Florence Pugh offered a comprehensive apology for her cultural appropriation

Celebrities attend the BAFTA Nominees Party

There’s a need for some new terminology around “celebrities issuing pre-emptive apologies for doing stupid/racist stuff.” I believe some celebrities are truly coming to terms with their actions and words and are honestly making a pledge to themselves and to others that they will try to do better. But I also think that these acknowledgements are often long overdue – often there were already conversations on a lower level – and so many white celebrities are still making everything all about themselves. They’re hijacking a larger conversation to “perform” how sorry they are. I don’t know. There’s no right way to do this, but Florence Pugh is trying. Pugh is a 24-year-old British woman and she issued a three-page apology acknowledging her own privilege and her own problematic words and behavior around race and cultural appropriation.

Florence Pugh uploaded a three page apology concerning cultural appropriation to her Instagram account this weekend. In it, she cites examples of how she had unwittingly been disrespectful in the past, and her own white fragility when initially confronted.

“Like many, I’ve read, listened, signed, donated, read again, sssh’d my white fragility and really wanted to trace instances in my life where I have been guilty,” the 24-year-old British actress wrote. She went on to discuss an experience she had when she was 18, when she was defensive and confused upon learning from a younger friend that white girls wearing cornrows was exploitive. Her note continues, citing a photo in which she wore braided hair as a 17-year-old, painted a beanie with the colors of the Jamaican flag which she then posted with a caption of reggae lyrics. (Shaggy’s “Boombastic,” to be specific.)

Perhaps most insightful is her story of how an Indian shopkeeper showed her aspects of her culture when she was only a child, but as she grew older she fashioned herself with bindis and henna “on my own terms only, to parties, at dinner.”

“I cannot dismiss the actions I bought into years ago,” the Oscar-nominated Little Women actress concluded, “but I believe that we who were blind to such things must acknowledge them and recognize them as our faults, our ignorance and our white privilege and I apologize profusely that it took this long.”

[From Vanity Fair]

I’m including the apology below. To me, it feels like she’s trying to do a comprehensive apology for anything and everything which could be construed as cultural appropriation or racism or examples of her ignorant privilege, even some situations which really aren’t all that bad (I personally don’t find her use of henna all that questionable or appropriating). The Rastafarian stuff though… whew. Mess! I’ve seen online that some of Pugh’s fans have been trying to get her to speak about this stuff for a while, and I guess she decided to do this before it became a much bigger story. Or maybe she’s legitimately sorry. I’m not the one to say that she’s canceled or forgiven, and even if I was, I don’t think it’s about that. It’s about her work and actions going forward.

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41 Responses to “Florence Pugh offered a comprehensive apology for her cultural appropriation”

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  1. tegteg says:

    She put cornrows in her hair at 17. SEVENTEEN. Everybody does dumb shi* at that age. This is a minor infraction and she’s apologetic about it. Why is canceling even mentioned?

    • Lyli says:

      I got cornrows in an all-inclusive resort in Mexico as a teen, I had no idea how political it is. I’m 34 and know better, but woah. I don’t know if it warrants an apology. That being said, she’s a public figure and it’s great to acknowledge it and be part of the conversation that way.

  2. Darla says:

    10 came out in 1979 and kind of defined white beauty standards when I was a kid. I had no idea Bo Derek’s cornrows were cultural appropriation nor did I even know those words, or had ever heard them or read them . Being rated as a number from 1 thru 10 lasted through the 80′s as I remember. It was really awful in retrospect, and it didn’t feel good then either, but again, I didn’t have the words to express why. All to say that maybe education is the problem in our country, and also our pop culture? The latter of which goes directly to Hollywood, so let them squirm. It’s the Power Brokers who should squirm more though. But education, that’s on us.

