Misguided accusations of cultural appropriation: The Big Nightcap Kerfuffle

July 30, 2019 • 10:00 am

I’lll be out of the office much of today, so posting will be light. In fact, this may be the only piece of the day. So it goes.

We’ve seen many bogus accusations of cultural appropriation, all meant to lay claim to some item or food or behavior supposedly the property of one “culture” or “ethnic group.” Many of these, like dreadlocks or hoop earrings, are supposedly damaging to the “appropriated” group, but aren’t really. After all, as I’ve said repeatedly, the cross-fertilizations of cultures, whether the appropriation be “up” or “down”, is almost always salubrious. In fact, I can’t think of any examples where it’s been damaging, though I can think of hypothetical examples.

But sometimes the accusations aren’t just misguided, but incorrect. Such is the case of the “nightcap” kerfuffle roiling certain segments of the Internet.  You can read about it at this Today show website (click on screenshot below ), or many other places (e.g., NBC News, CNN, etc.)

The trouble started when Sarah Marantz Lindenberg (a marketing director) had an interview in Fashion magazine touting her new company’s product, “NiteCap”, a silk head wrap that she designed (and sold for $75) to protect her hair at night. (You can see one above.) Here’s the piece that got Lindenberg in trouble:

When asked about the product’s genesis, Marantz Lindenberg said this (note that the editors added a coda after publication; I’ve put it in bold).

How did you get the idea for NiteCap?

My concept came out of a problem that needed solving. I was preparing for my wedding and, like a lot of brides, wanted everything to be perfect. My skin was breaking out and I have quite long hair. I like the way it looks the second or third day after washing, so I don’t wash it every day. A dermatologist recommended that I sleep with my hair pulled back. Another physician recommended I try silk scarves, and I had fun playing around with them but they didn’t stay on. I did notice, though, that my skin cleared up from not having my hair on my face. I also noticed that my hair was shinier, thicker, and my blowouts lasted longer. There were products on the market but none of them had a functional and fashionable solution for me—synthetic fabrics that I felt did more damage, or horrible colours that I felt silly going to sleep in. It inspired me to create something of my own. Many people have told me that their grandmothers wrapped their hair, and my aunt recently told me that my great-grandmother wrapped her rollers in toilet paper after it was all styled and set. That was a lot less glamorous than my product, but the practice has been around a long time. (Editor’s note: Though not strictly used just for sleeping, the item has a long history in black hair culture.)

Well, the item has a long history, period—a history preceding the use of “sleep bonnets” by blacks (see below). But somehow her marketing of the silk headwrap got people ticked off, who then claimed that it was either a cultural appropriation of night bonnets (or day bonnets) worn by African-Americans, or perhaps that Marantz Lindenberg failed to acknowledge the African-American history. And so she got, as they say, “dragged” on Twitter. And then the media, hungry for stories, simply put the Twitter pushback together into an article, like the one at the top. Here’s some of that pushback.

From Today:

Howard University communications and culture professor Tia Tyree told NBC News that the African American community has touted the benefits of hair wraps for quite some time.

https://twitter.com/Moni_n_da_middl/status/1152994535271751682?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1152994535271751682&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.today.com%2Fstyle%2Fnitecap-founder-responds-cultural-appropriation-backlash-75-hair-wraps-t159639

It didn’t matter that Marantz Lindenberg runs a small company that tries to employ women, guarantees good employment conditions, and tries to use sustainable methods of production. Those are good, but apparently not enough:

In a statement to TODAY Style, Marantz Lindenberg said the following: “Hair wrapping and sleep bonnets have been used for centuries and I have never once claimed to have invented or come up with the concept, despite many stories and posts misquoting me. I introduced my version because I was unable to find a product on the market that worked for me — made locally and sustainably and from natural materials.”

She also addressed concerns over the price: “The actual price of a NiteCap is $75 USD (the website is listed in Canadian dollars). The price point is such because it is made from 2 yards of 100% natural silk and creates minimal waste through a sustainable production process locally in Canada. We are also committed to supporting fair pay, worker safety and employ a female-owned and operated manufacturing facility.”

There are two problems here. First, the nightcap wasn’t designed or popularized by African-Americans: it has a long history in Europe, as noted by Wikipedia.  Perhaps in modern times it’s worn largely by African-Americans, or Africans, but I can’t speak to that. All I know is that Marantz Lindenberg doesn’t seem to have committed conscious theft of a design, and is fully aware that “the practice has been around long before her time.” Not good enough!!!!  She apparently has to acknowledge that the practice was adopted by African-American women—although before that it was used by European women.

