British pop star Adele has sparked heated online discussion over cultural appropriation after posting a photo of herself wearing a traditionally African hairstyle and a bikini top emblazoned with the Jamaican flag.
"Happy what would be Notting Hill Carnival my beloved London," the singer, 32, captioned the photo in a sentence fragment on her Instagram account Sunday, referring to London's more than half-century-old celebration of Caribbean culture. Because the event, which normally attracts more than a million people during its weekend, was held online this year due to COVID-19, it was unclear when and where the undated photo was taken. A man in the background wears a plain face mask, suggesting a recent image shot during the pandemic.
The ensuing social-media debate centered on cultural appropriation versus appreciation. "Notice how it's a whole bunch of WHITE people telling her she looks good with those AFRICAN bantu knots in her head, and those are the people she's going to listen to instead of the BLACK people who are saying this is culture appropriation," wrote an Instagram commenter. African-American journalist Ernest Owens tweeted, "It doesn't matter what Adele … INTENDED while wearing them … but the IMPACT of what it can promote: More white women continuing this exploitative trend," and he cautioned, "Don't tell Black people how to feel and/or react to issues impacting our culture."
Comments also were divided between African-American and Afro-British commenters. Nigeria-born singer May7ven, known as the "Queen of UK Afrobeats," tweeted Monday, "Big difference between Cultural Appreciation & Cultural Appropriation/misappropriation. THIS IS APPRECIATION! @Adele grew up in Tottenham," a working-class, multiethnic London district more than 30% Black and mixed-race, according to the 2011 U.K. census, "& has been celebrating with us her entire life unapologetically, publicly & privately."
Among Adele's well-wishers on Instagram were Jamaican-British model Naomi Campbell, and Black and Latin American actresses Tessa Thompson and Zoë Saldana, the latter of whom wrote, "You look right at home guurrrl." Actress Lisa Rinna and comedian Chelsea Handler also offered supportive comments.
Adele's representative did not respond to a Newsday request for comment.
Bantu knots have been a traditional African hairstyle for more than a century. The appellation "Bantu" describes any of several hundred southern African ethnic groups, and translates to "people" across many of their languages.
The Black-oriented online magazine The Root noted that the widely liked and respected Adele has faced less criticism for her Bantu knots than did reality-TV star Khloé Kardashian, who was lambasted in 2016 for a social media-posted photo of herself in that hairstyle, captioned "Bantu babe."