Glenn Beck and White Cultural Appropriation

Twice in my life I have had the hairstyle known commonly as “dread locks.”  The first time my friend Becca helped me form them, and they were DISGUSTING.  The wax that I used to help hold them insulated the hair, and they were greasy, and I am pretty sure they smelled of mildew.  The second set was much better.  I simply stopped washing my hair and helped form the natural tangles into locks, rolled them, and sometimes put stupid stuff like shells and beads into them.  I have to admit . . . I think the second set looked pretty good.  I actually had plans to let them grow for a very long time so that I could be one of those hip white folks with nice “dreads” that can look oh-so-sexy.  Then my friend Brian, a pretty awesome, anti-racist white dude, got me thinking.  He mentioned once that white people having “dread locks” might be kind of racist and that I should look into it.  So I did . . .

I came across a pamphlet and some other readings that explained how incredibly problematic it can be for white people to wear their hair in this particular style (as well as in “mohawks”).  Basically, here’s the deal.  “Dread locks” refer to a style of hair from the Afro-Caribbean tradition that is a direct form of resistance by black people to white supremacy and white standards of beauty.  The term “dread locks” actually refers to how black folks in Caribbean nations were often referred to by the white slave owners as the “dread people” because they were seen as dreaded and lowly.  The act of “locking” one’s hair was in resistance to white standards of beauty and white oppression that told black people of the Caribbean that they were not beautiful and that they needed to wear their hair a certain way.

So why is it problematic for white people to wear their hair as “dread locks?”  Well, to understand this, it is important that we understand the concept of cultural appropriation.  I like the definition for appropriation that the pamphlet linked above uses.  It defines appropriation as, “The act of making use of without any authority or right.”  The basic idea of cultural appropriation is when a group (usually the dominant group in society, though not always) takes aspects of another person’s culture without permission and adopts it as part of its own, often without recognition to the roots and history of the cultural tradition in question.

White people are pro at cultural appropriation . . . You see, part of the problem with whiteness, the social construction of the white race in our society, is that it doesn’t just hurt people of color.  Tim Wise describes it well in his book White Like Me, and I shall paraphrase, when he basically says that in order to become white, people of Irish or Jewish or Italian or Czech (the list goes on and on) heritage who have light skin have to give up their culture in order to become white.  To be white in the United States is essentially to be without ties and roots to one’s culture of origin.  After all, had the Irish not given up those ties, it is entirely possible that they would still be seen as less than white and thus deserving of a backseat on this societal bus.

Thus, we white folks have only nominal connection to our culture . . . maybe we eat the foods or occasionally celebrate a festival, but we are now culturally without a culture.  We are culturally white.  So . . . we steal other people’s culture.

Examples of White Cultural Appropriation:

White Dread Locks

New-Age White Shamanism

White Appropriation of Jazz Music

Camp Use of Native American Culture/Symbols

White use of Hip Hop music, culture, and language

Appropriating Historically/Culturally-Significant Events

It is the epitome of white privilege to not have to think about the historical or cultural significance of those things we want as our own.  We simply take them.  There are countless examples throughout history, and I was saddened to see an example on such a large scale on Saturday, August 28, 2010: Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 47 years after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in that very location.  It is the epitome of white privilege to be confronted with the fact that you have planned your conservative rally on the anniversary and in the same location as Dr. King’s speech and to say, “I didn’t know” but to consider it “providence.”  When prominent black leaders question this decision, you scoff at them.

Is Glenn Beck racist for hosting his rally on that day in that location?  No . . . (though some of the other things he says make me wonder).  However, what is racist is to simply shrug off the “coincidence” and call it “providence, ” thus appropriating the significance of the date and location for you and your cause.  It is counter-productive to speculate as to whether or not “Dr. King would be so proud” of those hosting the rally, and it is counter productive to claim that the rally is in no way racist because Dr. King’s neice, Alveda King, or other conservative black leaders spoke at the rally.  The point is that Beck’s attitude and decision to host the rally parades his white privilege.  The fact that all throughout the rally, people (and in most of the video I have seen, white people) were invoking Dr. King and who they think he was and what they think he stood for only proves the point.  This rally, which is divorced from Dr. King’s message of racial justice, was invoking the words, the message, even the actual event that means so much to so many people of color in this country in a deliberate act of cultural appropriation.

