Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010...11:06 pm

White People Shouldn’t Wear Dreadlocks, Part II

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David’s got a characteristically brilliant follow-up on the theme I discussed below about western appropriation of non-western cultural artifacts and authenticity (a theme I originally “appropriated” from him–see how that works?).  Ever since I wrote that post, I’ve been meaning to revise/clarify in the comments, but now that he’s called me out, I figured I might as well do a whole new post, not least because there’s other stuff he raises that’s also got me thinking.

Anyway, first things first: I’m regretting my sloppy characterization of white/asian kids who wear dreadlocks.  I thought my post sufficiently made clear that my initial reaction was a gut reaction–I hadn’t really interrogated it.  I also think, in the context of our conversation in the Berkman kitchen, that we were talking more about superficial fashion trends more than getting into the depths of cultural meaning so in my own defense, I sound like more of an asshole out of context than I did at the time (at least I hope).

The ensuing conversation (including some behind-the-firewall chats on Facebook with Georgia) forced me to come to a more sophisticated explanation for my gut reaction; what I’ve come up with is that it’s all about motives.  Though I’m wholly unequipped to judge individual motives (and is one of the things that made me uncomfortable with my original post), I do think there’s some number of people who are driven by “I want to look cool” when they grow dreads or get an asian tattoo or wear assless chaps.  That bothers me because there’s a respect for the original culture that gets lost, but more than that there’s an intrinsic rejection of your own identity. 

David asks what being authentic really means.  For me it’s about embodying your lived experiences.  That’s why where you come from is so important in this equation—whether we like it or not, it’s part of our experience; we bring it to the table along with all the other experiences we encounter as we chart our lives.  (Related tangent: Does anyone really believe Beyonce is being authentic when she sings You Oughta Know?  I mean, she was good, but let’s be honest—she’s never had her heart broken.  Alannis on the other hand…)

Ultimately, I think I’m really advocating for people actively seeking out new experiences, while making sure the place they come from is based in what they already know.  If there’s anything I hate more than white dreadlocks, it’s people who revel in lack of experience (aka: ignorance).  There’s a certain amount we can’t help—our family, our home town, etc.—but there’s so much we can.  I just think along the way we shouldn’t throw away everything that led up to us being able to choose our lives. 

A couple other random thoughts that I’m too lazy to incorporate into coherent paragraphs:

*I loved the post David linked to about the commodification of authenticity (and I must plead guilty to the “authentic travel experience” thing).  What does it mean when cultural artifacts start getting marketed?  What’s the difference between exporting Baywatch and importing anime?  And with respect to travel, what does it mean to really have an authentic experience in a foreign culture?  Can it be done in a week?  If so, how? 

*I’ve got some personal discomfort around this issue because sometimes I feel like, because I’m brown, I get a free pass that I shouldn’t necessarily get.  I had a conversation with Mario and his cousins last week about the difference between assimilation and acculturation among Hispanic immigrants; as minorities become the majority in the US, what does that mean for “western” culture, which we often think of as white?

*Something Georgia said is really sticking with me: what does it mean when a cultural artifact is sufficiently incorporated to another culture that it is, in fact, authentic for that second culture to claim it? 

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to American Idol for my weekly dose of American authenticity.  For the record, one of the final contestants is a white girl with dreadlocks and she can fucking sing.  She showed me I guess.


  • In our original kitchen conversation, I mentioned the (mostly) white second wave hippie movement of the ’80s and ’90s, in which a large percentage of participants wore dreads. They’re an interesting example, because I don’t believe that for them, it’s simply a fashion or “I want to look cool” choice (as it is perhaps for the Japanese snowboarder), but at the same time, it is some sort of wholesale appropriation. I’m not sure exactly what they’re trying to represent with it (whether they actually believe in the tenets of Rastafarianism or just really like to smoke herb).

    That said, I stick by my initial assertion that if you have curly, unwieldy hair of any ethnicity, you are entitled to wear your hear in whatever manner makes it easy to wear. Thus, you and I are both excluded from sporting locks.

  • Damn, and I really wanted to give up having to do my hair every morning.