  3. vertes says:

    So the movie “10″ was the first widespread cultural appropriation of cornrows? That was 41 years ago.
    How long does it take before it’s ok to utilize a style originated elsewhere? Curious. My friend, a green-eyed blonde from Australia has outrageously kinky hair which doesn’t lend itself to traditional “white” hairstyles. She usually wears it in a style some call an Afro. Is that cultural appropriation?

    • Ladyakweley says:

      So, Black people are green eyed and blonde haired as well so your questions are confusing. But in the event that “your friend” is a white woman with green eyes and curly blonde hair, I would ask you to STOP trying to make non anti racist white women the center of this narrative. Thanks.

      • Leigh says:

        @ LADYAKWELEY – Are you asking if it’s okay for your white friend to wear her hair in its natural state? How exactly does someone wear their hair in an afro unless they have afro textured hair? I am black woman who could not pull off an afro simply because my hair doesn’t grow that way. Like others have said, stop making this about white people with curly hair. It’s hardly the same thing.

    • Athyrmose says:

      You can set yourself as arbitrator of the answer when you’re told that your hair is too black for your workplace. Until then, accept that not everything is for, or about you…or your consent.

    • Naddie says:

      Outragiously kinky hair? Wtf?

      • Haapa says:

        Whew boy. This. Why is kinky hair “outrageous”? The same reason protective styles worn by Black people are considered “unprofessional”? Have a touch of self-awareness ya?

  4. Levans says:

    Her note seems very genuine. As if she did a deep reflection of how she contributed to the problem. Good for her, but as mentioned it is her actions from here that will determine if she has learned.

  5. ZsaZsa Fierce says:

    I find this sort of thing ridiculous and distracting from systemic issues. I am African and have no problem with anybody wearing cornrows and braids. They are centuries-old hairstyles and are not exclusive to any race or culture. When I get henna tattoos done on my hands and feet, am I appropriating Indian culture? When I fashion a kimono out of an ankara fabric (considered African but usually imported from the Netherlands and inspired by Indonesian Batik), should I write out an apology to Japanese people?

    • El says:

      I’m confused too. I thought it was “appropriation” if you were gaining something from it – be it the claim that you’re a trend setter who pioneered a style (when you simply appropriated a style from another culture) or if you made money off of it (as in a white woman voicing a black character when there are plenty of talented black women quite capable of voicing one). But if you do it with 0 gain, just because it suits your hair or you find it attractive, how is it appropriation? And yes, I realized that POCs used to be punished for wearing ethnic clothes and wearing their hair naturally or a certain way, and that is unacceptable. But wouldn’t it be better to direct our energies against companies that still stigmatize “ethnic” looks and insist they are not appropriate for a professional setting, instead of white women who choose to wear “ethnic” looks because they genuinely see their beauty and/or utility? I mean, I am a white woman who used to live in a country where white culture was a minority culture. I was literally REQUIRED to wear ethnic dresses to school and even university, they were required uniforms for girls.

      • SomeChick says:

        Black women are still forbidden to wear their hair in those styles at work in some places. Right here, right now.

        I do think there is a way to be respectful about borrowing styles from other cultures. For example, anyone can study dances of other cultures. Wearing the appropriate garments makes sense in that context, and most folks I know who do this are knowledgeable and respectful.

        Dressing up like a bellydancer to flounce around when you aren’t and have no knowledge of the culture isn’t. This goes double for religious garb, such as Native American headdresses. Those things have a deeper cultural meaning. They are not toys.

        It would have been disrespectful to not wear the appropriate clothes to school. As I’m sure you realize. You weren’t wearing it as a costume.

        Cosplaying a Rasta or other group just isn’t ok.

        She is saying that she thought it was but she knows better now. I found it to be a thoughtful statement. I can’t drag her for that. It’s learning behavior. Hopefully she will keep that energy, keep listening and learning, and get behind BLM with more than words. Young people look up to celebrities and she has a responsibility to use that platform for good. It’s not the only thing that needs to happen, but I think it is a good thing.

