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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Dreadlocks are not cultural appropriation

Marc Jacobs came under fire for featuring models sporting dreadlocks during New York Fashion Week early September.

Jacobs was criticized on social media for his use of this hairstyle. It’s hard to tell where the line between cultural appropriation and cultural diffusion is drawn, but the black community has made the wrong call here.

Dreadlocks have a history rooted in the African continent beginning with the ancient Egyptians, but not necessarily in the black community.

We can start by addressing the fact that not all countries in Africa identify themselves as African or black. In fact, most Egyptians prefer to be called Arab or Muslim.

Dark-tinted skin does not always mean black. Skin color and ethnicity varied in Africa just as they do now during the time dreadlocks were worn in ancient Egypt.

Dreadlocks can be dated as far back as 2500 B.C. and can be found in different religious documents, such as the story of Samson in the Old Testament of the Bible and the Hindu deity Shiva.

The transition of dreadlocks into mainstream society began with musician Bob Marley, as well as the introduction of Rastafarianism outside of Jamaica.

The history of Rastafarianism, however, is rooted in black culture, but the point of the column isn’t to give you a history lesson. The intent is to show that blacks are subject to cultural appropriation — no matter how hard it is to admit.

African-Americans didn’t create dreadlocks. We appropriated it after it underwent its own round of cultural diffusion in Africa. It would be ignorant to think that cultural appropriation doesn’t happen anymore within U.S diversity.

For instance, much to the consternation of the black community, Kylie Jenner wore a do-rag to NYFW.

For the record, it looked completely ridiculous and it was obvious Jenner didn’t know what it was other than to make herself look “edgy.” Her fashion choice brought cultural appropriation back to the forefront, reminding African-Americans that some things just aren’t sacred anymore.

Most African-Americans don’t know the history of dreadlocks or its meaning to Jamaicans. How can we say it’s cultural appropriation other than knowing it’s a predominantly black hairstyle?

The arguments for why wearing dreadlocks could be seen as cultural appropriation are valid.

Why is it fair that whites wearing dreadlocks are called “chic,” while for blacks it means they either frequently indulge in marijuana or don’t groom themselves?

Case in point: E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic’s comment on Zendaya’s Oscar night hairstyle.

“Zendaya is more high-fashion,” Rancic said. “The hair to me on her is making her a little more boho. Like I feel like she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed.”

Classy. There’s failing to pay homage to a culture and then there’s disrespecting it.

Although Jacobs could have been more elegant in his response to the hairstyle backlash, it shouldn’t have caused as much of an uproar as it did.

The use of dreadlocks on the runway should not be more important than the fight for justice following another spree of police shootings across the country. The U.S. is too diverse to cry out every time another group of people uses something of ours. We have bigger issues at hand.

The blending of cultures is inevitable.

The U.S has been heading towards this cultural diffusion for decades now. While we can demand respect when it comes to our cultures, we cannot claim cultural appropriation for a hairstyle that never belonged to African-Americans to begin with.

Senior staff columnist Caprice Carter is a communication junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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