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Monday, January 9, 2017

"Dreadful" Redux

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 25 seconds.

C- Bringing an argument about (ancient) Greeks, Mongols, Celts etc. to a discussion about racism and appropriation in the context of the last 200 yrs is a derailment of the discussion and is an attempt to undermine legitimate grievances of modern day black people.
As mentioned by OP, dreds do have "deep meaning" for African Americans and they explain a couple of reasons why this appropriation might be hurtful or offensive to the AA community.

KG- actually, it's not. Just because all those cultures don't have wide stream use of those hairstyles, it dosent take away history. I can tattoo my face blue, and it would be my cultural heritage, even tho few have chosen to continue that tradition. Op has proven her self deeply misinformed, from her picture is white, and didn't actually give any cultural reason, just that essentially, American black people don't like it because it blurs the line between cultures. Which is looping logic. Can't blur two cultures if you can't show two cultures. So i asked someone else. Just saying "deep cultural meaning" isn't an answer, i said deep cultural meaning in regards to native symbols because i already know the reasons and there are tons. Im asking to be informed, because no literature on here is informative and i get accused of trying to derail the discussion. Do you see why i find it difficult to take this complaint seriously? In my experience when someone talks around the question, they don't have an answer.

C- Okay, so here goes:

When we enter a discussion about cultural import and offensive appropriation vs. culture sharing and assimilation, we have left behind objectivity and quantifiable data. We are now talking about “feelings”, and often these discussions really boil down to “Who is a cry-baby and who has a legitimate claim to anger/upset”.

In saying that you understand cultural appropriation regarding Native/ Indigenous people, you’re in a different spot than many people. Often fashion or pop culture will “borrow” Native garb (specifically head dresses) because they are visually captivating, and like you said- they have little to no regard for the history or context surrounding those cultural signifiers.

For current context and to try to answer your initial question: African Americans have long been ostracized for their natural hair. In terms of beauty standards, 4C hair (what some refer to as “kinky” hair ) was and still is often seen by people outside of the AA community (and sometimes inside) as messy, unprofessional, and ugly. This can be seen in the recent Supreme Court case where the plaintiff’s job offer was rescinded because the office hiring her had a policy against dreadlocks (, citing that locks get “messy”.

Some might then ask why black people don’t just stop wearing dreads or dreadlocks altogether. We are limited in the ways in which we can wear our natural hair and have it be seen as “professional”. We face active discrimination for the hair that grows naturally from our bodies, and this discrimination is often legalized through “dress code policies” like the one cited above. There is a far-reaching history in the African diasporic community of wearing our hair in dreads or locks. Some of the people in this community are in fact, indigenous (indigenous Taino people lived in Haiti, for example, before the slave trade arrived there).

In my community, we have those who have paid to have locks styled in their hair, whereas dreads are how some people’s hair natural dries and binds together. The root of the hair on dreads is not separated into “neat” individual ropes as it is with locks. Dreads are how many people’s hair forms naturally if not interfered with or styled differently. For those people, it is intrinsically part of their body and their blackness.

The issue with white communities “adopting” this hairstyle is that they belong to a dominant cultural group who has set the beauty and social acceptability standards in the US. Those who are white have the luxury of wearing their hair how it naturally occurs and having that be acceptable. They do not *need* to chemically straighten it, pay hundreds of dollars/spend long hours having it braided neatly in order to secure a job. They might need to get it cut, but that is a far less onerous task than being asked to transform your hair to a state which is not how it occurs naturally.

If it is possible to respect Native/Indigenous people who are offended by appropriation of their cultural markers, then it should also be possible to respect those in the AA community (some of whom are also indigenous) who have an issue with the appropriation of the cultural/racial marker of dreadlocks/locks. If we don’t, it is a signal of whose culture we respect and value more. Since AA culture is often diluted with phrases like “gang culture” or over-simplified to mean only contemporary “rap”, there is not a high societal value on it and it is not seen as “sacred”, “ancient”, or having deep meaning. When in fact, the culture is much more broad, diverse, and longstanding than what is understood by the dominant white culture- which, not only sets the beauty standards as mentioned before, but also standards of cultural importance; deciding things like which art, music, or even history is valued and amplified through teaching and media. You’ll notice, the importance of culture is often tied to its longevity: Greek culture, Roman culture, Egyptian culture (which is often made to look white in its retelling: ) for some examples.

However, part of the reason some AA traditions are not “longstanding” is due to the condition of slavery, and not to any shortcoming of AA society. We were not permitted our art, our history, or even to develop *new* history during the course of slavery (since we were made and then kept illiterate). This effect cannot be discounted and its relevance to our discussion on the importance of AA hairstyles is tied to the fact that we are still, to this day, trying to recoup our significant cultural losses and regain a sense of personal and collective history.

To say that dreadlocks and locks cannot belong to the AA community is to be ignorant of the contextual history of our cultural development and an attempt to syphon a sense of belonging from us under the guise of “cultural oneness”. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a peaceful approach and is in fact a violent daily occurrence which affects people of color on a visceral level.

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