    • Minal says:

      Thanks Zsa Zsa. I am Indian and love to see other people enjoy my culture. But I think cultural appropriation is an issue specific to POC trying to get along in white majority spaces, a problem that those of us lucky enough to live in our countries of origin do not have.

      • ZsaZsa Fierce says:

        Hi Minai. Bollywood movies and ZeeWorld series are huge in my country. There’s an upcoming Nollywood-Bollywood collaboration I’m interested in checking out as soon as it’s out. It’s called ‘Namaste Wahala’.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      The person wearing the clothes or styles of another culture may INTEND for it to be simple appreciation, but it could be PERCEIVED as mocking or offensive if we don’t have enough knowledge of the other culture’s history and sensitivities. And I’m pretty sure I do not have enough knowledge of other cultures to take that risk.

  6. Valiantly Varnished says:

    I think it’s a pretty decent apology.

  7. Valiantly Varnished says:

    And some of the comments on this thread are a giant YIKES

  8. Mumbles says:

    It used to be a thing for white women to get corn rows at the beach. I remember Maria Shriver being called back from vacation to report on a breaking story and she had braids. And yeah I remember them being big as a result of Bo Derek.

    A white woman’s “right” to wear corn rows is not a hill to die on. But if another culture’s fashion is worn respectfully and not to trivialize it, is it appropriation? Like, I can see Pugh wearing a Rastafarian hat with a smartass caption being viewed as rude and dismissive and casually racist and something she would want to get ahead of. Same with wearing a bindi or henna tattoos as fashion. But what about wearing something that pays homage to a culture?

    What I would love to see a lot less of is white trust fund babies wearing dreadlocks in college until they go off to law/business school.

    • vertes says:

      Dreadlocks aren’t “made.” Very curly hair which is allowed to grow naturally without alternate styling, such as braids, or daily combing, (which can be painful & cause breakage) turns into dreadlocks all by itself.

      • Mumbles says:

        These kids are doing something to their hair to make them look like dreadlocks, then. And then they stop doing that when they get a job at a hedge fund.

      • Ang says:

        Dreadlocks very much can be “made”.

      • Alyse says:

        Side note: I’m white, with very thick/wavy hair and get natural dreadlocks when I’ve been at the beach for a week/not washing/brushing my hair. I once got 4 intense had-to-cut-them-out dreadlocks from a particularly good rave (from the sweat).

        But that’s also not the kind of thing people have a problem with…

      • Haapa says:

        Exactly. And white people with curly hair saying their hair “naturally” forms locs are wrong. Those are matts. Period. If you don’t have coily hair they look terrible because they aren’t real locs, they are matts. They look like disgusting grinch fingers.

  9. aang says:

    I’m native. In my ancestral nation it is common for girls to wear two braids. Married women to wear one. Does that mean no one else can ever wear a braid? To me braids signify someone of any race who works for a living and needs to keep their hair out of the way, clean, and untangled. I braid my hair almost every day. Braids are a practical hairstyle for women who do manual labor.

    • Haapa says:

      Stop. Braids and cornrows are not the same thing. You are not being oppressed in any way by being told not to wear protective Black hair styles. You ARE allowed to participate in your own indigenous culture.

  10. Keira says:

    The popup (pet food?) ads are *super* annoying, as are the constantly loading adds amongst the copy. How hard do you want to make reading your blog be? I would gladly pay a small fee to avoid all these damn ads.

  11. Athyrmose says:

    Some of you really think this apology is for, or about you. One yike.

  12. Case says:

    It’s not for me to decide what requires an apology or not, but honestly, I didn’t learn what “cultural appropriation” was until my 20s. I think it’s great that she took the time to realize the mistakes she’s made in her past and address them, but she was quite young when these things occurred.