Here’s a day bonnet, protecting the hair, from 1665. You’ve seen this, of course:

And there’s this (click on screenshot):

An excerpt:

Nightcaps or sleeping caps were worn while sleeping to keep the hair tangle-free and – especially silk nightcaps – to make the hair glossy. Nightcaps have a long history and even today silk caps are recommended for long or curly hair. Read on to find out why and how Edwardian and WW1 women wore nightcaps and how to make a vintage silk sleeping cap for yourself!

Some examples from that piece:

Were these appropriated from African-Americans, or Africans? I doubt it.

But who cares who invented it In fact, it was probably “invented” several times over as women discovered that wrapping your hair helped keep it neat and tidy.

The main question, though, is this: was damage done to the African-American community by Mantz Lindenberg’s silk headwrap?  And, as usual with these things, the answer is “no”. The only “damage” done was to the feelings of people who thought that the head bonnet was theirs, and that nobody can use it without acknowledging one group who uses it, and probably discuss the history of oppression of blacks in America. This is the same story we hear over and over again: with the kimono at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, with General Tso’s chicken at Oberlin, with whites wearing dreadlocks or hoop earrings, and so on. In no case was palpable harm done to the minority groups.

Nevertheless, Marantz Lindenberg issued the obligatory apology on Instagram, and Fashion Magazine also added it to the head of their interview with the note: “Editor’s note: we wanted to update this story with the Instagram post from Sarah Marantz Lindenberg from NiteCap.” 

So the Woke humiliate those who have violated their canons of purity. It would be interesting to analyze the psychology behind this kind of outrage, but I must pass on to other matters.

58 thoughts on “Misguided accusations of cultural appropriation: The Big Nightcap Kerfuffle


  1. …And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
    had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

    These woke people are being offensive by not acknowledging the use of nightcaps among elderly men in the 19th Century.

    1. “The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
      While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
      And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
      Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,”

  2. When faced with a charge of cultural appropriation (assuming it isn’t a demeaning or insulting appropriation objectionable because it is demeaning or insulting rather than simply because it is “appropriated”), just give credit where due, quote Picasso, or Stravinsky, or Steve Jobs, who all said roughly the same thing about borrowing and stealing, and get on with it.
    Whining just makes the cultural appropriation crowd think they accomplish something.

  3. These are a handful of stupid, sanctimonious tweets and a critical article that quotes one woman who seems not to give much of a shit in the first place but which nevertheless co-opts her as a voice against nightcaps(I can’t believe I typed those last four words).

    The amount of actual give-a-shittery among the general public, whether conservative or liberal, is tiny. This is not a big kerfuffle.

    1. Sorry, but even the national media piked this up. This may not be a big kerfuffle, but it typifies and ideology and attitude that is pervasive in America, is growing, and is going to affect politics and social life immensely. I don’t appreciate being told that I’m making much ado about nothing in view of the fact that our whole society, from the Congress on down, is being affected by offense culture and victim-flouting.

      This may look like a tempest in a teapot, but it’s a symptom of a spreading infection.

      1. Yer both right.

        My initial reaction was ‘what a lot of crap’. But yes it is a symptom of a spreading disease.

        cr

        1. (I hope it’s obvious that ‘crap’ referred to the whole overblown ‘cultural appropriation’ red herring and not to PCC’s article. Just to make it clear).

          cr

    1. The old saying “those who can’t do, teach” is misguided. But “those who can’t do, complain” might be on the mark here.

  4. Is that what happened to my hair. Some of it was appropriated and is now in a better place? Had I used one of these caps it could have been saved.

  5. I think the psychology is that one does it to keep their target group on the back foot, and continually feeling they are in the wrong, and need to apologize for their role in one’s perceived current and past state of suffering. Interestingly, this seems to work better on one’s allies than enemies, because the enemies don’t care. Ultimately, it’s all about controlling the terms of debate.

  6. “It inspired me to create something of my own. Many people have told me that their grandmothers wrapped their hair, and my aunt recently told me that my great-grandmother wrapped her rollers in toilet paper after it was all styled and set. That was a lot less glamorous than my product, but the practice has been around a long time. (Editor’s note: Though not strictly used just for sleeping, the item has a long history in black hair culture.)”

    Ah, so Lindenberg didn’t even mention black hair wraps, the editor did, just to get in a social justice lick at her subject.

    “The problem is not that the founder is selling them. The problem is, she seems to be claiming ownership over something that’s been around for generations,” said Grace Eleyae, who runs an online business selling modern takes on traditional satin nightcaps. Her products range from $10 to $50.”

    Seems that miss Eleyae here isn’t so much angry at “cultural appropriation” as she is at the fact that she doesn’t get to claim ownership and now has more competition in the market. But I guess that’s just “the structural inequalities of capitalism” to which Professor Holmes (who is both an economist and black woman, and therefore an expert on this issue somehow) at work.

