“Why do you feature non-black couples with dreadlocks?” The answer is complex…

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"Why do you feature non-black couples with dreadlocks?" The answer is complex...
Neon Rainbow Spectrum Dread Wig by Raw In The Woods

I'm a new reader, and what drew me to Offbeat Bride was how wonderfully inclusive it was. You feature LGBT+ couples, plus size people, people of color, and people of different religions (or no religion at all).

I'm honestly a little surprised to see you feature non-black people sporting dreadlocks for their wedding day. I won't go into why this is racist, but let there be no question that it's racist no matter the intent. I just wanted to express how jarring it was to see on such a progressive site.

Thank you for your time and understanding, I look forward to reading your response.

Thanks so much for emailing. You're absolutely right that we work hard to be inclusive on Offbeat Bride, and we've been talking about cultural appropriation since 2011:

So while we're super familiar with the concept of cultural appropriation and share your concerns, we're also extremely cautious about playing Internet cultural appropriation police, for reasons covered in this post.

That post details a situation when an Offbeat Bride reader tried to call out one a featured bride, who the reader felt was culturally appropriating Native American culture. The reader contended that the bride “looked white,” and shouldn't be featuring Native practices in her wedding.

In actuality, the bride was a member of the Lanape tribe.

9323741806 a46eb6dbe7 o alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

You can read the full post if you want but the tl;dr is that we don't see it as our place to look at a picture of a person and assume we know their cultural or ethnic background. 

This issue is complex, and we remain conflicted as to whether the choices we make are best. Our editorial policies may evolve.

Most importantly, thank you for taking the time to contact us. We love having readers who are invested in Offbeat Bride, and who share our values around inclusivity and socially-progressive politics. If you have further thoughts, we'd love to hear more.

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Comments on “Why do you feature non-black couples with dreadlocks?” The answer is complex…

  1. We learn better, and we do better. Maybe I spent too much time in the 90’s, and never considered this. When I met my (super-pale-white) husband, he had dreadlocks down to his butt. He has very tiny curls, and this is just what his hair does when it grows longer than 5cm. It was 2 weeks past Y2K, when I met him, and he had cultivated this hair by sheer neglect over several years, as was customary of several dot-com-boom brats at the time. Neither of us would have considered it cultural appropriation at the time, just giving up actively preventing them from occuring naturally. The point had clearly been missed of how it may have been perceived, rather than how it was intended. It’s too easy for us generic white people to totally miss how something we say or do lands, and we do need it explicitly pointed out, and to get over our entitled feels, and behave better. There is a difference between appropriating respectfully, and appropriating ignorantly. The more you know…

    • “It’s too easy for us generic white people to totally miss how something we say or do lands, and we do need it explicitly pointed out, and to get over our entitled feels, and behave better.”

      Us generic white people?!

      Maybe it’s not that “us generic white people totally miss” anything…maybe it’s that no matter what white people say or do someone, somewhere, calls out racism because it’s a “generic white person” doing the saying or the doing.

      Hasn’t it been a bragging point for America that it’s a melding pot of cultures. Now all of a sudden there is this ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures. This does nothing but support segregation and hinder progress in the world. All it serves to do is to promote segregation and racism.

      • In Canada (where my previously dreadlocked husband and I live) , we have (ideally) more of a cultural mosaic approach, rather than a melting pot one. We encourage our citizens to keep their culture, rather than assimilate in a “melting pot” fashion. And yes, us generic white people have carelessly borrowed whatever we felt like without consideration for how it comes across, and it’s absolutely appropriate to have it called out so we can be aware of it. Someone can call out racism, because it’s taken and used without thought, respect or consideration. Feeling entitled to whatever we like from whomever we like can come across pretty racist.

      • Cultural appropriation involves people of a dominant culture taking what they like from the oppressed culture and using it to their benefit without any of the drawbacks inherent in actually being a part of the oppressed culture.

        In the U.S., white people can wear dreadlocks without being called “ghetto”. It’s seen as stylish when white people co-opt.

        It is an action that supports notions of white supremacy and racism. We, as a country, need to value black lives and black culture before truly mutual cultural exchange can take place.