Thus, while the rally itself may not have been racist, the very act of holding the rally in the manner and location in which it was held reeks of white privilege and, by extension, racism.  Just as I, at first, reacted so defensively to charges that my hair style stood for anything more than my own self expression, Beck, Palin, and the others at the rally insist . . . this rally is about nothing more than restoring honor to this country (read subtext: which has been dishonored by our socialist, foreign-born, Muslim, liberation theologist, white-people-hating, president and his followers, and we need to restore our country to what our founding fathers intended, founding fathers who were all white men, many of whom owned slaves and who founded this country as a male-and-white-supremacist aristocracy).  Further, the rally represents a wider climate of fear that white people are displaying, whereby whites are afraid that before long, they will no longer be those in power, that they will no longer be the norm, that they no longer will set the cultural mores and traditions.  Frankly, they “want their country back.”

Hey Glenn . . . your privilege is showing.


27 thoughts on “Glenn Beck and White Cultural Appropriation

  1. I liked this post a lot, and in particular how it got me thinking about other possible realities. What’s incredibly interesting is my own inability to imagine a optimistic vision for the US in which cultural appropriation didn’t occur.

    While I wholeheartedly support your arguments that we need to fight against white privilege, hate and fear-inspired “conservative” extremism, and monoculturalism, I’m not convinced by my understanding of what the other reality would actually be like. For example, what would it really look like to participate in a non culture as a white girl? If whites were to stop appropriating culture and actually desert practices that are being used “without any authority or right,” then what would we have left? Who would I be?

    If we have a radical culture shift in the US, I am not convinced it will necessarily be for the better. I’m not sure an opposite dichotomy would be our nation’s savior. If we whites won’t have our privilege, what WILL we have? Groups of “white people” who will equally celebrate non-wite living yet not participate in it? Groups of people who shun “white people” for their history of cultural thievery and lack of inherent traditions and rites? Is this me participating in a “culture of fear” …or a natural fear of the unknown?

    I believe that when we are able to tangibly imagine a different and better reality, en masse as a culture, we might take the necessary steps to reach it. However, while we are still discussing these issues in intellectual spaces only, it becomes difficult for many people (myself included) to understand the case against appropriations like white dreads and hip hop, Native American camp symbols and Shamanism–and nothing can or will change. It’s one thing to point out the flaws and wrinkles in our society, and it is another thing entirely to smooth them out.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on what society will be like when the white man falls from grace…

    • I love the post! It brings up a lot of the tough questions about “What Next?” I think that is one of the biggest struggles in getting white people on board in imagining a new racial reality. Our society is built by white people and, by-in-large except for a few changes in recent years, for white people, and thus it is hard to build from something we can’t imagine.

      I’ll start by saying that I don’t think we should be working for an “opposite dichotomy” (which implies that then white folks are disadvantaged the way that people of color are by white privilege today). Instead, I think we need to be working for a system that is built on justice, whereby people don’t need to give up their culture (and hence appropriate other cultures) in order to gain entrance to the dominant culture nor where anyone is disadvantaged by a system being fundamentally built on privilege for some and not others.

      To me, rather than being scary or unnerving, the idea of wondering “who would I be” without a culture of whiteness is exciting because it means that all people will have agency within their identity. As white people, you have to give up your agency because you have a TINY box of whiteness to fit into (in the same way as masculinity and heteronormativity are restricting). I think that one of the reasons that white people appropriate is that we see creative agency in those who can maintain cultural tradition simply because whiteness demands that we give up a cultural tradition from which creative agency can stem.

