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Bonnets...What's the Big Idea?

The purpose of bonnets is to protect natural hair. Seems straight-forward. So, what's all the hoopla about?

Bonnets and head coverings are a cultural staple. Both are used to protect natural hair from rough pillow sheets, natural elements, and unwanted greedy hands. Some are used to symbolize religious status, and at one point in time, they even represented one’s social status. Headwraps can even double up as a hairstyle, however, many people believe bonnets- specifically- are not qualified to do the same.

Bonnets being worn outside the house has been a discussion topic for quite some time now with many differing opinions. Thanks to American actress and comedian, Mo'Nique, and her recent comments on the subject matter, it has now resurfaced. In a video posted online, Mo’Nique shares her experience coming across many women wearing pajamas, bonnets, and slippers at an airport in Atlanta. In the clip, she asks “…when did we lose pride in representing ourselves? When did we step away of ‘let me make sure I’m presentable when I leave my home? Let me make sure I’m representing the family I created, so that if I’m out in the street I look like I have pride in myself?’” Based on what was shared, Mo’Nique believes wearing bonnets outside the home, even if one is taking a quick trip to Walmart, is not good representation of oneself and their family- this sentiment can even extend to the black community.

We often hear phrases like “dress to impress”, which advises us to dress nicely so we make lasting impressions on people we come across when we’re outside. This is understandable. Wearing pajamas and bonnets anywhere pass our front yards probably won’t tell strangers we’re upstanding citizens who’ve got it all together, but it also won’t tell strangers we don’t have pride in ourselves, and as such, aren’t deserving of respect. There is a very sinister tone when people critique outside-bonnet-wearers. Often, these comments are riddled with anti-blackness, disdain, and harsh judgements, but disguised as love and care for Black women. More prominent, however, these critiques play right into the hands of respectability politics- a set of narratives created by notable figures, leaders, or academics of marginalized communities they believe the people of their group must abide by to be deemed worthy of basic human decency and respect. And if these rules are not obeyed, stereotypes arise. Common examples are Black men who sag their pants being categorized as thugs, or Black women who wear colorful hairstyles or long acrylic nails being categorized as ghetto.

Even more sinister than this, however, is the constant, unprovoked analysis of what Black women decide to wear on their heads- commonly initiated by Black men. Natural hair, weaves, locs, lace-frontals, headscarves, bonnets, they have all had their share of negative commentary. When will Black women be able to wear whatever they want in peace, without it being breaking news, or other folks reading too deeply into the way they choose to present themselves? Life is difficult, people juggle too many things, or maybe they’re depressed, or maybe there’s not enough time in the morning to get properly dressed. Whatever the reason, wearing bonnets and pajamas outside is not always a reflection of someone’s character, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. It could potentially reflect one’s circumstance, but definitely not their character.

Now, in an attempt to assuage the bonnet “issue” (it’s not seriously an issue), business owner, Yhaniqua Lopes, created a super cool design of a headwear that doubles as a bonnet and head wrap! So, if you’re ever in a rush to get ready in the morning, and your hair isn’t done, you can easily turn your bonnet into a headwrap..

Although innovative, this creation still suggests, ultimately, there’s an issue with wearing a bonnet outside. It still plays into respectability politics- because your bonnet is no longer a bonnet and instead a “wrap”, you look much more presentable, and therefore, worthy of respect. It should be the norm that, whether one decides to wear a bonnet outside or not, they are deserving of respect because they are people. Point, blank, period. However, we still commend Lopes on her beautiful designs! You can pre-order the look here.

Lastly, there are more pressing matters the Black community must tackle, ones that can advance and mend relations if handled correctly, and we can surely tell you, wearing bonnets outside is not one of them.

What do you think of the subject? Leave a comment below! Thanks for reading!

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