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The Controversy Behind Hoop Earrings

Exactly a year ago, on March 4th, 2017, three Latino students of Pitzer College were fed up with the cultural appropriation of white people and decided to paint “White Girls, take OFF your hoops,” on the free speech wall. Several students took responsibility for this action and amongst them was Alegria Martinez, who was a campus resident advisor and an active “Latinx Student Union” member. These Latino students sent out an email thread claiming responsibility for the paintings. The email contained their grievances over how white women are appropriating the culture of people of color. Martinez indicated in the email how the hoop culture was founded on oppression and poverty; she also stated how hoop earrings and other accessories such as gold named plate necklaces were considered ghetto. The email showed how aggrieved the students were due to the exploitation of cultural symbols by white people.

This painting caused some serious backlash from people both in and outside of the campus. Several threats and violent messages were directed at the Latino students due to this. Melvin L. Oliver, who was the college president criticized the threats and violence directed at these students in an open letter and asked that it be stopped.

Origin of Hoop Earrings

The cultural encyclopedia of the body showed Ashurnasirpal II, King of Assyria (now Iraq) as the first identifiable person to wear hoop earrings (884-859 B.C.). The encyclopedia shows the king wearing the hoop earrings in his palace. This shows that the hoop earring is part of the Greek and Roman culture.

Pirates, sailors, and seamen also wore gold hoop earrings for different reasons. The pirates wore hoop earrings because they believed it had superstitious powers to heal them and protect them from drowning. The seamen wore the hoop earrings as a sign of their sailing expeditions. The hoop earrings were part of the culture of seamen, pirates, and sailors.

The Hoop Earring Culture of Women of Color

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, a Latino lifestyle popularly referred to as ‘Chola’ was birthed, and the hoop culture was greatly associated with this lifestyle. The Chola culture had the Latina women drawing their eyebrows thin, painting their lips dark, teasing their hair and adorning themselves with nameplate necklaces, hoop earrings, and baggy shirts. This lifestyle was an indication of the gang violence and poverty faced by the Latin women. This was their way of looking tough as well as wearing what they could afford. An assistant professor in the department of Chicana/o studies at UC Davis, Lorena Marques explained that once a young Latin girl is born, she receives her first pair of small hoop earrings. The culture of hoop earrings is still used as a sign of cultural resistance although it is now a fashion statement as well.

The same way the hoop earrings is significant to the Latin community is the same way it is important to the black community. The black women wore hoop earrings as a sign of poverty and struggle as they dressed in what they could afford. The hoop earrings usually go for less than 3 dollars at most beauty stores and shops. This is why back in 2016 Urban Outfitters had the major backlash when they inflated the price of the bamboo hoop earrings in their stores to $16. Most people of color saw this as cultural appropriation, and the company suffered for this.


Although there is a huge cultural significance of the hoop earrings to the people of color, it is evident that ancient Greeks and Romans wore hoop earrings as well. It is therefore important to know that the culture of hoop earrings have been used in ancient times and will also be embraced by more cultures.

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