the dictionary to understand those clips. Then, I learned the word 'cultural appropriation.'"
In a video for her channel, the YouTuber documented the process of installing her own waist-length blonde box braids, She got a mixture of reactions, including accusations of cultural appropriation.
Speaking on her initial decision to braid her hair, the YouTuber admitted that she had reservations as she became aware of cultural appropriation.
She explained: "I decided to put myself in a similar scenario. What if people from different cultures start calling Han-bok (traditional Korean clothing) with a wrong name, not knowing crap about it.
"Of course, I would be frustrated. However, if people of other cultures are interested in Han-bok and learn about it with respect, I would think there's nothing wrong about it. I'm not saying this is always right. It is just my opinion. I was pondering about how can I respectfully wear the style. I don't think I have a right to define if nonblack people can wear box braids or not. I think only black people have a right to do so."
Her extensive research on hairstyles traditionally associated with black cultures brought her to the topic of cultural appropriation.
"Before looking [it] up, I did not know about cultural appropriation either, and it was hard to watch clips or read articles since most of them are written in English," she said. "So I thought it'll be easier for them to understand the correct name and the history if I explain those in Korean."
In response to the criticisms, xoxosophia created a follow-up video that showed her removing her braids while discussing cultural appropriation and offering some information on the legacy of black hairstyles.
"It was hard for me to learn about the meaning behind this hairstyle and cultural appropriations living in South Korea. Right now, many people of diverse ethnicity are residing in South Korea, but still, many Koreans recognize Korea as a racially homogenous nation," she explained.
"It is pretty hard to experience different cultures in this environment. In South Korea, there are plenty of people trying box braids or dreadlocks, but they barely discuss the issue of cultural appropriation."
Her response video has been viewed more than 600,000 times and encouraged further discussion about what cultural appropriation looks like in South Korea, where braids are sometimes referred to as "reggae hair."
The YouTuber also made a point of trying to correct her audience.
"I wasn't sure if I'm in a position to talk about black culture regardless of how much I researched, but I wanted to make sure the correct name of the hair, so I mentioned in the video, 'Don't call this hair 'reggae hair,' 'box braids' is the right name,'" she said. "I also left a comment: 'If you want to try this hair after watching this video, I recommend you learn about the history of the hair. Here are some links of videos I referenced.'"
With the newfound knowledge, xoxosophia hoped to educate her audience.
"I first hesitated from talking about black culture as a Korean, but I concluded that it is still better to educate viewers because not everyone understands English and [can] learn about cultural appropriation," she said.
Her response was captured and shared across Twitter in a viral tweet which has since been deleted. Xoxosophia described the online praise as "a little exaggerated" because she didn't consider her response to be "that grand."
Looking ahead, the YouTuber is hopeful for a time where culture is freely exchanged with careful consideration.
"As much as I love my culture, I wish everyone can respect every others' cultures, and I hope nobody would ever be discriminated nor mocked because of their skin tone or hair," she said. "If we as a society reach that level, such thing as sharing, learning, and trying different culture would not be cultural appropriation but cultural appreciation."