      • It’s totally not about punishing people or anything like that. You need to reframe this issue in such a way that it isn’t about you because it isn’t. What we people of color are asking is that there be some reciprocal respect and less ignorance about cultural exchange. White hegemonic forces have been in control of dominant western culture literally since the beginning of recorded history and people of color only show up when wbite people decide that they want to be cool. This is not an opinion, this is documented sociological history — I am a PhD student at an R1 University and this is one of my four expertise fields that I will be rigorously tested on en route to my degree. There is a long history of whites taking elements of other cultures — often elements that were originally designed as a way of counter identifying to mainstream white culture (zoot suits, hip hop, dreads, African and Native American textiles, etc) only for it to be reintegrated into the mainstream without any contextual understanding of where that art came from in the first place. It has been used — throughout history — as a way of silencing opposition to the dominant hegemonic cultural status quo. For example, black women originally wore head covers because they were forced to — elaborate hairstyles were an indicator of class status as well as a symbol of eroticism. Black women were forced to cover their hair to exclude them from this form of cultural exchange. Black women were nonetheless creative with the limitations they had and engineered beautiful hairstyles with the onorus head coverings. Now white women — the perpetrators of the original restrictions — have decided to adopt these coverings and styles because they think it’s cute.

        It’s damaging whether people want to admit it or not. I hope this helps make it clear, but I also know that sometimes people just want an avenue to complain about their perceived unfairness. Keep in mind that if you are complaining that it’s unfair that whites should have to be respectful about borrowing from other people’s cultures after thousands of years of imperialism and colonization which we have only just begun recovering from — you sound like a whiner and a hypocrite with no cultural or historical understanding. Don’t be surprised if people treat you with disdain.

      • One example that comes to my mind is yoga.

        There is now “Christian yoga.” But Yoga comes from Hinduism and some of those same people practicing “Christian” yoga are also actively being missionaries trying to wipe out and destroy Hinduism.

        So that’s very hurtful. And I think it’s understandable that some Hindus find it hurtful and offensive when yoga is taught without acknowledgment of its Hindu origin.

        It’s like the west wants to say Hinduism is backwards and heathen and weird, but yeah we’ll take the cool bits while we criticize it. (Of course not all or even many people who practice yoga do this, but people creating “Christian yoga” definitely are).

        Does that make sense?

      • Look, I know there is a “no drama comment policy” but i find it hard to pass idly by the phrase “us generic white people?!”

        My friend, you and I are generic white bread. We may be oppressed in many, varying ways (gender, sexuality, disability…) but that does not negate our part in the perpetuation of white supremacy. We need to actively make room for the voices of PoC — politically, personally, and on comment threads on the Internet.

      • Cultural appropriation goes hand in hand with segregation and racism. When people wear native headdress as costume after decades of genocide and while actively disrespecting and marginalizing the culture, that’s not a step towards post-racial america. That’s perpetuating the same-ole, same-ole. People who partake in another persons culture have special responsibilities to learn about those cultures and advocate for their interests, they certainly shouldn’t dismiss their feelings and accuse them of being racist for asking that folks end the pillaging of minority cultures, lands, bodies. Dreadlocks are on the run way, not one black person was hired as a model; meanwhile its legal for someone to not hire me simply because I wear my hair in dreads – an easy maintenance solution for someone who’s hair wants to knot. That’s cultural appropriation – literally white people making something appropriate when they do it, but unacceptable in its original context… it perpetuates white supremacy because it’s always “white X do it better”.

  2. The history of dreadlocks is not purely African American. Although it is understandable why it is easy to feel cultural ownership of that look, it has been around in many cultures for a very long time, centuries upon centuries. The Ancient Greeks, for one example. So, although cultural appropriation is understandably upsetting, this isn’t necessarily a case of that. This is very different from say, a white person with no Native American roots wearing a chieftain headdress at Coachella, as the Native American headdress is purely historically of that culture.

      • Just because someone is wearing dreadlocks who is not African-American, doesn’t mean that they’re “copying” or culturally appropriating the look from African Americans. Many other cultures have worn that style for a variety of reasons for centuries. Vikings wore that style centuries ago, and many people hold Viking-inspired weddings, and therefore could be wearing dreadlocks in honor of that. They could very well be celebrating something from their own culture if they have Greek, Viking, Buddhist, or many other backgrounds who wore similar styles.
        So, no one should be making negative assumptions about why a non-African American person is wearing dreadlocks.

    • Your point would be valid, but they are appropriating it from black culture. Not any other culture. So it’s irrelevant.

      • How do you know they’re not honoring ancient Greek, Buddhist, or Viking ancestry, all cultures who have been known to wear that look for centuries? And why wouldn’t they be allowed to celebrate or honor their own ancient cultures without judgment, too?

        • Thank you for responding, Tavia. I not only understand but agree with your points, have made your points in other arguments, and again, understand the cultural importance and investment in hair-related issues in the African American community. And white privilege is completely real. But what I’m saying is that this may not be a case of that. Just because a white person may be the subject, it doesn’t mean it is racism or white privilege in every situation. It’s possible it has nothing to do with that from the pov of the bride or groom, who may in fact be celebrating their own culture. I am not saying the feelings of the original complaint are not valid, or worthy. In a lot of cases, they absolutely are. But, I wonder, should we be saying that one culture’s ability to celebrate their history is more important than another? What I see here is one person saying “my culture is more valid and important than that other culture.” And isn’t that exactly what we’ve been banding together to fight against? If you’re lucky enough to feel meaningful cultural ties to your ancestors, should you not be allowed to celebrate that because someone else feels they have ownership for their own reasons? I don’t think we should support cultural rights for one culture, and not others. Everyone should have a right to positively pay homage to their culture’s past or present. That is what I march for, a society that celebrates love and acceptance of differences and similarities, not segregation and judgment.