      Instead of shunning white folks for our cultural thievery while participating in it, we can work to build a more positive racial paradigm that is based on relationships and sharing rather than appropriation. One of the problems with appropriation is that it comes without legitimacy. A few years ago, I was touring with a white hip hop group, and a professor of color from my school challenged me and by extension them. He asked, “Are they part of a community of hip hop artists who are rooted in the cultural tradition? If so, is this relationship healthy and not tokenizing?” That got me thinking. Cultural sharing has a great potential for being healthy. Thus, Jazz, as an example, has a potential to bridge racial divides when it is nurtured in a healthy context of anti-racist relationships. The history of Jazz appropriation, instead, is one of, “Hey, I like how that sounds, and I can play the trumpet, so I am going to do it too.” Does that make sense? Instead of seeing the new paradigm as one of “giving up,” we have the potential to build something new based on “yes, and . . . ”

      One of the coolest things that I have seen in my work in anti-racism is the way that these discussions are actually moving out of intellectual spaces and into relationship building in communities. The problem, though, is that the United States is now more segregated than before Brown v. Board (literally . . . our schools are less multi-cultural than before the landmark decision). Thus, there are not many spaces for positive cultural sharing that is healthy rather than based in distrust and fear, and in turn, it is harder to imagine a new reality (as you describe).

      As I always come back to, the answers are in introspection first (understanding our own cultural and racial history, baggage, and offerings) followed by healthy relationship building. In this case, it is my opinion that the relationship building should be two-fold. White folks like you and I need to be having awesome and tough conversations about how we can be more racially accountable so that we can have a racial identity not based on privilege and appropriation. Secondly, we need non-tokenizing relationships across difference (hence my post on accountable relationships) that help us build a multi-cultural reality of justice. That’s the only way I can see us understanding a different and better reality en masse as a culture.

      • Hello. I’m interested in the Jazz example in particular, because I am studying jazz music at my school, and I am white (the music program is pretty diverse though). if there had been students of different in that picture of the jazz band or students who were all non white, but not all black, would you have found it less offensive? There are many arts/foods/musical styles that I genuinely enjoy from cultures other then my own, am I honestly supposed to limit my likes to only my own culture? More over, what constitutes “Permission” to participate? Finally, I’m sure you’re aware of the multitude of jazz groups that were/are racially mixed. I’d like hear more about your thoughts on that too. Unfortunately, I do realize that your original post was made 3 years ago, some I’m not sure if I will, but I’d love to hear from you. I also apologize if I’m merely re asking questions you’ve already answered (I’m sure that I am).

  2. I’m thinking, that the concept of class solidarity probably resonates more with individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds than yourself. It is easy for predator to play and empathize with prey, and in a less cynical and cut-throat (or humane) sense, it is easy for someone from a higher socio-economic background to empathize with and advocate for the plight of the poor. It is almost impossible, however, for the oppressed, to identify in any remote sense with those of higher class backgrounds. Communist/grass-roots revolutions feed on this class-mistrust, and it is telling that the ideological (not military) leaders of these revolutions are often not peasants themselves, but middle/upper-middle-class individuals with an education.

    I think it is probably easy also to stand on the side of the oppressed as a North American, where humane egalitarianism comes more naturally to people and where immigrants started with nothing and there is more tolerance for people who are fighting they way up from nothing. In much of Asia and Europe (I don’t know enough of Africa to judge its class backgrounds, and South America is also the new world, plus i don’t know enough about it.), class is something you identify with as a matter of fact, there is no room for discussion, it IS you, and it defines precisely the social boundaries beyond which you cannot cross.

    Also, it makes me really happy to see this kind of thoughtful blog post. I’ll be moving in to Concord house in two days!

    • Angus, I know this is WAY later than you posted this, but I think it is important to respond to your post nonetheless. In particular, I would like to respond to when you said: “class is something you identify with as a matter of fact, there is no room for discussion, it IS you, and it defines precisely the social boundaries beyond which you cannot cross.”

