Can White People Wear Dreadlocks?
This might seem like an unnecessary question with an obvious answer, but you’d be surprised about the range of answers out there.
There is a large demographic that believes white people wearing dreadlocks or locs is cultural appropriation.
There is an opposing demographic that believes the question is ignorant and that white people can do whatever they want their hair and that nobody owns locs.
“Appreciating another culture looks like cultural exchange. We would have consent to participate in some culture and both sides mutually benefit and gain understanding of each other. On the other hand, appropriating another culture entails taking from a marginalized group without permission, and usually with little respect for or knowledge about the culture.” – springinstitute.org
Who’s Decision Is That To Make?
This question is hard to answer without bias. To be fair to my readers, I must admit that I have a biased perspective to this question. I am an almost 30 year old black male with locs.
Based off of my personal experience I would say that IF anyone did own locs, it certainly wouldn’t be white people. This still does not answer the question though…
I say that because according to history, what we know as the caucasian race has not been active on planet earth for as long as people with melanin, black people around the world.
If that is in fact true, then it would be proper to assume the reality of white people adopting locs from the various races and cultures that were here before them.
So to summarize the point, I don’t know who OWNS locs and who is authorized to manifest and execute universal dreadlock law.
I will say this though….
Black hair naturally locks, is gravity defiant, is a dominant hair type, and researchers continue to discover evidence pointing to Africa as the starting point for human life on this planet. It should be possible to accept or at least understand how black people could maintain a territorial perspective about locs (dreadlocks).
Why It’s Not Ok…
Josy Pickens, Ebony.com goes on to say…
“I understand the young Black female student who challenged her White schoolmate for wearing dreadlocks and eventually grabbed him up. Of course she was wrong for touching him in any way, but I can identify that fury. I recognize what it feels like when your Blackness is a journey, when it is hard won, and how difficult it is to see others adopt parts of it without doing the work to know what those parts actually represent. I have been young, and passionate, and brand new to feeling my Blackness in a very deep way. So, even if I hadn’t touched the White student with dreadlocks, I probably would have said something to him, and it likely would not have been kind.
And Justin Bieber can catch these words too.
When the star spoke about his brand new and bleached blonde dreadlocks being “just hair”, I wondered if he observed that the Black people who made locs popular in the U.S. and throughout the African Diaspora were militants who hoped and worked to annihilate their White oppressors— men who looked just like The Biebs and that White student from San Francisco State. I’m going to guess that Bieber has no clue that dreadlocks could be so radical. That the Kikuyu who wore their hair in locs were captured and tortured after the Mau Mau were defeated by British soldiers. That wearing locs can mean being ostracized even today. Seeing that both men are protected by a combination of privileges (class and education, status and fame, maleness, Whiteness), I’m sure they get along just fine in the world whether they are wearing dreadlocks or not. The privilege of being able to wear locs sans scrutiny, while simultaneously not needing to know anything about their history is what pisses Black folks off.
It is maddening that White people love the culture that we produce so much—whether it be dreadlocks or Drake, but seem ambivalent towards our suffering and what it costs to create such a gorgeous culture in the face constant erasure and hate. And, yes, Whites wearing dreadlocks absolutely is cultural appropriation. Justin Beiber’s response that his dreadlocks are just hair, speaks precisely to the fact that he has disconnected locs from their history and cultural significance. That, folks, is exact definition of cultural appropriation.” – Josy Pickens, Ebony.com
“Now, I don’t know why white people choose to wear dreadlocks, but there seem to be a few reasons. If you wear them as an appreciation of black culture, then by wearing dreadlocks and perpetuating white privilege as a result then aren’t you actually harming the black diaspora in the UK? If you truly cared for black people and not just our culture you wouldn’t want to wear dreadlocks.
Secondly, if you wear dreadlocks because it “looks cool” then you’re still perpetuating white privilege and you’ve chosen to be ignorant of the significant contemporary history. Finally, if you wear them because you think it symbolises a humanist ideal, then you’ve attached the wrong political meaning to them and instead you’re damaging the anti-oppression movement for which they truly symbolise.” – TAIWO OGUNYINKA
Why It Is Ok..
Benjamin David goes on to say:
“The refusal to be recognised as, or rather, held as, an individual first and foremost in the cultural/political world, let alone being an individual, is one of the crucial linchpins why people cry foul at supposed acts of cultural appropriation. In acts of supposed cultural appropriation, people are seen as indispensably linked to, or rather ‘reduced’ to, a particular (primary) culture (e.g., white culture) whilst trying to “steal” things from another (e.g., black culture) and, at times, claiming what is stolen as belonging to their own primary culture. Thus, a person with light skin pigmentation wearing dreadlocks will be seen by certain people as stealing a black-culture element because that person will be seen as inexorably linked to white, western culture.
We all have the capacity to be recognised, or rather, held, in the cultural/political world, as a) an individual first and foremost or b) as a member of a cultural group first and foremost. Members of white, western culture and members of black culture have the capacity to reduce some person x to a cultural domain; and some other members of white, western culture and black culture can also see that person x as first and foremost an individual. Reducing someone to the cultural domains into which people are born perhaps is a ubiquitous occurrence, and perhaps all people have the capacity to adopt a communitarian philosophy as the main and almost exclusive vehicle by which a person is identified.” – Benjamin David “Yes, Its OK for White People To Wear Dreadlocks”
Hey Gregory, do you ever feel culturally inappropriate wearing dreadlocks?
I have never had anyone had a direct issue with my dreadlocks. I grew up on the surf coast, swimming in salt water every weekend with curly hair. It’s pretty impossible to not get matted hair so dreadlocks were a very practical solution. This was before I was even old enough to know what Rastafarianism was. I also had no idea that dreadlocks were significant to black people because I just saw them in my everyday life as I grew up on the beach. The only times I have seen this brought up was after those issues with the Indian headdresses. We are in the 21st century and are way past holding onto cultural semantics. I think instead of nitpicking at political correctness we should be celebrating cultural diversity. So until a black person approaches me with some valid points as to why I’m being insensitive, I’ll keep them. Also I just think comments like “dreads are for black people only” are the opposite of cultural progression.