          • A white person doesn’t decide whether or not it’s white privilege. When white people wear dreads, it’s a privileged act because whiteness makes things seem appropriate. Dreads are artsy on whites, dirty on me. If the Cash Me Ousside girl looked like me, she’d more likely be deemed threatening in society and certainly wouldn’t be rewarded with all of this money she’s getting selling t-shirts. If black girls got a t-shirt for every time they used non-standard english on Maury, we’d cut the wealth gap in half. It’s a free country. But folks aren’t free from criticism and ethics. People have to tow the line between cultural exchange and appropriation and while they can’t do anything about the privilege they enjoy when, they can do something about uplifting those who don’t enjoy those priviledges. And, if you value a culture enough to look like them but not enough to support them, then you are an appropriator and you should own it. And if you claim to pay homage to an ancient culture that shares your skin color while distancing yourself from a contemporary culture that engages in a similar practice then you are definitely are part of the segregation problem. Just saying.

    • I think — and I mean if any PoC in the thread would like to correct me/have the energy to do so, I welcome it as I cannot claim to speak for a group I do not belong to — that the OP’s point isn’t necessarily just “dreadlocks belong to African-American/black culture only,” but instead that “white folks with dreadlocks are complacent in the perpetuation of white supremacy and racism.”

      So yes, other cultures and racial groups have and do continue to wear dreadlocks. But the majority of the cultures I have seen you mention share one thing besides dreadlocks: they’re not groups which inherently benefit from white supremacy.

      Solidarity is important, you’re right. But arguing semantics when someone is from the goodness of their hearts pointing out that something isn’t right is counterproductive. It actually seeks to deepen the divide further than your argument does.

  3. It is just a choice of hairstyle. In the same way many black people replicate traditionally ‘white’ smooth straight hair with weaves and having their hair relaxed. Surely, its because you can and surely choice is a brilliant thing! I am almost absolutely sure (both my husband and myself have had dreadlocks in the past) nobody sporting dreadlocks would even consider it to be a racist statement. Also lets just remember it is just hair!

    • It’s easy to say “it’s just hair” when it’s not your kid being sent home from school and it’s not you getting turned down for jobs because the way your hair grows from your head is “unprofessional.” It’s not such a choosey choice then.

      I’m glad you feel no malice but good intentions don’t let you live in a vacuum free of sociopolitical history.

    • It isn’t actually the same. Many Black people adopt white hairstyles because they are required to in order to be seen as “professional” or “tidy” while natural hair styles are looked down upon. White people are often seen as “artsy” or “edgy” and alternative for adopting traditionally Black hairstyles while Black people are often condemned and seen as “ghetto”. It is legal to fire someone for having natural hairstyles for Black people. In our unequal society it isn’t “just hair”.

  4. I feel like there’s a fundamental confusion between cultural appropriation and racism, and now the words are being used interchangeably to the detriment of both.

    Full disclosure, I’m a 20-something white girl who grew up on the border between poor and middle class in a largely white cultural space, so Your Mileage May Vary with what I’m about to say. Also, I’m saying this in the spirit of open dialogue and trying to come to a mutual understanding.

    Racism, as I was brought up to understand it, is the belief that someone is Less than another person simply because of the color of their skin. We can look to American history, where Blacks and Native Americans (and those of Asian descent beginning in the 1800s) were treated as mentally and physically inferior to Anglo-Saxon whites (a good portion portion of the 1800s on the East Coast saw volatile and violent racism against non-English whites) and actively oppressed to maintain that status quo (and make white people feel justified in that oppression). Today it has taken on a more subtle and insidious identity, sinking from the open into the roots of how we think about others on a subconscious level. Obviously there are nuances and exceptions and I am painting in Very Broad Strokes.

    Cultural Appropriation is a term I never heard until I was an adult, but I was familiar with it on a basic level; it was never “okay” to wear Native American dress or religious symbols because I was taught that doing so was disrespectful, and since where I grew up was close to several reservations that was pretty much the only different-from-my-own culture I was really aware of.