    As for the hippies of the 80s/90s, I’d push back on your assertion that it wasn’t about fashion. I think in their circles, it was about making a fashion statement, at least as much as it was about making a political statement. In fact, I think it might have been more of a political statement for the Japanese snowboarder because his style was so offensive to the Japanese power structure–I think he, on some level, was rebelling against that. The hippies were just being hippies. Anyway, I think I’m creeping back into the judgment/discerning people’s motives area, which I think I should probably avoid…

  • Greetings,

    I think a few points needs to be made here.

    #1 – I completely agree with the fact that anyone who does anything to be “cool” whether it is hair, clothing or anything else is not right.

    Not overly due to a lack of respect for culture (I feel that culture is as much created in the present as it is a custom of the past…all of these things began somewhere as new or recycled in origin) but more do to the pure fact of it is VANITY and its impact on society as a whole is devastating. Its the main cause of why so many are so well off while so many suffer so much. There really is enough to go around. Our vanity contributes to all negative attribute. We Want more. Were never good enough.

    #2 – Race and “Locks” is a very intricate subject. Any viewpoint in terms of the the appropriate owner/ruler of this trend/style/custom really depends on how far back you are willing to go..and how broad you are willing to look.

    Locks can be found throughout history in just about every race on the planet. If you so choose to go back to when were all primitive hunter/gather types. We all as a whole bore the locks.

    Black Culture and Rastafari where in no way the founders of “Dreadlocks”.

    In some ways it could be interepreted that they did as Rastafari is Jah (Living God) and locks come from God as they are natural to us from birth maybe the term itself but the locks date back since time began.

    Just food for thought here.

    Indian Sadhus have been wearing locks for as long as time has existed.

    Many depictions/ pictures of Native Shamans from Siberia have shown them to grow locks.

    Those whom took the vow of the Nazarite in the bible were not permited to cut there beard or hair. They were not allowed to comb there hair. Hence Locks.

    Jesus, Samson. Even if you Dont believe in the stories or these figures the Vow of the Nazarite absolutely existed over 2000 years ago. Anyone who followed old testament teachings of any race would have followed these traditions.


    It is actually the only true NATURAL from of human hair. Combs that take out the knots in your bedhead every morning were not with us out of the womb. It has been forced on to us by society.

    If your hair is kept clean ( this dosent mean your Pantene Pro V extra moisturizing shampoo) and not combed or torn apart it will lock up no matter what your race. If you grow a beard…do not comb it….shave it…IT WILL LOCK UP NO MATTER WHAT YOUR long as you can grow a beard of course.

    And 1 last note to think about here.

    I hate the fact that every time a white/ASian/Non black has dreads it is unacceptable as it is black hair. Does this mean that all black people should have dreads? Do this mean that the next time you see a black man or woman with a crew cut it is unacceptable as it is a white mans haircut?

    Motive is everything…..I find that even for the kids/youth that put dreads into there hair and cut them out 2 years later…and really only did it to be “cool” That With or without knowing it. The Locks often change whom they are. Not by making them something there not. But by teaching them along the way that there just fine the way they are…from God/ Nature/ However you want to put it. In the end…if the “cool” hair style helped them to study or look into the teachings of Selassie or has in some way helped the to be more conscious beings then good for them.

    Having locks for whatever reason carrys with it a burden.
    Discrimination. Judgement. Harassment. Racism.
    Profiling… amongst many others.

    Rasta endure this to keep there values in the right place. You have to have a strong will and spirit to endure. It clearly shows you the underbelly of how we can be as humans and shows us what not to be. So the next time we judge we think. (consciousness). Anyone with locks is faced with the same cards.

    I am a devout Rasta. My children are Rasta.

    I sometimes am bothered by “youth with Dreads” who dont wash and appear dirty or are drug usrs as it reinforces some stereotypes people have about Rasta. All of which are wrong. AS cleanliness is a major part of our belief. We are also non-drug users as the body is the temple and the temple is the church. We would never defile ourselves like that.

    In the end again. I just hope that some good will come out of it…..hopefully they learn…find there way…and really

    Who am I to judge…..and why do I care so much about others? Maybe I should spend more time looking inside my self rather than outside at others!

    Respect. One Love. InI