      In some ways, I suppose, I agree with you, but I think that your argument is quite limiting and limits our sense of self and of community. As someone who is from a working-class family, but who is white, I have lived in a bit of a paradox for good portions of my life. It has often been assumed that I have the privilege of wealth, regardless of the fact that I do not (in the monetary sense at least). At times, this made me angry, hurt, and distrustful of other individuals whom identified themselves and who I identified as being from a different class background/reality than myself – this became particularly apparent to me in my college years. However, over time, it allowed me to come to terms with my working-class roots and to identify with them more. In this sense, yes class came to define social boundaries that I could or could not cross. However, in coming to terms with my own class background as a direct result (most potently for the first time in college at Earlham) of contact with individuals and groups of other class backgrounds, I realized that part of what became comforting about my class identity was not that others came to identify me with my class background through discussions, etc. but because I gained a sense of pride in MY OWN AGENCY which led to a strong identification with my working-class roots.

      Class, like gender, I believe, is one of those differences that does not DEFINE you, but may or may not become something that other people USE to define you (and you use to define yourself) with which you may or may not agree/accept, etc. And this is one of the many places that agency (individual or communal) comes in for me.

      By suggesting that the class you were assigned at birth (or after) based on any number of factors (because there are many and varied “class” distinguishers – socioeconomic class, gender, sexuality, race, religion, etc. -although I think you meant class in the socioeconomic sense) you are suggesting that agency has no part to play from my read.

      I can only speak to my experience and I do not pretend to speak for others’ experiences but, in my experience class IS not you, it does not define you but rather, you define yourself by IT (or don’t I suppose before you are defined by IT by others perhaps). While I agree that class defines the social boundaries that contain us, we also define those social boundaries by defining ourselves by class. And so like much that we experience, if we begin to realize that social boundaries, class, race, etc. are phenomenon by which we define ourselves (on a personal level as well as community level), we can begin to break the “social boundaries” or class structure of inequality or gender inequality, etc. But this work begins with the self (and I mean here also the community of the self, not just the individual) and with dialogue whether that dialogue be internal or external.

  3. […] racism: – Expecting people of color to act like white people OR to act very “ethnic” – Appropriating (absorbing or taking) aspects of minority cultures without understanding the history of the culture or practice or without having any right to do so – […]

  4. Hm, I’m not as radical these days as I have been in the past but it surprises me that I’d never really heard much about “dreads” being racial appropriation. Especially considering that being from Los Angeles I worked with a lot of militant antiracist activists who were for the most part people of color. I also had a very conventional hairstyle which might be why I was never approached or confronted about it.

    These days I do have “dreads” and have had them for several years. I never tried to get my hair that way, it just happened naturally after living a lifestyle where it wasn’t convenient or necessary to maintain my hair. They’re definitely not disgusting and i have excellent heigene.

    When I notice my hair I’ve never really saw it as “rasta” or “peace-loving.” They’re very much not spiritual to me. If anything, they’re more homage to my celtic heritage and acknowledgment that at one point my ancestors wore their hair in this style to specifically distinguish themselves from their british judeo-christian oppressors.

    I suppose after hearing all these different opinions I’ve come to the conclusion that if it’s offensive for whites to grow dreadlocks then that still doesn’t really apply to me because I don’t have “dreads”. I realize the term “dreadlock” is a derogatory term specifically applied to black people and I can’t wear that term. Therefore, I have mats or plaits. I didn’t get them done in a shop and i definitely don’t consider myself some rasta spinoff. I don’t think it’s right for anyone to generalize me.

    As a white woman who works very hard to deconstruct any prejudice thoughts, it’s very disheartening to see ignorant accusations being made about whites in order to try and defend the dignity of other cultures. (Simply speaking about “dreads.”) I realize how and why racial appropriation is a huge problem in the white community but I personally think dreads/plaits/mats are a poor example. It’s a haristyle that has been popularized many times throughout history for a number of reasons by ALL ethnicities and can’t really be claimed by one specific group. It seems the problem is moreso the name rather than the hairstyle.