    The idea that cherry picking aspects of a culture for aesthetic appeal when they can have deep religious or civic importance to the mother culture is distasteful and disrespectful, especially when the mother culture has been persecuted for those very same things in the past (such as Indian bindis, Native American war bonnets, Polynesian body tattoos, etc etc)

    However, I don’t think it’s inherently racist. Racism and cultural appropriation often go hand-in-hand, but they are not the same thing, and shouldn’t be treated the same. One can be done out of innocent ignorance, and the other is maintained out of willful ignorance and pride.

    I think, in the end, what it comes down to is not making assumptions about someone based on their outward appearance. Getting angry at a white woman for wearing a Bindi immediately rules out the idea that she may actually be Hindu, or married into a Hindu family and embraced/was embraced by the culture. Getting mad at a man of Chinese decent for wearing dreadlocks rules out the idea that he grew up in an area where that culture was prevalent and relevant and he is expressing his upbringing.

    We can fight all the negative impacts of colonialism, racism, and appropriation and still embrace the amazing qualities that other cultures want to share with us when we come to them in a spirit of humble exploration and respect, because walling people off from each other with a list of Dos and Don’ts based on skin color is very skeevy. It all boils down to the Golden Rule: Don’t be a dick.

  5. “As a publisher, I don’t see it as my place to look at a picture of a person on the internet, and assume I know their cultural or ethnic background and therefore can make judgments about how they’re choosing to express themselves.”

    I really appreciate this comment. I am Mexican American (my father is Mexican), but most people wouldn’t guess this because I am also suuuper white. Many people have made jokes or comments about Mexican people around me without realizing or brought up cultural appropriation because they didn’t realize that it WAS my culture. We all have a responsibility to be culturally sensitive to others and I think this includes not making an assumption based on a photo or what we think someone looks like.

  6. As a Caucasian woman who also happens to be Hindu, cultural appropriation is an issue I deal with all the time.

    It took me years to feel comfortable wearing a bindi even though it has deep religious meaning for me, because I knew the message I was sending to the general public wasn’t the message being received. Almost no one except people who know me looks at me when I’m wearing a bindi and assumes I’m Hindu. Maybe I’m just a hippie, or I’m doing it for fashion or whatever – and I didn’t want to dilute the meaning of that symbol by wearing it.

    Adding to that, now a days even within Indian culture the bindi is worn as a fashion accessory, in contexts completely outside religion. So am I going to get upset with an Indian woman wearing a crystal bindi just because I know and appreciate the religious meaning of it? Something tells me that wouldn’t go over well.

    But I am Hindu and it is important to me and I do sometimes wear it in public these days. It’s a constant back and forth.

    I appreciate Ariel’s take on this – you really have no idea these days how someone is connected to the cultural and religious items they wear.

    I think the best way to handle these things if they really bother you is to approach someone politely, complement them on their tattoo/bindi/hair style/kimono etc. and then ask them about what it means to them. If they really are just doing it for the sake of fashion, you’ll find out really quick. And if they aren’t, you’ve just learned something interesting about that person’s life.

  7. I’m a white woman in my 50’s and have been wearing my hair in dreadlocks for well over 30 years. To be honest, while I’m trying to constantly evolve, educate myself and challenge my biases, it’s become a big part of what I consider “me” and would have a very hard time cutting them off.

    I came of age in the late 70’s, when excitement from the civil rights movement was starting to die off in the midst of the oil crisis and hard economic times, and then Reagan got elected and that was a huge blow for the world we were dreaming of building. I felt like keeping my dreadlocks was a tiny radical act defying beauty standards imposed by whites and men.

    Then I was a high school science teacher in the 80’s and 90’s in an inner-city district, and while I got a some flack from some of my principals, it always led to wonderful conversations with my students that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

    Throughout my teaching career and then being a foster mother to 34 children (and adopting 4), I’ve felt that my appearance has contributed to people of all walks of life to feel able to feel comfortable and confide in me, in the absence of any judgement.

    I’ve experienced very tense situations involving social workers and birth parents, where the latter suddenly relax at the sight of me for, I suppose, representing something other than a threat to them.

    I’m not writing this as a pat on the back, I just want to offer a perspective of a middle-aged hippie who loves people and her community, and happens to have a huge head of dreadlocks which my teenage kids (none of which are white), would probably have a heart attack over if I cut off.

  8. In this specific instance, there is a big glaring issue. Black people use dreading as a protective measure for their hair. It takes hours and must be maintained, moisturized and VERY clean. White people don’t ‘loc’ and have never ‘loced’ their hair in history because their hair is so fine (read: thin and generally straight). Celts may have had a similar style but it was do to being dirty a lot and fighting/farming. Cultural appropriation is a sticky subject, but dread locks are not up for debate when it’s used by white people to perpetuate that black people are “dirty” and therefore less.

    tl;dr: White people don’t “dread” their hair the way black people do and it is appropriation.