    As you get older, you (hopefully) become more educated, which sounds like what is what happened here. Good for her. We’re not born knowing all of this stuff. I was always a fairly socially-aware kid growing up but learned most of what I know now about institutional racism, for example, in college. So yeah, the idea of canceling someone who made a bad hair choice at 17 is absurd to me.

  13. lemonylips says:

    I was once mistaken couple of years ago, by friends who actually had no knowledge about my culture (Eastern European) and obvioulsy other cultures, for wearing cornrows. I was wearing traditional braids my grandma made just like her grandma had made for her. They look nothing alike, but one of them was trying to make a huge deal about it. I have short hair now so can’t wear braids but I can’t believe I had to, instead of introducing them to my culture, prove I had any. It was insane. And yes, we all do silly things when young, props to Florence for learning, I just wish more people would learn as well. To be fair, I’d love it if anyone would wear my culture’s braids. But I would never, ever wear cornrows as a white woman. It’s a completely different type of appropriation. Just no.

  14. Katrine Troelsen says:

    she was 17. is an apology even necessary? the prez is a child rapist FFS.

  15. Jkely says:

    There’s a woman I went to high school with that still gets cornrows in her hair, she’s a 34 year old white woman. I can’t even. No matter how many times she’s told it’s wrong she still gets them done. It’s amazing to me that people can be that ignorant.

  16. LunaSF says:

    It does seem like many celebrities are trying get get ahead of being thrown under the cancel culture bus. I’m not familiar with her but she seems like she is trying and growing. When I was in Jamaica a few years ago there are Jamaican women at all the beaches doing the braids for tourists. If a Jamaican woman is getting paid for doing braids on a tourist I don’t see a problem with it, since that is part of her income. I Live in a tourist town where Native American art and jewelry is sold. Since the Native people are benefitting from their goods being sold I think it’s fine for non native people to wear the jewelry and have the art in their homes. But as a white person I would not start making dream catchers and selling them around town because that would be cultural appropriation. The cultural appropriation line can be hard to navigate but IMO as long as people from the culture are benefitting from sharing it or selling goods or services I think it’s fine.

  17. LoonaticCap says:

    I always thought the discussion about hair to be a bit unnecessary but I also understand there is a different cultural reason why it is an issue in the US.
    I am african and live in an african country. I don’t care how people wear their hair, in fact, I find it ironic how we get so upset if people wear cornrows but black women sell their soul to get indian hair/brazilian etc. I understand there is a question of necessity, black women need to look a certain way to work at certain places – very unfortunate and infuriating. But i also believe we are way past that. There are other very professional hairstyles (whatever that is) that we can do.
    I say that as a black woman with locs, that had her hair chemically straightened as a teen and hated it so much she let if actually break and fall off. Lol.
    All that being said I think Florence is being somewhat sincere but also anticipating some probable leaking of pics. It is possible.

  18. Vero183 says:

    If you are NOT a black American woman, you have no right to have an opinion regarding our culture or hair. Zero! The audacity. Even more insulting that people who don’t even live in this country think they can except her apology on our behalf! So many call yourselves feminists. Do we need to give an example in the context of white feminism for you to understand?

    Black women, today in 2020 our hair is still regulated. Black people lose their jobs and get kicked out of school because of their hair! All of this country in 2020. We don’t need your announcements that you don’t get it or I’m YOUR culture you don’t care. Good for you. We do! White women are fetishized when they wear cornrows, when they have their bodies surgically enhanced to look like black women.

    My god! A black woman in the military was reprimanded recently on IG for hair not being “slick” enough. I cannot with the fake allies.

  19. Jenn says:

    It sounds like she’s been very introspective about the line between “appreciation” and “appropriation” and like she hopes the understanding she’s reached might help others come to terms, as well. She also sounds sincere, to me at least, about apologizing to those whom she may have harmed in the past. It’s a whole lot, but I feel like it’s warranted here.

  20. ngl says:

    I’m not Black so I won’t comment on that. However, I find her obnoxious and her bf is a major creep.