By Dionne Smith, Free Press Staff
There is an ongoing debate about whether it is appropriate or not for white people to wear dreadlocks. The argument stems from the history of white people appropriating different aspects of other cultures as well as stereotyping cultures. In the twenty-first century, is it okay for all aspects of different cultures to be equally shared, or in this case, for white people to have dreadlocks?
Dreadlocks can be traced far back in history. Ancient Egyptians and Indians wore them. Today, dreadlocks are identified with Rastafarians and Jamaicans, such as Bob Marley, who identified himself as a Rastafarian. Dreads hold a special meaning spiritually and are symbolic of some people’s’ culture and religion.
Due to the significance of dreadlocks, the history behind them , and the meaning that they hold, it is possible for white people wearing dreadlocks to seem insulting and trying to appropriate the Rastafari religion and other people’s cultures. Even if the white person who is wearing them knows the history of dreadlocks and supports the symbolic meaning behind dreadlocks, it can be challenging to know who supports it and who is wearing dreadlocks because they believe dreadlocks are just a good look for them and that it’s just hair, like Justin Beiber for example, when he was criticized for his blond dreadlocks. Also, it is understandable why people of color would be offended by white people wearing dreadlocks due to the stereotype that people who wear dreadlocks are unhygienic.
There are a number of students that don’t see white people having dreadlocks as a bad thing, or even something worth debating over. Cassandra Davis, a sophomore majoring in accounting and finance, doesn’t see it so much as an insult towards any culture, but more of a show of personality.
Sara Joy Bashob, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said, “I’m one who totally understands that dreadlocks are part of a culture, for me personally it’s all about a hairstyle.” Bashob is a white female and has had dreadlocks for six years. She elaborated on how keeping her dreadlocks for six years also acted as a way to prove different stereotypes wrong. Bashob also stated that she is receptive when people ask her questions about her hair to help prove the stereotypes wrong.
The opposite side of the argument is that by having dreadlocks, white people are intruding on other cultures. Jasmine Armstrong, a sophomore majoring in history, is aware of the debate and believes that dreadlocks are not a part of their culture and isn’t for them, she stated that, “There is a difference between appreciation and appropriation.” People of color can feel like they’re being insulted. It can almost seem like a privilege that white people can have dreadlocks and it’s considered fine, even though they can do other things with their hair and switch as they please, but when an African American person or a person of color has dreadlocks, and it’s tied to their religion or culture, it can be seen as unhygienic, messy or not classy. In some cases, having dreadlocks results in someone not getting a job.
“I’m not going to come down on one side or the other of the debate. I think that ultimately it’s up to the people to make that decision for themselves, but I understand the issues that are at play here,” stated Ashley Towle, a professor in the history department. “People of minority groups feel like their culture is essentially being stolen from them.”
Towle believes that there are a lot of grey areas in the debate, but she does see an issue when white people choose to have dreadlocks and have no knowledge of their history. Towle does like the fact that there is a discussion about these topics because there is a need for these kind of discussions, otherwise marginalized voices on the subject were go unheard.
On one side of the debate, there is the claim that dreadlocks are all about the style and the personality that they bring out of someone. On the other side of the debate, white people wearing dreadlocks can be seen as insensitive and appropriating. Then, in the middle, there is a stance where if a white person is to wear dreadlocks, they should at least know the history behind dreadlocks, and be understanding of both points of view. But, as Towle stated, it’s up to the people to decide.
This is a classic example of an “academic” argument. Yes, there is a cultural side to dreadlocks. Just as there is a cultural side to Mohawks, ponchos, piercings and on and on. I wear “Hawaiian” shirts. I know the history of Hawaii. I wear them because I like them. The academic discussion is interesting and educational and should be encouraged. But folks, there is no need to “call people out” for wearing dreadlocks. I do not hear much objection to the white music industry for “appropriating” black music. That is lucrative, right? Cultural blending is a good thing. People should be free to express their individuality, especially in style, any way they wish. There sure are far more important things to be agitated about these days. Cheers and peace.
As a white person with dreadlocks, I can honestly say I’ve never had an issue with discrimination from anyone. I’ve even had compliments from practicing rastafari, even though I myself am not a practitioner. I grew my dreads from a bald head, using only a wool cap to encourage their growth. I keep them very clean and do my best to tend them, without making them manufactured-neat. They are natural and wild, very much a part of who I am. Dreads to me are a spiritual experience, a test in patience and a physical embodiment of my detachment from social norms.
Race should not be a factor in the appropriation of dreadlocks, but I do agree that understanding of their significance is necessary. To set the record straight however, it is not only Rastafari and Hindu cultures that grow dreadlocks, Celtic, Buddhist, and a variety of Native American traditions also placed significance on dreadlocks, just simply by different names and with different purposes.
We need tolerance in today’s day and age, not division over aesthetics. Let’s focus on real problems of discrimination, not superficial ones.
It’s funny how everybody has a problem with white people wearing what kind of hair they want, all the while never saying anything about the wigs and weaves African American women get to make their hair longer and smoother than their natural hair. Just saying