    • Who are you to say a white looking person is just a white person? That’s the editors point. Unless you know their family tree you cannot.

      • Because Locing is involved with thicker hair types. People with 4C hair, generally. Thin hair isn’t kinky and thick enough to do that without there being an added element of oils or grease involved.

        • Don’t be ridiculous. White people can have thick, curly, coarse hair that dreads naturally, the same way black people’s hair does. Not every white person has fine, straight hair!

        • I’m lily white (mostly Irish) but my curly hair will start locking within 3 days if I’m not careful with it. I don’t have dreadlocks and never have, I’m mostly just here to hear everyone’s opinions, but your thought that white hair can’t dreadlock naturally is false.

    • “Celtic” hair is actually prone to being very thick and very curly, the kind of hair in fact that naturally gives itself to being worn in that style. It is no more due to being “dirty” or “fighting/farming” (I was meant to read ‘uncivilized’ there, right?) than it is when black hair is worn in dreadlocks.
      tl;dr: before you speak to others about their ignorance and prejudice, consider your own.

      • Did… did you just say I was racist against white people by calling them dirty and saying that they fought and farmed? What I’m saying is that Celts don’t wear their hair like that anymore for a reason.

        Also, there’s a difference between systematic oppression like racism and being judged for being white.

        In your post, you mention that your boyfriend was looked down upon in India, even though he is half Indian just because he has a light skin tone. That is not racism because the people who judged him believed he is of a group they would consider oppressors. It’s unfair for them to do that, but there is no such thing as reverse racism. Racism has to “punch down”. Colorism is a big deal in black communities (i.e. lighter skinned versus darker skinned people).

        It’s cruel to think, especially in America, that black people, who are murdered by police, killed by angry whites, and are generally seen as lesser people, only want to keep dread locks to themselves because of some hatred toward white people. Black people literally get fired, or not even hired for jobs because of several of their protective hairstyles. Up until recently (like the last month), black women had to have their hair relaxed just to be in the military. To serve their country!

        Your anger toward my comment just confuses me because you seem to really care about the subject, being Celt and having a mixed decent boyfriend. But can I asked if you’ve ever looked at a hair chart? Just to see how hair types are different?

        I used to think like you, my feminism was very open and people should be able to do whatever they want. But that stepped on people’s toes. It literally took a black friend of mine to stop my own boyfriend from dreading his hair and she explained to me and him how it worked on black hair, how much time and effort was involved and how the stereotype associated with whites with loced hair negatively effected black people with loced hair.

        I’m constantly looking at my own prejudices, I wonder in every interaction I have with a poc if I’m doing or saying things that are offensive. It doesn’t make me a good conversation partner, mind you, but it does make me feel like I’m doing at least the bare minimum to make people who feel and are attacked, just a little more comfortable.

        I guess what I’m saying, is that I know that black people find this offensive, and I’m going to listen to their ideas on the subject.

        • Sorry, I mixed up you and the other person who commented, so ignore that. That’s my bad. My points still stand though.

        • Half of your post seems to have confused me with another poster, so I won’t address those comments. Except to say that, being Irish (not Irish-American), I do have a fairly firm grasp of what post-colonialism looks and acts like – it’s not particularly pretty.
          Even taking those comments not intended for me away, you seem to have read a great deal of intent into my words that I didn’t place there. I didn’t even give my opinion of white people wearing dreadlocks.

          But the only intent I had when I posted my comment was to correct your assertion that European hair is fine, thin and straight. No, it isn’t always.
          Also, quite frankly, I was a bit shocked that you had done in one ‘breath’ did what you, in the next ‘breath’, condemned others for doing.

          • What I’m trying to accomplish saying, and apparently not doing it so well, is that when you say that you can’t judge a person by their color because you don’t know who they are, how do you then stop those who are using dreads inappropriately?

            What do I say to all those white boys in college who worship Bob Marley, and the weed symbols, when that’s not what Bob Marley was really about and those people have no right to act that way? I think we should know ourselves if we are of that culture. Obviously not always from the above example, but if I call someone out for being appropriative and I am wrong, they will correct me, I will apologize and we can move on. But if I have locs and a black person calls me out and I do nothing, I have perpetuated oppression.

            And I still don’t know anyone of Celtic decent who locs their hair today because of their heritage.

          • Aderin asks: “how do you then stop those who are using dreads inappropriately?”
            Who am I to decide who’s using them inappropriately? What gives me the authority to decide who’s ‘black enough’? Or to decide what other reasons may or may not be valid enough?
            The truth is that, despite having lived in the US for over 35 years, including my entire adult life, the intricacies of American race relations are sometimes entirely too intricate for me – I’ll let those with more of a stake decide what is and isn’t acceptable, they don’t need me sticking my nose in and deciding for them.

