Hair

Yes or No: Is It Cultural Appropriation For White People To Have Dreadlocks?

“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

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.

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 a 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.

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 the melanated masses, 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 melanated masses that were here before them.

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).

With that in mind, my vote is YES, white people wearing locs is cultural appropriation. I don’t think white people should be wearing dreadlocks. Will I have a fit every time I see white people with lots? Absolutely not. However I will look at them like a penguin on the beach, because they are choosing to adopt a lifestyle that is not conducive to their biological and genetic circumstance.

Why It’s Not Ok…

Josy Pickens, from 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 

Taiwo Ogunyinka goes on to say in her blog post “Why it’s not OK for white people to have dreadlocks”

“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 symbolize.”

What do you think? Is it cultural appropriation for white people to have dreadlocks?

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