    With that being said, I wonder why there weren’t any pictures up there of punks or crustlords. Seems silly to only point out the hippie archetype when some subgenres have more closely associaed themselves with radicalism or anarchism and also highly popularized having dreadlocks.

    This comment wasn’t meant to attack or offend anyone, just to point out the flaws in this topic. If the conversation had been about mohawks I could more readily sympathize with some of the points.

    • Brittany,

      Thank you so much for your response! While I very much disagree with your premise that the culturally-appropriative nature of “dread locks” “still doesn’t really apply to” you and that “dreads/plaits/mats are a poor example” of cultural appropriation, I appreciate your willingness to engage with the topic and issue.

      In no way do I see criticism of cultural appropriation as “ignorant accusations being made about whites in order to try and defend the dignity of other cultures.” Instead, my reflection on dread locks as ONE type of cultural appropriation (among other types mentioned in the post) is based on my reading and conversations with many people of color about the problematic nature of white people with “dreads.” Undoubtedly other cultures have had “dreads/plaits/mats” throughout history, but in our Western historical context, the most present reality of “dread locks” is in the Afro-Caribbean history of the “Dread People” and/or Rastafarianism. In turn, it is not simply the name . . . it is the historical significance of the hair style that is ignored by white people when they choose to wear their hair that way. Thus, if you are living in the Western world, your “plaits” carry the historical significance of the “dread lock” whether you want them to or not. It is awesome that you have considered carefully the reasons that you wear your hair in “plaits,” but our history of racial oppression in this country and in this region is far more present in your hairstyle than the oppression of your Celtic ancestors by their Judeo-Christian oppressors.

      My worry in the language you use is that you seem to think that you somehow can be an exception to the racial realities around you, a conclusion that reeks of white privilege. We, as white folks, always seem to think that we are somehow the exception. The point, though, is that rather than thinking we are the exception, we need to listen. We need to hear the frustration and hurt that people of color are expressing to us when we are or could be culturally appropriating, but what we need to avoid is defensiveness and exceptionalism, believing that we, for whatever reason, could be the exception.

      I agree with you completely that mohawks are another poignant example of cultural appropriation, but as I have never worn a mohawk (but have twice worn dread locks), I wanted to use my experience as an example of the type of arrogance that comes with cultural appropriation as evident in Glenn Beck’s rally.

  5. @jamieutt.

    “but our history of racial oppression in this country and in this region is far more present in your hairstyle than the oppression of your Celtic ancestors by their Judeo-Christian oppressors.”

    I find it ironic that, in defending the original post which claims that whiteness has robbed Anglo-Europeans in America of their cultures, you attempt to strip Brittany of the ability to honor her pre-“white American” culture because of nebulous concerns of appropriation.

    What if a Rasta were to visit Ireland; should he or she lose the dreads because they would be seen as an inappropriate appropriation of Celtic hair-plaiting?

    • Unfortunately we’re not talking about the hypothetical situation of a Rastafarian in Ireland. We’re talking about a white person in the Western world where Locks have a violent history of racial oppression.

      You’re right in the sense that there’s a fine line between whites trying to reclaim their cultural heritage when that particular expression means something very different in our current cultural context. To describe the concerns of people of color that white locks are appropriative as nebulous, though, speaks to your arrogant privilege. One of the ways that those with privilege silence those without is to refuse to listen to their concerns. In this case, that is exactly what I hear in your post.

      • Why do you think he’s refusing to listen?

        The most common thing I hear anti-racist people say about cultural appropriation is “You have your own rich cultural background, research it and take things from that.” But then other people, mostly white people, complain that the traditional European styles are too appropriative anyway.

  6. @ Jamie

    That doesn’t answer my question; I never denied the violent history associated with dreads in America, and I would agree that the fact that something is part of someone’s culture doesn’t mean there’s a carte blanche for reclaiming it (like those disingenuous, “Why can’t we have a WHITE HISTORY MONTH if they have a BLACK one? REVERSE RACISM!11” morons that infest society). That cuts both ways, though–does the Rastafarian in Dublin lose the ‘locks out of concern/respect for the history there?