            I don’t actually know anybody “of Celtic descent” because Celtic is not an ethnicity it’s a cultural and linguistic designation. Cultures and languages that exist today, not just in some misty past. (Pet peeve.)
            Having said that, the only Europeans I’ve personally known with dreads have been Icelandic and of a decidedly Heathen flavour. Which seems reasonable enough to me.

        • Not every white person is just European or has just European hair. You can’t say just because someone has white skin they have white hair. One of my besties has bright red “black” hair. She wears it naturally in a glorious red afro, she just happens to have got her Irish father’s colouring while being exactly like her mother in every other way including thick hair. Culture is more than skin deep, that’s the editors and my point. You can’t look at someone’s face and call them racist and tell cultural appropriation because of their skin tone.

          • I’m going to assume from your letter, your friend is mixed half white, half black, but if I’m wrong, let me know.

            If she wanted to loc her hair, then she would be well within her rights to do so. Because she is of the culture. I’m sure she would get some flack, because of her light skin, but she would correct neigh-sayers and have the high ground. But she is not the norm. If someone told her she shouldn’t have dreads, she could say, my mother is black and this hairstyle protects my hair from damage.

            But when white people would see her, they would think she was cool, or enlightened, probably a feminist or a lesbian. Frowned upon, but they wouldn’t not hire her for a job.

            If her skin were darker, they would see a “ghetto” girl, probably poor with a “baby daddy”. She get the privilege of being who she wants to be because she is light skinned.

            The fact that the editor was a raver and wore and was around white people with dreadlocks for many years, may skew the thought that this is just something else to be agreeable on with the (what seems to be) overall white readership.

            I’m taking my ques from my black friends. If that means I’m somehow judging and oppressing light-skinned people I don’t know, let those people tell me I’m wrong and I will listen to them.

          • A woman above, mixed race specifically thanks the editors for not judging her culture based on her pale skin. Do you really think that pale skin people of mixed race must ignore their culture because they are “lucky” to be pale. Smh. That’s just unbelievable. Btw. My partner read those comments and was disgusted but I can’t write his words here.

        • In your post, you mention that your boyfriend was looked down upon in India, even though he is half Indian just because he has a light skin tone. That is not racism because the people who judged him believed he is of a group they would consider oppressors. It’s unfair for them to do that, but there is no such thing as reverse racism. Racism has to “punch down”. Colorism is a big deal in black communities (i.e. lighter skinned versus darker skinned people).

          I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this. India is a country with a long and complex history, of which colonial oppression makes up a relatively short period. Prejudice against people of different ethnicities, classes and castes, especially where intermarriage is involved, both pre-and post-dates the colonial period. You’re right that colourism is involved (again, colourism existed in India prior to the colonial period) but there’s a marked difference in the treatment of Indian people with pale skin and mixed race people with pale skin. Like a lot of former colonies, India has actively worked to remove the vestiges of white privilege from its society, and while a mixed race person may serve as a reminder of oppression, they are not someone in a position to oppress.

          (there’s a whole interesting thing about how applying the concept of white privilege universally is actually a holdover of racism in itself, because part of the colonial narrative was about erasing the history of power and privilege in the colonised countries to imply they were blank slates waiting to for a guiding hand – it’s one of the significant differences in the way racism manifests in North America versus Britain and its former empire)

    • I am gobsmacked that you would, literally, state that any white person with dreadlocks had them “…do to being dirty a lot and fighting/farming.” What is the matter with you?

  9. I am of Celtic origin. The Celts were known to wear dreadlocks. I don’t have dreads but how can it be called racism and cultural appropriation for someone with a cultural history like mine to wear dreadlocks?
    Then the argument becomes really sticky when you look at my boyfriend, he is as white as fresh snow, he looks completely European, just like his father but he also happens to be half Indian complete with speaking Hindi. The racism and yes it is racism he has faced because he looks white but is actually half Indian is never-ending. The way he gets treated in India is mind boggling, especially when you see how it changes when he is with his mum and suddenly people can see the similarities and realise he too is Indian.

    The editors are right. You cannot just look at someone, decide what race they are based on their physical attributes and then declare then racist because while plenty of cultural appropriation goes on the fact is people physically are just to varied to be able to judge correctly using skin colour alone.

  10. I would just like to impart my own experience of people with dreadlocks, just to show how it can affect people who otherwise never really had an opinion on them one way or another.

    I don’t have dreadlocks, I have never personally known anyone who wears them (black or white). However, I remember sitting down in a movie theater with my family and a white person with dreadlocks sat down in front of us. At first I thought, “oh, that’s different.”

