Dreadlocks – Belonging To Who?

Here is a link to the video this post will cover, followed by a dialogue of the interaction (to the best of my ability to hear and understand what was said):

Student 1: “You’re saying that I can’t have a hairstyle because of your culture? Why?”

Student 2: “Yes, because it’s my culture. Do you know [what bugs me]?”

Student 1: “Do you know it was in Egyptian culture? Are you Egyptian? Nah man, you’re not.”

Student 3: “Are you Egyptian?”

Student 1: “No.”

Student 2: “Are you Egyptian?”

Student 1: “No, but it doesn’t matter.”

Student 2: “Wait, where’s Egypt? Tell me?”

Student 1: “You know what girl…”

Student 2: “Where’s Egypt? Tell me?”

*student 2 grabs student 1, student 1 tries to get away*

Student 1: “You have no right to tell me what I cannot wear.”

Student 2: “Where’s Egypt?”

Student 1: “Huh?”

Student 2: “Where’s Egypt?”

*student 2 tries to block student 1 from leaving*

Student 1: “Yo girl, stop touching me right now.”

Student 2: “Come back.”

*student 2 grabs student 1’s hand*

Student 1: “Get off of me.”

Student 2: “Come back. Come back. Come back. If you put your hands on me, don’t put your hands on me.”

Student 1: “You’re gonna start some shit because of what hair I have? That’s no reason, yo. I don’t need your disrespect. I don’t need your disrespect.”

Student 2: “Come back.” *to filmer* “Why you filming this?”

Filmer: “For everyone’s safety.” [End Video]

Bob Marley
Bob Marley with dreadlocks

The above is the transcript from a video taken by a bystander watching a confrontation between a white man sporting dreadlocks and a black woman addressing his hair style. The exchange sparked controversy and a discussion about cultural appropriation of all subcultures into mainstream American culture (e.g. dreadlocks, Native American stories [the anger over J.K. Rowling’s work about magic in America using Native American stories/culture], etc.).

For those who do not know: Cultural Appropriation is  assimilating one culture into a mainstream culture. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:

Cultural – of or relating to a particular group of people and their habits, beliefs, traditions.

Appropriate – to take or use (something) especially in a way that is illegal, unfair, etc.

Dreadlock: a narrow ropelike strand of hair formed by matting or braiding (term “dreadlock” origins are in the 1960s).

So when an Americans wears dreadlocks (which originated from another culture), that American is a culprit of Cultural Appropriation. Whether it is illegal/unfair/etc. is what you as the reader must determine.

A Kouros sculpture sporting dreadlocks from Greece, dated between 8th-5th century B.C.E.

History: Below is a brief history that can be found simply by googling, which breaks down dreadlock usage in history by culture/empire. Remember though, the term ‘dreadlock’ was not used until the 1960s, according to Merriam-Webster:

Ancient Greek: Sculptures were crafted with dreadlocks (started ~8th century B.C.E.).

Two sadhus (Hindu holy people) sporting dreadlocks, or what is referred to as jata, which dates back ~6th century B.C.E.

Hinduism: Sadhus/Sadhvis (Hindu holy men/women) wore dreadlocks to express profane vanity as part of their religious beliefs (Hinduism was founded from the ~6th century B.C.E. to the 4th century B.C.E.

Buddhism: Apparently some sects of Buddhism wear dreadlocks to let go of vanity.

Christianity: Samson (judge of the Israelites from the Book of Judges) usually wears dreadlocks. His weakness was his 7 dreadlocks, and he died when they were removed.

The following groups/peoples/countries in Africa sport dreadlocks: Maasai people wear hair in long, thin strands; Shamans; Yoruba priests of Olokun; Kenyan Turkana people; Ghana.

Jamaica: believed to have received dreadlocks from the slave trade originating from India.

As is apparent from above: many cultures and regions have worn dreadlocks for a myriad of reasons throughout all epochs of history. So the question becomes: who does dreadlocks really belong to? Was it right for the black person to confront the white person about his dreadlocks on the claim that dreadlocks belong to her culture?

To Support the Accuser:

  • Some black people feel a cultural connection with dreadlocks and do not want people of other cultures appropriating their culture.
  • With a history of their people being oppressed, some black people may feel that a white person wearing dreadlocks is another thing taken from their culture.
  • One of the first large uses of dreadlocks in the Americas was the Caribbean area because of slave trade, which people use to attribute dreadlocks belonging to Caribbean culture. Thus the start of dreadlocks is often seen as having origins in the Caribbean.
  • Some people wear dreadlocks as a spiritual conviction.

To Support the Accused:

  • As he said, she is getting angry over a hairstyle.
  • Dreadlocks belonged to many cultures, not just black cultures or Caribbean cultures.
  • Hairstyles are shared between cultures, as are fashions.
  • Nobody can claim dreadlocks as their culture because the style started almost 3 millennium ago.

Summary: Student 2 feels that her culture is being stolen, and student 1’s feels that dreadlocks do not belong to any specific current culture; it is difficult in determining who is correct given the wide usage of dreadlocks and the long history of the hairstyle.

Disney’s Captain Jack Sparrow sporting dreadlocks.

Even today we are seeing dreadlocks used in pop culture, from Bob Marley (pictured at top) to Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s high-grossing film franchise. Dreadlocks are growing in American culture, being worn by people of multiple races and cultural backgrounds. A white kid I went to school with began wearing dreadlocks in our senior year and still wears them years later, and nobody said anything about it.

Did the girl have a right to accuse the boy of Cultural Appropriation? Is the boy wrong for wearing dreadlocks? Is it his freedom to wear whatever hairstyle he wants? Is Cultural Appropriation acceptable in certain circumstances?


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