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From Kim to Hot Cheeto Girls: white people are ‘retiring’ from Blackness

Kim and Khloe have gone blonde and lost their BBLs, while white girls on Tiktok are announcing their retirement from being ‘Ghetto Hot Cheeto Girls’ – but this is simply an old dynamic presented in a new way

To be white, or not to be white? That is the question. Since the 2010s, conversations about cultural appropriation have dominated online spaces, from reminders about the importance of non-offensive Halloween costumes to articles about the Kardashians wearing cornrows and the problematic way in which people, particularly white people, dress at Coachella. For years, white people have consistently used the cultures of people of colour as costumes for play.

Cultural appropriation is, of course, still on going. From Gucci selling a headscarf called ‘Indy Full Turban’ in 2019, the fast fashion brand Zara appropriating the aesthetics of indigenous Mexican communities last year and the notorious culture vulture Gwen Stefani wearing locs in a 2022 music video with Sean Paul. However, is it just me, or has something shifted for white people?

This shift can firstly be seen in Biz Sherbert’s reporting on how Catholicism has become alt-fashion’s newest saviour. Sherbert suggests that young people are newly attracted to Catholicism (a religion with a significant white supremacy problem) because cultural appropriation is “officially cancelled”. Secondly, the Kardashians, specifically Kim and Khloe, have supposedly removed their BBLs and gone bleach blonde after years of profiting from and appropriating Black women’s beauty, bodies and culture. The Kardashian-Jenner klan is known for their blackfishing and dramatic beauty and body changes. Most notably, they recurringly sport African hairstyles, despite continuous online callouts. From Fulani braids, Bantu knots and afros. You name it, and they’ve probably done it. Lastly, and certainly not least, white girls on Tiktok have been announcing their retirement from being “Ghetto Hot Cheeto Girls”.

In these videos, girls start by showing the viewer what they look like now. Many are now bleach blonde with straight hair; some show pictures of themselves from graduation or fancy holidays. No matter where they are in the clips, these girls are trying to demonstrate one thing: that they are in better positions in life now than when they were in their “ghetto girl” phase. In the next few clips, you see these same girls, slightly younger, in braids, big hoops, and acrylic nails. Sometimes they’re rapping in the videos, sticking out their tongues and middle fingers. One particular Tiktok user revealed that she used to wear durags (on her bone-straight hair) while waving around bundles of cash ($18 to be exact) on social media. 

The term “Hot Cheeto Girl” came into popularity through Adam Ray’s viral TikToks, where he would play a character called ‘Rosa’. Ray, who is Latinx, created a character that many people loved on the internet. Ray himself stated that he even created the Rosa character because he knew girls like that and had them in his family. He was and is so in love with her and believes her essence is in him. Black and Chicanx cultures heavily influence the ‘hot cheeto girl’ aesthetic, and essentially Ray’s homage to his culture became something incredibly ugly online. While Ray was honouring the Rosas of the world, those outside of Black and Latinx cultures attempted to make a mockery of her and poorly caricatured her.

The ‘Ghetto Hot Cheeto Girls’ trend is reminiscent of the Miley Cyrus identity crisis of 2013-2015. Before then, Miley was desperately trying to move away from being seen solely as Hannah Montana/Miley Stewart – a character so beloved for her girl next door persona and superstardom. Whether she liked it or not, she was seen as a role model for young girls from a very young age. She released “Can’t Be Tamed” in 2010 to move away from this idealisation. It caused controversy but not enough, so she searched for something that unquestionably conveyed rebellion in the eyes of whiteness: blackness. This is where we enter her Bangerz era. During this era, Cyrus wore dreadlocks, cornrows and gold grills. For her song “We Can’t Stop”, Cyrus told her songwriters, Timothy and Theron Thomas, “I want urban, I want something that just feels Black.” Once she achieved what she wanted (distance from Hannah and Miley Stewart), she returned to whiteness. She traded her grills and cornrows for pink dresses, puppet shows and pigtails.

@adamrayokay POV: Rosa thinks everyone likes her cause she caught them looking 😂😩 #fyp #viral #foryou ♬ original sound - ADAMRAY

After all of this, it can be difficult to understand why we’re seeing white people flock back to whiteness. After years of takedowns, why now? Surprisingly enough, the answer lies in the exact reason white people engaged in this behaviour in the first place, and American Studies scholar, George Lipsitz calls it the ‘Possessive Investment in Whiteness’. In his book of the same name, Lipsitz notes that “white people are encouraged to invest in whiteness, through public policy and private prejudice work, and remain true to an identity that provides them with resources, power and opportunity.” One way in which white people possessively invest in whiteness is through Ministrelsy. Ministrelsy, which was first established in the United States in 1843, is when a white performer would dress up in blackface, dance, sing and or perform comic routines based on stereotyped depictions of Black people. Ministrelsy aimed to mock Blackness and reinforce the racial and social hierarchy in America. This type of performance is arguably one of the first forms of cultural appropriation, highlighting that white society’s adoption of the Black experience is not a new phenomenon but a historical trend.

When individuals partake in cultural appropriation, they participate in the deculturalisation of racial aesthetic expression. Professor of Law John M Kang explains, “the ideology of white aesthetics insists that cultural expressions by people of colour are simply a fashion statement in the capitalist marketplace because white people can express themselves in that exotic ethnic manner too.” The actions of the Kardashians, ‘Hot Cheeto Girls’ and anyone else who participates in the act of ministry diminish the unique cultural expression of people of colour, particularly Black people. This is a clear example of the possessive investment in whiteness, as both ministry and the deculturalisation of racial aesthetic expression have both negatively impacted public policy for Black people.

When white people get bored of playing with otherness, when they’ve squeezed as much capital out of it as they can, have used it to cultivate their bad girl images and have rebelled against their mum and dad enough, they return to whiteness. They do this because it’s easy and simple and because they can. Their investment in whiteness takes a new form, but it’s the exact same philosophy they’ve always consciously and unconsciously invested in.