    And then I got a whiff of their smell. Their hair STANK, it was absolutely disgusting and if there had been any other seats left I would have moved to get away from them. It distracted me through the whole movie and left me with a seriously negative impression of dreadlocks as a whole.

    Now, I have never encountered a black person with dreadlocks who smelled like that, and I eventually noticed “black person with dreads=not smelly,” while “white person with dreads=probably smelly,” but that experience very definitely influenced my view of that hairstyle and the people who wear it from uninterested to unfair.

    This is not meant to be a judgement on anyone who wears dreadlocks, but a reminder to be mindful of how what you do can affect others longterm.

    • I went to Humboldt State University, a VERY liberal college (it’a a hippie holdout, and it knows it, and it’s proud of that fact) and had this exact experience. Growing up, I knew darker-skinned people who had dreads and they were well-groomed. Then I went to this college and there were a ton of white folks with dreads that looked ratty and nasty, and smelled. (Though to be fair, there was an extreme lack of hygiene, so it may not have been whatever they were doing with their hair, but the lack of bathing. deoderent, etc.)
      I suppose that’s why I have a hard time equating the two- to me, dreadlocks are the gnarly gat’s nest things my no-bathing pale classmates were proud of. But the tight-curl/braid/sleeker/maintained dreadlocks I experienced previous to that is just hair. (Maybe that’s because nobody ever told me the cultural significance of dreads as opposed to just having that natural curl?)

  11. It’s worth nothing in this conversation that Ariel is a white woman who wore dreadlocks for many years. Perhaps her inability to deal effectively with cultural appropriation as it relates to white folks with dreads is a personal one and not about the “internet.”

    • I remember reading that in the book and being shocked by it. I still came back to the site (obviously), but I took it all with a grain of salt.

    • Or perhaps she actually means what she said and it’s a bit unfair to assume that she’s deceiving herself?

  12. Even up in little cold Norway we have a history of dreadlocks, only they were called ‘troll-locks” or ” hulder-locks” ( pagan times). And they had never (or very very seldom) seen black people before, so it is not something they borrowed from another culture either.

    So even I, white with blond hair could proudly wear dreadlocks and say that it is part of my culture.

    Maybe the world would be a more peaceful and harmonious place if people learned more about different cultures before shouting out about racism

  13. I am white, with thick, coarse, curly hair. It’s not “black” hair, but is closer to that than what people consider “white” hair. Often I have the front part of it corn-rowed for practical reasons. Not one black person has ever batted an eyelid, let alone called it cultural appropriation – in fact, it’s always been black people who have done it to my hair. These are a variety of people from a variety of African countries, just the kind of people who could potentially take offence, but they never even hinted at it.

    My boyfriend is also not black, but is a mix of multiple races. He is part Mauritian, so his hair has some “black” qualities, as well as some Asian qualities. He has long hair and usually has all of it corn-rowed and plaited. He’s not technically black, so is that racist?

    Not to mention, dreadlocks are what hair often does naturally if left to its own devices, and so can be considered part of any culture where the people have hair past a certain length! True some sensitivity is sometimes needed, but it’s just as racist to make sweeping generalisations about who is allowed a certain way of wearing their hair and why.

  14. Dreads, while the name is new, are not a new thing. Nor are they exclusively African American. Cultures from the Celts to the Vikings, to the Egyptians to India have dreaded their hair. There are a lot of cultural appropriation things that are in fact such a thing. However this is not one of them.
    Heck it’s even found in some breeds of dog, so it’s not even unique to HUMANS.
    It evolved as a way to deal with long hair before things like soap or shampoo were common and water was more important to drink than bathe in.

    • Dogs do not have a history of cultural oppression — well they do, but not in the same way as humans.

      • I think Rosalie’s point was that dreadlocked hair is so ubiquitous that it’s not the sole domain of any particular species, let alone culture.

        • BS. There is a cultural history of this phenomena among humans and other humans should be aware of it. A Puli with fur that appears to be dreaded is not wearing dreadlocks. Do actual research on the subject instead of pulling out a bunch of random ideas that you saw once on the internet. Or, be respectful and listen to someone of a different culture when they tell you you’re being disrespectful.

  15. I am VERY mixed race. Admittedly, my mother’s ancestors are 50% northern german with one english grandfather, and the rest of the Sami people and Canadian First Nations, but on my father’s side there is very little “white” blood. My paternal grandmother’s father was african american and her mother cherokee. My paternal grandfather’s family is an amalgamation of several indian tribes forced into Oklahoma, black, one dark-skinned (we have pics) Indian from india, and one lone german immigrant.

    My father turned out looking like a surfer, light blonde, slightly wavy, soft hair and perpetually “tan” skin, despite his parents both having thicker black hair. His sister, my aunt, has kinky black hair she wears super short and porcelain white skin. My mom has peachy skin, dark but still distinctly auburn hair, and native facial features.

