Why it’s not OK for white people to have dreadlocks

No, you can’t use the Celts as an excuse

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You’ve probably seen the video of a black woman “assaulting” a white student over his dreadlocks in San Francisco. No doubt you’ve seen Justin Bieber’s unfortunate blonde dreadlocks in recent days. There seems to be confusion about why people are angry. Let me explain why.

In this article, a black man will tell you why white people should not have dreadlocks. This is by no means intended to oppress any white people who reassure me they have Jamaican friends and are avid drinkers of Red Stripe so having dreadlocks surely doesn’t make them an appropriator of black culture.

Having dreadlocks doesn’t mean you are a racist person and sure, you may not have meant to piss people off – but that doesn’t mean that dreadlocks on white people exist in an anti-race vacuum.

Sure, dreadlocks have appeared at different unconnected parts of the world over time – so you may attribute it to Egyptians or Celtic “fairie locks”. But really, the source of its current popularity is largely due to the life and death of Marley and the apparent “humanist” movement he created (NB humanism sort of preaches “we’re all humans”, so sees things such as anti-racism and feminism as holding us back). For some it may even be an appreciation of the Rastafari movement.

Now, I don’t know why white people choose to wear dreadlocks, but there seem to be a few reasons. If you wear them as an appreciation of black culture, then by wearing dreadlocks and perpetuating white privilege as a result then aren’t you actually harming the black diaspora in the UK? If you truly cared for black people and not just our culture you wouldn’t want to wear dreadlocks.

Secondly, if you wear dreadlocks because it “looks cool” then you’re still perpetuating white privilege and you’ve chosen to be ignorant of the significant contemporary history. Finally, if you wear them because you think it symbolises a humanist ideal, then you’ve attached the wrong political meaning to them and instead you’re damaging the anti-oppression movement for which they truly symbolise.

Those are just three reasons I can think of for a why a white person would wear them. Each reason to wear it has its own significance and each one shows appropriation: either by utilising black culture without care for black people, utilising black culture without caring for black history, or utilising black culture yet attributing your own meaning to it (even though it’s both incorrect and damaging).

Unless you want to wear them because your great25 grandfather was a Celt with fairie locks and you want to be just like him, you’re likely wearing it because it looks cool or you think you’re a woke humanist. Either way it lacks appreciation for the oppression of black people in the UK, the US, and across the globe.

Even then, fairie locks aren’t even really dreadlocks. It’s just tangled hair. It’s called fairie locks cos they say a fairy tangled your hair in your sleep – it’s not conscious and not all Celts even deemed it attractive so it doesn’t stand as an argument about cultural sources of dreadlocks.

If you’re wearing them and don’t believe in white privilege and are not doing anything to make yourself an ally to black liberation then it’s appropriation. If you’re wearing dreadlocks and don’t understand that you’ll be seen as ‪#‎edgyleeds or ‪#‎staywoke whereas a black person wearing it will be asked where to buy weed or why their hair so dirty, then its appropriation and white privilege.

I believe in equality and I am an advocate for it. I would love to be able to say “we can all share everything” as if we are equals, but we are not. Appropriating black culture and perpetuating privilege will not get us there. After all, neither Marley nor any Rastafarian would agree with the political (or rather, apolitical) outlooks of many white people with dreadlocks I’ve met.

The intrinsic politics in dreadlocks is that it is a symbol of global anti-racism – which is why it’s a fallacy to use something held dearly to the black liberation movement to perpetuate white privilege.