Photo by Moh Mckenzie

The Africans or African-Americans have a rich cultural background which they still celebrate. Whether it’s from their unique heritage or a byproduct of their experiences, they have countless practices for their culture. However, with this abundance, they’re also, unfortunately, a typical victim of cultural appropriation.

Culture is generally defined as people’s way of life. This includes the arts representing their society, beliefs, and institutions passed down across generations. As people’s definite structure to their lives, culture also has normative behaviors like their manners, how people usually dress, their language, their religion, rituals, and even their hairstyles. Yes, you read that right!

To some societies, hairstyles play a massive part in defining their cultural expression. A long time ago, how people style their hair depends on their tribal affiliations, age, and social and marital status. While hairstyles are primarily for self-expression in today’s generation, it’s commonly an identifier back then. People belonging to the same tribe stylize their hair depending on the resources available, making them distinctive from others at first glance.

Without a doubt, culture is comprised of numerous factors. With all these to look out for, there’s still a lengthy debate on what constitutes cultural appropriation and what makes them different from mere appreciation. But among culture’s many factors, why is it essential to discuss hairstyles?

Ease of Cultural Appropriation With Hairstyles

Most people have hair, and regarding physical hygiene and aesthetics, hair is a crucial part to consider. Hence, people take time to style their hair or jump on any trends they may recognize as cool or pretty. Some people dye their hair. Others cut it short or grow it longer, doing anything for self-expression. Unfortunately, some also end up treading on uncharted waters. For the sake of experimentation and under the guise of freedom, people try on hairstyles they don’t know the origins or background of if any. This is where possible problems of cultural appropriation may arise.

Among the many factors of culture, people’s expressions and art is the easiest to adopt and assume. People may follow trends or behaviors they see from others and deem cool without realizing they’re already culturally appropriating. While following something because they’re cool isn’t necessarily evil, practicing another’s culture or applying it in one’s routines without thorough understanding can be insensitive. Also, hairstyles are easy to imitate and hold so much meaning and background to one’s culture.

The Most Appropriated Hairstyle

In the book by King Bell titled American’t, the author has raised various concerns about the ever-existing racism in America. While he doesn’t specify the involvement of prevalent cultural appropriation in his book, it’s irrefutable that it’s part of the problem. People may be more educated about racial discrimination and have more materials introducing them to the intricacies of different cultures. These haven’t eliminated the issue of racism.

In today’s media, for instance, there’s somehow a surge in the usage of dreadlocks. What’s previously commonly worn by hippies has now transcended mainstream media, and famous stars have also started wearing it. Numerous big names wearing it doesn’t make this trend any less offensive, especially to blacks and the experiences that made this hairstyle.

Dreadlocks are formed by braiding or matting the hair until they look rope-like. However, when somebody wears dreadlocks, it shouldn’t only be a trend but a reflection of its history and the hardships blacks have experienced.

Dreadlocks’ Rich History

Numerous origins can be associated with this hairstyle due to abundant evidence in multiple locations. However, regardless of these specifics, dreadlocks symbolize opposition and strength. It’s a hairstyle that was born at the height of slavery and reflected the courage of the African-Americans to stand and fight back against their oppressors. It’s a hairstyle that looks complex and has an even more complex history. Hence, wearing it without acknowledging how it came about is cultural appropriation.

It’s putting aesthetics first before recognizing the hardships people have gone through. To wear dreadlocks without knowing their origins would be like ignoring the war these people have gone through and pushing aside the battle they’ve gone through. To anyone who wishes to use dreads, before putting a hand on anyone’s hair, it’s better to be educated and acknowledge its history first.