Dear white people with dreadlocks: Some things to consider

Black hair is a touchy subject tied to beauty, identity and politics. Whether it's Afros and black power or cornrows and hip-hop, hairstyles associated with African-American culture can make a statement before their wearers say a word.
So when whites choose a traditionally black hairstyle such as dreadlocks, it adds another layer of complexity to the issue.

Take the latest case in point: a viral video showing a black woman calling out a white male student at San Francisco State University for his dreadlocks. The video touched off debate over whether dreadlocks on white people constitute cultural appropriation or appreciation, a fashion faux pas or some combination thereof.
white rasta 1
Neither party responded to CNN's requests for comment, so there's no way to tell what happened before or after the 46-second video. Their conversation led to a physical confrontation that is being investigated by the university. The tense encounter focuses on the origin of dreadlocks, which both parties seem to agree is Egypt. The woman contends that dreadlocks belong to "my culture," and the man says "it doesn't matter."
Dreadlocks are essentially entangled locks of hair achieved through various means of rolling hair. It's hard to tell who had them first, because early humans, lacking combs or styling products, probably roamed the planet with matted hair. Multiple sources credit the Vedic scriptures of Indian origin with documenting the first evidence of twisted locks of hair as early as 1800 B.C.
Historians and anthropologists have found evidence of the 'do in ancient Egypt, Germanic tribes, Vikings, Pacific Islanders, early Christians, the Aborigines and the New Guineans as well as the Somali, the Galla, the Maasai, the Ashanti and the Fulani tribes of Africa.
As University of Richmond professor Bert Ashe writes in "Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles," the better question is, "Who hasn't worn dreadlocks at one time or another?"
white rasta 3
Bear in mind, though, that the actual term "dreadlock" comes from the Rastafarian culture, which is widely credited with popularizing the look in Western culture. Rastafarians consider the locks a sign of their African identity and a religious vow of their separation from what they call Babylon, a historically white-European imperialist structure that has oppressed blacks and other people of color since way back when, according to Migrations in History.
Given dreadlocks' rich history, it's hard for one group to claim them, said Feminista Jones, writer, speaker and former wearer of locks.
"Sure, white people can wear locs," she said in an email. "For some, they have religious or spiritual meaning. For others, it's just a hairstyle. My research informed me that Indian monks wore them long before they reached the Western Hemisphere, so I'm not sure anyone has any particular claim."
white rasta 4
Like many, she does not care for how they look on some white people. Whether it counts as cultural appropriation, she's not so sure.
"I used to wear them and it wasn't for any spiritual reason and I wasn't a rasta; I just liked how they looked on me. I wonder if an Indian person could say I was appropriating them?" she said.
"Cultural appropriation is about the power dynamic. When people with power and privilege decide to 'validate' customs and traditions that oppressed people have long been marginalized for by saying 'This is the hot new thing,' then we have serious problems. Or when they refuse to credit the people who innovated those styles or traditions, but claim them as original ideas, then we get into appropriation," she said.
white rasta 5
"Showing love for something awesome and doing so with respect to the culture is appreciation and I don't see problems with that, for the most part. I do think white people have to be mindful of their privilege, though, and think twice before hopping on the newest 'trend,' especially if it clearly borrows from disenfranchised people."
Writer and longtime locks lover Jamia Wilson began adopting the look 10 years ago as a return to her natural state. She remembers seeing white people with dreadlocks in the same Berkeley, California, salon she used to visit for regular maintenance.
"For me what it means to lock one's hair really felt like going back to the natural progression of what my hair was like on its own," she said. "To see other people take extra steps to push their hair in that direction is an interesting thing to look at as a different sort of metaphor as opposed to this is what your hair would do naturally."
white rasta 2
She loves her locks but acknowledges they come with baggage. Relatives initially worried they might jeopardize job prospects; a professor advised her to straighten her hair if she wanted to make it in broadcast journalism.
There have been times when reactions to her hair have made her feel unsafe. Strangers occasionally approach her for drugs. A homeless man once called her a "dirty-haired bitch" for not giving him money.
She wonders whether white people with dreadlocks go through the same things.
"Hairstyles are not innocuous," she said. "There are gendered and racialized connotations and stereotypes attached to them."
white rasta 6
She does not wish to "police" locks or discourage anyone from wearing them. She would ask, though, that they consider the context.
"If you're going to take on something that does have sacred and historic significance and an unequal history of power dynamics it's important to honor that history," she said. "Be an ally by knowing your stuff and being respectful and acknowledging where it comes from."
April 1, 2016

This article has 2 Comments

  1. Irish of whom the early Egyptian pharoahs are genetic descendants as has been proved with science, also had dreadlocks which pre-dates Egyptian dredlocks. Those Irish are regarded as early Celtic peoples althjopugh the Celts are a collection of distinctly different groups, who also had dredlocks. Evidence for this not only in archeological remains of their bodies but also of bronze age coins (pre-Roman conquest) depicting dredlocks.

  2. This incident came with strange timing; only days before, I had combed out my dredlocks (13 years with, following 2 years without, following six months with) due to the British State Workers of many different departments, utilitarian prejudice against me for wearing a hair style. Were I black, gay or disabled they would not dare.
    I have been stop and searched on suspicion of drugs so many times I lost count. Were the police legal in giving me the requested s&s docket I would have a case against them for it – as I have never been caught with drugs for the simple reason I do not do drugs. However they always conveniently ‘forgot the docket book’ and when I request it at the station, nobody knows what I am talking about. That is their working practice. It is not only the police, as I said the whole institution is inherently prejudice against dredlocks. I am living proof of it.
    My reason for having had dredlocks is Celtic Spiritism. Nothing to do with cannabis/rastafariansism. Nothing to do with Pirates of the Hollywood Zomby Machine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*