  7. Caveman Ugg: Ugg create fire! For the first time in Ugg’s life Ugg create fire! Ugg happy! Ugg…proud!

    Caveman Grakk: Grakk find Ugg’s appropriation of fire problematic. Caveman Drajj from neighbouring tribe create fire long time ago yet Ugg now claim ownership of fire?? That colonialist. Ugg colonialist. Ugg should apologise.

    Caveman Ugg: …Ugg…sorry?

    Caveman Grakk: Ugg apology not sufficient. Grakk go tell rest of tribe that Ugg not sorry enough. Soon Grakk will spread word of Ugg being colonialist. Ugg lose job as mammoth herder and Ugg banished from tribe. How Ugg like it then? Yeah, Grakk know – Ugg NOT like it then.

    Caveman Ugg: Ugg REALLY sorry!

    Caveman Grakk: Ugg too late. Ugg should have thought of that before Ugg appropriate fire from neighbouring tribe and go around thinking Ugg is special. Ugg go spread colonialist attitude to appropriating work of others someplace else. This tribe not racist. Ugg racist. Ugg no belong here.

    Caveman Ugg: But what if Ugg…beg?

    Grakk: Grakk…think about it. Maybe. In meantime Ugg do little dance to entertain Grakk while Grakk trim toenails. Dance Ugg, before Grakk change mind.

    …Etc.

        1. Nothing to fear, apparently anymore, from the (formerly) negative heel Earth Shoes. (I had a pair.) Now, they only have a small selection of those and are into high-heeled sandals.

  8. “…for anyone to market their product in a way that appeals to individuals as if this is a new idea…”

    So, who comes to the table believing that marketing for appeal is ever a completely truthful endeavor? I don’t expect any such thing. Fabrication, half-truth, exaggeration, are part of sales. Why the big shock?

    1. Yeah, I had a similar response. An advertising campaign passing off a slight variation of a common thing as an all-new thing or remarkably improved thing? Claiming the new version is so much better that it’s worth the much higher price it has than the older versions of that thing already on the market?

      I am shocked. Shocked!

  9. Clearly it is time for nudists to stop their appropriation from the culture of just about every other mammal, except maybe Neanderthals and Denisovans, and possibly Homo Heidelbergensis or even Homo Erectus. But surely Australopithecus wore no clothes and must be rolling in their graves, quite apart from pigs rolling in the mud, and even maybe honorary mammal Nile Crocodiles rolling to drown their victims. I could go on and on, but that might just dissipate my very satisfying, almost erotically stimulating, rage!

  10. Last night, at the weekly “Classic Series” at the local arthouse, there was a showing of Gone With the Wind. Both Ms. H. McDaniel and Ms. B. McQueen spent much of their screen time behatted in the subject chapeaux.

  11. My old Gran (d. 1979) used to wear a nightcap just like that. I doubt whether she met more than half-a-dozen black people in her life. I also doubt whether she paid more than ten bob for any of hers.

    It would be nice if someone, somewhere, who is accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ were to say ‘F… off. I don’t give a stuff what you think’. Maybe one day.

  12. It would be interesting to analyze the psychology behind this kind of outrage, but I must pass on to other matters.

    Sociological over-analysis mode activated. My musings on this topic, which has kinda troubled me for awhile (in that I find it inexplicable, and I like for things to be explicable)…

    It seems to me that this is a variant of “cooler than thou” behavior – the kind you see when you tell a music snob that you like some mainstream band (U2! The horrors! Although inevitably music snobs have like, one totally pop-y band that they play as a surprise card, so that just when people think they have their formula of obscurity figured out, they can go “No no, I actually think Britney Spears had some amazing compositions – most people don’t recognize that because they see her as fluff. Sigh. It’s lazy stereotyping, is what it is.”) Wherever you have vacationed, they have vacationed somewhere more obscure, in a more authentic manner. Whatever brand of organic clothing and water bottles you buy, they know a newer, more responsible brand (“Sigh. Your brand only employs abandoned puppies at a fair wage? So backwards. My brand matches the puppies on 401Ks and charitable contributions.”)

    I think where Woke culture comes to a screeching halt, however, is at the edges of suburbia, because it is in some ways in stark opposition to the general way of being that is valued there. In those communities, the cooperative is valued far over the competitive. People are expected to be friendly “team players” in pretty much all aspects of life, and the person who wanders into the office trying to be more clever than thou is generally not appreciated. (I sometimes watch job interview tips by young Youtubers, for teens I work with who may be interviewing for jobs soon. At times I find the level of of cheerful Borg Assimilation recommended in such vides almost alarming – “It’s my life’s dream to be a team player at Corporation X and to show my dedication I’d like to donate one of my kidneys!!” – but I think it does speak to the very different mindset one is catapulted into once more cloistered hipster environments are left behind.)