    I have extremely light strawberry-blonde, fine hair and fair skin that never tans. One brother has golden blond hair and the same skin. One brother has white blonde, kinky hair and depending on the season either khaki colored or very dark skin indeed. My last brother is a traditional ginger. We all have northern european/nordic looking facial features.

    I look, so I guess I am, very white. BUT, genetically I’m mostly Native American/Canadian/Sami, and genetically as black as I am white-european.

    I understand the argument that perception by the public affects the relative meaning of style symbols. I really do. But, my brother will always be dark skinned, darker than most light-skinned black people. And, if he doesn’t keep his hair extremely short, given our universally oily, acne prone skin, it’s either cleanish dreads or a particularly dirty looking but “natural” style for him. So he looks totally trustafarian. He doesn’t really have a choice.

    My siblings and I get the social benefits of being “white” when we come from a different culture and our cousins are “black”. What are we supposed to do? What would the OP and her supporters have us do? I don’t mean this in a whiny way, I’m actually curious.

  16. I’m black and I think that saying who or who cannot wear a certain hairstyle is a very slipper slope. What if all the Rastafarians were to say “we’re the ones who really started this thing, and anyone else is appropriating our culture”. Culture isn’t just about skin color, its about shared life experiences. We can’t just look at someone’s skin color and say “how dare they”. It’s that person’s right to have their hair as they want and being upset at that itself is racist.
    Yes, people can be denied jobs or fired for their hairstyles but that’s not limited to black people. Anyone with dreadlocks can be fired by their employer.

  17. Why is this still a discussion? So many people have replied and named cultures apart from african cultures where dreadlocks were a part of their culture. As I have commented earlier, I am norwegian and I doubt Norway was full of black people in the viking-era, but even we have a history of dreadlocks ( google marelokk), there is even a painting of King Christian IV from Denmark in the 1500 who has dreadlocks, they were supposed to protect against illnesses and bring love. Many african american in Denmark at that time, so the king “stole” that hairstyle? No, I think not.

    So why do you still insist that it is ONLY black people who has the right to wear dreadlocks and no one in the whole world ever had dreadlocks apart from african culture, when a little cultural research show that it is not true?

    I am not american and will never understand the White and Black and what you can and cannot do as White or Black and do you identify you as White or Black, why do you care so much? Lets just be people and love each other.

  18. I think there are two problematic areas around white people with dreads:

    Firstly, that though dreads appear in a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities, pretty much only black people are prejudiced against for having them. This seems to be especially pronounced in North America, where most non-black people with dreads are disconnected from other dread-having cultures, and therefore are primarily appropriating the hairstyle while being disconnected from the prejudice that surrounds it.

    (As an aside, I’d be really interested in knowing what people from countries in the Caribbean or Africa think about white people with dreads, where natural hair is the norm. In the UK dreads are less loaded because natural hair is more common than in the US, but it’s still a privilege issue that more people should be conscious of. I had a Finnish friend with dreads who wore them because that was part of her culture as a Finn, but the people around her often assumed she’d appropriate the hairstyle from black British culture because she lived in the UK)

    Secondly, that expecting people like Laura’s friend to spend their time justifying themselves and educating people about being mixed race is a common form of prejudice against mixed race people that also needs to be called out. You wouldn’t tell a trans people it was their duty to educate strangers about their appearance, so why is it okay if it’s a race issue?

    So I support Ariel’s stance on this: on balance, demanding people submit their ethnic origins alongside their weddings is a form of oppression that, to me, is a step on from cultural appropriation in terms of harming individuals. If someone comes forward and says “I’m wearing dreads/a bindi/a headdress etc because I feel a super special snowflake connection to this culture I’m involved in oppressing” then yes, that submission absolutely shouldn’t be accepted. But playing guessing games with people’s ethnicities is a step too far, imo.

  19. A friend of mine in college had super thick, coarse, flaming red hair that she wore in dreadlocks. She liked the look. It had nothing to do with her culture or any other culture. Same deal with a kid I went to high school with. He’s white and had dreadlocks from the time we were about fifteen. I don’t see the big deal. It’s a hairstyle, it doesn’t “belong” to a certain culture. It may have originated in certain cultures, or be more popular in certain cultures, but that doesn’t mean people outside those cultures shouldn’t be allowed to wear it if they want to.
    Sometimes I feel like cultural appropriation is just people being super touchy for no reason. I’m Irish, would I get pissed off if someone who was not Irish sported a claddagh ring? No. It’s a ring style. It may have cultural meaning for some and to others it might just be a cool looking ring. My point is, let’s just all chill out and let people be into what they’re into regardless of what culture it comes from.

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