    Finally, I appreciate your assumptions that I’m speaking from an arrogant position of privilege, when you know nothing about my race, color, heritage, or socio-economic position–heck, even what country I’m in. One of the ways that those involved in social justice/anti-oppression work often silence dissent is to make unwarranted and problematic assumptions about their privilege or lack thereof.

    • First, let me apologize . . . you are correct in that I don’t know anything of your identity, and thus I don’t know anything about your level of privilege except that you are responding from Iowa City, Iowa, a primarily white town. I also am assuming by your use of language that you are well educated. Thus, I am sorry for my ignorant statement above. However, I would encourage you to no longer hide behind the anonymity of the internet and own what privilege you do have. If you are speaking from a position of privilege as I suspect, own it. Are my assumptions about your privilege, as you assert, unwarranted?

      You do pose a tough question, though, about whether the Rastafarian in Dublin must lose their locks out of concern/respect for the history there. As with all approaches in this blog, though, I would look to issues of power and privilege and how the history most heavily weighs on the present. Though there is undoubtedly class division within the Irish context, those with a white skin who speak English (most of the Irish) benefit tremendously from the privileges that those provide. People of Color in the Western World cannot boast the privilege of skin color (though some – a minority – can boast class privilege). I would defer to the most present historical weight, which is, of course, the weight of the 35 million Africans who died in the middle passage and the realities of slavery in the Western world, the effects of which still weigh heavily on the current racial and class divisions.

      I do not say this in order to skirt your question. I say it to point out that this blog is a blog about privilege and oppression, and as such, questions of privilege must be brought to bear in all discussions. Are there ways to honor one’s Celtic heritage without appropriating the most present manifestation of locks or plaits (the manifestation of oppression of Africans in the West)? Undoubtedly! So why choose to do so in a way that can so easily be associated with the cultural appropriation by someone with privilege of the culture of those who have been and continue to be oppressed in the cultural context in which the appropriation is occurring (which speaks to Shaedofblue’s comment above)?

      • Hey Jamie,

        Thanks for apologizing; your willingness to engage with me wins you mega respect points. So I’ll accept your invitation and say that I am a well-educated white guy from Iowa. So yes, I have generally had the luxury of seeing my milieu reflect my own racial/cultural identity, and of not being on the receiving end of stuff. I’m still not sure that I’d say your assumptions were warranted, but that more has to do with my skepticism about conflating privilege and identity in any given debate. But that’s neither here nor there.

        Anyway, I think I agree with the bulk of what you’re saying, and because of the fact that it’s possible to rep for Eire without the plaits, someone who is agnostic on them versus another emblem of identity (like a cross, or something) should absolutely do what’s not going to make others feel uncomfortable, etc. Moreover, someone who has them and is made aware of the concerns surrounding them has an obligation to consider and self-examine what the hairstyle (or substitute in any other cultural appropriation item at issue) means to them, and what their adoption means to others.

        However, and where I suspect we might disagree, is that I don’t think the end result of this analysis ought to be a foregone conclusion. If someone finds that the item/practice/fashion at issue really is that important to them–and especially if it’s one which has manifested itself across multiple cultures/traditions (like the locks)–then I don’t feel they’re wrong to keep it. Note that I have my doubts that this will frequently be the case, especially when the gravity of the historical context is considered, but it’s a possibility that I think should be respected.

  7. theologicalquandary

    I’d just like to point out that Celtic Christianity did not come from the Brits.

    This post is also ignoring instances of cultural appropriation within “non-white” communities. Associating cultural appropriate a priori with whiteness is inherently incorrect. The ties between cultural appropriation and whiteness — while they exist — do not mean cultural appropriation cannot by its very essence be present in non-white cultures. Before anyone rants about colonialism, I’d like to point out that I’m referencing non-white communities “appropriating” objects from another non-white community.