    Anyways, that is my current analysis of the tensions between hipster liberal and moderate liberal culture. I think such mini culture wars are increased by the fact that it is often similar groups of people in both of those circles (making it more personal, whereas people deep in Trump country are simply seen as a head scratcher,) but that the things valued in those different settings are mutually incompatible, making people wonder why on earth their seemingly similar peers act so differently than they would expect.

    1. They’re basically hipsters. Everything is stupid unless they like it. But they go further because they have a vicious streak for bullying where hipsters just roll the eyes and feel superior.

    1. People like you make me laugh. You are a Pecksniffian monitor of language, simply looking for an excuse to dismiss what I wrote.

      Do you mean I can’t use “blacks” like the Library of Congress does? “Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period” (https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african-american-odyssey/free-blacks-in-the-antebellum-period.html)

      Or as “the Root”, and Afro-centric magazine: “Trump Claims the Blacks Love Him More After He Bashed Baltimore. So He Bashed Charm City Some More” (https://www.theroot.com/trump-claims-the-blacks-love-him-more-after-he-bashed-b-1836825664)

      Or any other innumerable examples where “blacks” and “African-Americans” are synonymous, without the former being pejorative? It took me all of thirty seconds to look those up. And of course “whites” and “the whites” are used equally regularly.

      The moment you started using purity standards on language I lost interest in you. If this wasn’t a civil website, I would be more explicit about what I think of commenters like you.

  13. Let’s also carp about other forms of headgear
    or hair modification devices “appropriated” by human beings. Bonnets. Berets. Snoods. Scarves. Hats. Curlers. Bobby pins. Curling irons and blowers. Hair coloring. Shaved heads. Baldness. Pigtails/braiding. And many others I can’t dredge up right now. None are exclusive to any race or culture and, as with most fashion, recurs throughout history.

  14. Boo hoo I’m a privileged Westerner that needs attention. That’s how I read those tweets. Shut up and find something important to complain about instead of virtue signalling.

  15. She should not have apologized.

    Giving the bully your lunch money will not make him or her leave you alone the next day.

    1. In situations like this I like to embrace the spirit of Judge Judy and let them have it for their nonsense.

  16. To avoid conflicts, every cultural group should come up with its Complete List of Cultural Items. For example, the Italians: pizza, spaghetti, tiramisu, etc. Once you have the list, you’ll know that’s not OK to make money selling pizzas unless you have Italian ancestry. It isn’t hard to do.

  17. This is an effect heuristic, a judgement made by consulting your emotions.
    It is what is available to your biases without any consideration to truth or facts.
    Which in this case a sane person would revise but if your the woke type it seems, the skies the limit for your outraged emotional vent.

  18. The most depressing thing about these stories is that they always end with the victim of the mobbing apologizing to the bullies. Just once, wouldn’t it be nice if the victim was someone unafraid to tell the bullies where to go?

      1. One thing you notice is that they don’t tend to go after the kind of people who wouldn’t apologise. They ignore them. The people they actually go after are well-intentioned liberals who are afraid of seeming racist. They pick their victims carefully, which is why you don’t tend to see people telling them to go fuck themselves.

        1. From now on, all complaints of cultural appropriation shall be forwarded to President Trump and his staff. They will be happy to help!

  19. I understand that cultural appropriation is a big deal and all but sometimes its just black americans way of getting offended at anything. She created something to care for hair, be grateful and stop behaving as an insecure race. I’m an African an I believe that you guys have so much to eat that a nightcap is seen as offensive.

  20. Quite obviously Lindenberg is guilty of extreme cultural appropriation in having hair!

    As everybody knows, hair was invented by Persons of Color and nobody before their time actually had hair. Any claims to the contrary are just entitled colonialist myths. How do we know this? Because the only records we have from pre-photographic times are stories and drawings created by – white men! So we know those are false.

    cr

  21. FWIW, most of the comments I saw on places like The Root were mostly just mocking the idea that this is something new.

    I’d also point out that (at least in my experience) wearing bonnets or wraps at night is NOT something that’s very common with white women but extremely common with black women. I mean, the Girl with a Pearl was several hundred years ago…ironically, the woman who’s pretty much the leading technical expert on that painting wears a silk headwrap every night. Jerry’s even met her!

  22. I don’t think the dragging on social media was ignited by the idea of the satin bonnet being invented by the African American community, but rather by the common perception by some that in 2019, wearing bonnets, dreadlocks, head wraps, or cornrows, are seen as ‘ghetto’ … that is until the dominant culture makes them mainstream. The idea of what was once unacceptable, suddenly becoming cool and desired by members of society who perhaps at one time frowned upon them, may be seen as reason enough for ire.

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