Sara Klimek

In an Ebony Magazine article titled "Dear White People: Locs are not 'just hair'" Josie Pickens boldly told readers that ‘it is maddening that White people love the culture that we produce so much—whether it be dreadlocks or Drake, but seem ambivalent towards our suffering and what it costs to create such a gorgeous culture in the face constant erasure and hate.’  


Ava DuVernay featured in Essence list of 19 Celebs Slaying in Beautiful Locs

Around the same time the article was published, Justin Bieber responded to critics of his own dreadlocks by saying his locks were ‘just hair’ and not an appropriated style.

But whether the Biebs meant it or not, some people still consider dreadlocks as a form of cultural appropriation—a sociological concept in which elements of a minority culture are adopted by members of the majority culture.  The term has colonial roots and usually comes into the media around Halloween, when white people choose to adorn Native American costumes.

Dreadlocks are no doubt a cultural element for Jamaicans and Kenyans, who dreaded their hair as a revolutionary symbol against  white colonial powers.  At that time, European standards of beauty included long, straight, blonde hair that could neatly be pulled back.  White colonists tried to tame both the hair and spirits of these people through centuries of oppression and racism. But with dreadlocks, African hair seemed wild and untamable;  

A similar reaction ensued when Kylie Jenner posted pictures of her cornrows.  Actor Amandla Stenberg called Kylie out on her ignorance, stating that ‘Jenner’s using her fame to call attention to her hair which mimics Black culture, but not to [call attention to] the racist violence taking Black lives.’  I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time the Kardashians have done something merely on the premise of fame and money (yes, I am alluding to the Pepsi commercial scandal, among other things).

As a cisgender white woman, I don’t think it’s entirely my place to say what ‘is’ and what ‘is not’ when it comes to issues of black culture.  But, remaining a bystander to forms of oppression is no better than being a perpetrator, so I’m going to give my two cents on this one.

Wearing dreadlocks as a white person isn’t necessarily a form of cultural appreciation either. Salty white people are inevitably going to say ‘not letting white people wear their hair how they want is limiting to personal freedom.’  But, if you decide to get dreadlocks, then you should, at the bare minimum, research and know the roots of and ethical consequences that come with adorning dreads.  If you want to support African Americans, get a history lesson or support black causes (e.g. holding law enforcement accountable for their racial biases).   


Everything has meaning.  It’s always important (and intelligent) to remain cognisant and sensitive.


In any case, stating that dreadlocks are ‘just hair’ is a way of oppressing the individual stories and tribulations marginalized people had to face throughout history.  You’re not evil as an individual if you choose to wear dreadlocks, but you have to understand the ethics behind what you’re doing: taking an element of black culture that was used as a symbol of resistance and whitewashing it.

Everything has meaning.  It’s always important (and intelligent) to remain cognisant and sensitive.

If you're looking for some more resources on this topic, I suggest following this link.


Sara is currently a freshman at the University of Vermont with a major in environmental studies.  She's looking at a career in journalism or environmental policy.  Outside of her classes, she’s an editorial intern at bSmart.

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