    • You’re exactly right that there is cultural appropriation that occurs amongst people of color. However, as I mentioned above, this is a blog about power and privilege. Thus, I am writing about the inherent racism that comes with those with power appropriating culturally from those whom they oppress. Thus, since this is a blog about power and privilege and because I am a white man who is working to problematize the ways in which white folks abuse our power and privilege (in this case through cultural appropriation), it deals with the problems posed by white people appropriating the culture of those with less power and privilege. If someone wants to take up the nature and problems posed by appropriation within communities of color, by all means, they should. It is just not the project of this blog.

  8. @Arnold

    Interestingly enough, I think we actually agree on the point that the end result is a foregone conclusion. I would never ask a white person with locks to cut theirs. Instead, I would want them to understand the possible hurtful implications of them having locks and make their own decision about what is respectful and just. As you note, considering the gravity of the historical context, I doubt many would choose to keep their locks on the other end if they openly and honestly consider the implications, but I truly believe that a decision like this would need to be the decision of the person with the locks (or with any appropriation).

    I thoroughly enjoy wrestling with your thoughts! If you’re so able, please keep reading and challenge or agree where you see fit!

  9. Harriss,

    Sorry – WordPress wouldn’t let me respond just below your comment:

    “Hello. I’m interested in the Jazz example in particular, because I am studying jazz music at my school, and I am white (the music program is pretty diverse though). if there had been students of different in that picture of the jazz band or students who were all non white, but not all black, would you have found it less offensive? There are many arts/foods/musical styles that I genuinely enjoy from cultures other then my own, am I honestly supposed to limit my likes to only my own culture? More over, what constitutes “Permission” to participate? Finally, I’m sure you’re aware of the multitude of jazz groups that were/are racially mixed. I’d like hear more about your thoughts on that too. Unfortunately, I do realize that your original post was made 3 years ago, some I’m not sure if I will, but I’d love to hear from you. I also apologize if I’m merely re asking questions you’ve already answered (I’m sure that I am).”

    I am not sure individual offense is the issue at hand. It is the way that White folks tend to appropriate as part of a larger system of oppression.

    The point is not to only like and enjoy things from one’s own culture. That is not appropriation. Appropriation is when folks of power and privilege take something from someone else’s culture and adopt it as their own, divorcing it from its cultural history and heritage. Thus, going to an Indian restaurant is not appropriation, but a White person opening a restaurant that serves “American-Indian Fusion” that appropriates and steals Indian recipes and divorces that food from its people and history (and profiting in the process) is definitely an example of appropriation.

    It’s not about getting permission to participate. It’s about accountable relationships across different. I’ll explain it this way. Right after college, I toured with a White Hip Hop duo, and we had a lot of tough and uncomfortable conversations about White appropriation of Hip Hop music. When I talked to a professor of Color about it, he asked this: “Are they grounded in a Hop Hop community of Color, one that hold them accountable to their music and their privilege? And are they aware of their privilege and of the ways in which the music is not simply theirs to take?”

    If someone is part of a Jazz program that is rooted in the history of Jazz as a Black art form (and not simply in tokenizing ways) and that has faculty of Color who are grounded in that tradition, then the program is not inherently appropriative. In reference to the White Jazz musicians who were a part of the great Jazz era, many of them were parts of groups that were led by and accountable to people of Color. The ones that weren’t were definitely appropriative, but the others were not necessarily so!

    Thank you so much for your comment and your questions!

    • Thanks for responding! You’re right individual offense is not that issue. I asked that question because I was curious about your statement about “Healthy sharing of cultures”. I agree with you, to ignore the role of African Americans and African musical traditions in jazz music is not only offensive along racial lines, but does the music a disservice since these influences are a lot of what makes this music interesting in the first place.
      I am glad you gave that Indian food example, as it illustrates your point very well: that we should appreciate other cultures rather then making them “Ours”.
      Again Thanks for thoughtful response, and taking the time to write it.

  10. * The *Your thoughtful

  11. I once thought of white dreads as racially not acceptable bc it was a Rastafarian/Jamaican African thing. However, just coming out of a long depression, post partum and just horrible self negligence my hair started to dread itself. Last week I, this white girl from South Carolina who now lives in Georgia in a city with a large black population around me as well as many white folks with dreadlocks. The fact that Bob Marley or any other black person brought dreadlocks to popularity has no bearing in my logic. It is just a coincidence perhaps. I do love the hair style and that’s part off decision. Should I not do it out of respect for a small group of religious people who practice locking their hair? People use Christian ceremonies and buildings for weddings even when they’re not Christian, they wear crosses to look more goth…
    Look back in history and you will find locking hair was a Viking way, a Sumerian way, many cultures have locked their hair. It is said in the bible that Nazarenes (Jesus was a Nazarene) wore were locked hair and some say Samson of the Old Testament had 7 locks before it was cut.

    So dreadlocks aren’t JUST a black thing and white people doing it, IMO, aren’t stealing the style always just bc it’s popular or that’s what white people do. How many things has the black culture “appropriated” from white culture? Shame on the black opera singers for singing Italian arias?

    The current term for locking hair used may be referring to the dread people of the carribean but to say it’s strictly a hair style that belongs to them is wrong. For someone to tell me to not style my hair as I wish for whatever reason is wrong. Yes I agree that white folks don’t have much culture all our own but that’s part of the beauty of being white, I think. Am I privileged bc or my lack of a solid culture to base my life around? Yes! Because I get to pick an choose what I meld into my life whether it’s learning jazz, studying shamanism or dreading my hair!! How wonderful a freedom I have! But guess what? Minorities have that freedom too! Ain’t it great? 🙂

    • *** edit. Last week I put all my hair in dreads while couch bound with a slipped disc in my back. This girl from georgia.

      If any one asks why I’m stealing from a culture I will remind them that dreads go back as far as art history. Stealing and using this hairstyle as ones own when it currently isnt your culture’s doing does not make sense in this way.

      • And I sincerely hope you will consider acting as if you’re on the path to being an anti-racist ally and take the locks out of your hair.

    • KC –

      The problem that I have with your approach to understanding “dreadlocks” and “locking” is this: you assume that there is no such thing as a wider system of oppression of people of Color as context for this particular event.

      It is not the same thing when a group who is marginalized or oppressed borrows or uses something from a dominant culture as when someone from dominant culture borrows or appropriates something from the oppressed. In the former, there is NO danger that said object or practice might be divorced from its history and its true meaning. Those with power and privilege do not need to worry that they will lose control over their own narratives. When those of power and privilege appropriate, though, they rob those they take from of the control over their own narrative in wider culture because of how the voices of the privileged and powerful get to define mainstream narratives.

      Thus, yeah, my hair as a White person might eventually “lock” itself if I do not take care of it, and yes, there have been other, White cultures who have had traditionally-locked hair at some point in the distant past, but the very fact that if you asked the average person what the “locked’ hairstyle was called, they would say “dreadlocks” is testament to what place this hairstyle has in common understanding and culture today. Ask those same people, though, if they could describe the role of said hair “style” in resisting oppression, and few would be able to tell you.

      That is the problem with cultural appropriation. It divorces the people who don’t control mainstream narratives from their culture. If you’ll notice, years and years of “goths” wearing crosses or “secular” weddings drawing on Christian ceremony have not managed to take any power away from or divorce any aspect of Christianity from its roots.

      I will close with this: the hair style we are arguing is not simply associated with some “small group of religious people.” It is part of the long and important history of resistance to White Supremacy in the Caribbean and U.S.

      • If I say I’m Christian and trying to be Christ like, and Christ was a Nazarene and they dreaded their hair, it is no ones damn business but my own. The Rastafarians religiously dread their hair bc of Jesus and white people can too. Stop the hate

      • And I totally get what you’re saying and see your point of view, I really do, but we will have to agree to disagree I suppose. I’m anti racism but I’m equal hair rights as well regardless of terms and other people’s notions about hairstyles. If that makes me ignorant, so be it, but that also makes people ignorant of my logic as well so we r all even 🙂

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