undreaded: why i decided to cut my locks

I cut my dreadlocks off last night.





Actually, my friend Beth did it for me. Here she is:

dreadlock surgeon, prepping her tools

There are many reasons why. Here is the short version:

I have learned more about the history of dreadlocks and their significance as a symbol of Rastafarianism and black/African resistance to white supremacy. I have done a lot of reading and conversing about cultural appropriation – the adoption of a specific element of one culture by another cultural group – and its capacity, when the historical significance of that cultural element is not respected and maintained, to function as a source of further oppression and colonization.

All of this learning, reading and conversing caused me to honestly examine my motivations for locking my hair. When I did, I was not confident that my reasons for having dreads outweighed their potential oppressive effect on the people and cultures for whom dreadlocks hold deep spiritual and political meaning.

Here is the longer version:

A few months ago, I came across a reference online to dreadlocks on white people as cultural appropriation. I don’t remember the details — just that it piqued my interest and made me begin to wonder about the possibly harmful implications of my hairstyle on a white body.

Then I heard fellow poet Jillian Christmas reference “white-girl dreadlocks” in her poem Black Feminist, which she performed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in November. The poem isn’t specifically about cultural appropriation, but that line and the way she delivered it spurred me on to dig a little deeper.

I read a few articles online about cultural appropriation and the origin of dreadlocks. Here’s one of my favourites: http://www.youngblackintelligent.com/2013/05/white-people-with-dreadlocks-cultural.html

And then I started a conversation on facebook. It turns out people have a LOT to say on the topic.

Here’s what I posted:

“I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on dreadlocks on white people as cultural appropriation. Been doing some reading and thinking, instigated by a few things including a line in one of Jillian Christmas’ poems about “white-girl dreadlocks.” The more I learn and ponder, the further I’m leaning toward cutting mine off. But I’m curious to hear other people’s thoughts.”

From the 116 comments, here are a few that most stuck with me:

“I researched the hell out of dreads before I locked up. Dreadlocks have existed in the vast majority of cultures since as far back as we can determine history. Each culture assigns dreads their own meaning and connotations, no doubt, and is something that should be considered… I think it is really dangerous to form blanket opinions about someone based on a hairstyle…” 

“I guess for me, the biggest reason why I wouldn’t lock my hair is because folks of colour say it’s problematic for them. Lots of folks of colour get discriminated against because of wearing their hair naturally, whereas a white person who has locks will not be subject to the same discrimination.”

“I wear my beautiful Black hair naturally… Many, many people of all ethnic backgrounds ask me on a fairly regular basis when I’m going to dread it. My answer is “I’m not going to dread my hair… Because I’m a Jamaican.” Many people look at quizzically when I say that, but it’s very simple – because I understand the history of dreadlocks in Jamaica, and the struggle of Rastas to be accepted in their own community (much less by people outside of Jamaica), I would not dishonour that by wearing dreads for fashion reasons…  in Canadian society, dreadlocks are associated with Black culture despite the rest of the history, and that is how they will be viewed, fair or not. And if you choose to keep them, this is the context you will be forced to deal with as you walk the streets as a white person with dreadlocks. Some Blacks will never see it as being okay, and will always see it as appropriation… Part of your decision is determining how comfortable you are with this reality.”

“Do I think that locks on white people are inappropriate? 90% of the time, yes! … There are people who I love dearly, who are Caucasian and do lock their hair. But I could not love them without being able to ask them why they do it. Have they considered its effects on the people whose cultures created the tradition? Have they considered the difference in how they are treated, versus those people? Are they doing it because they think it looks “cool” or “rebellious”, or “counter culture”? Do they realize that that behaviour is called fetishizing? Do they realize that calling someone’s beliefs and culture “counter” or “exotic” is implicitly racist?”

“Even as an Indigenous woman, I still need permission of another Indigenous person from a different Nation before I use their cultural items… We are not entitled to another person’s cultural identity.”

“Rock those dreads with wisdom, morals and self discipline or not at all. The ancestors don’t care about your colour, only that you practice well the teachings of the universal truths.”

“This is how I feel, as a person of Dene and European descent: Its not up to the white person in the situation to decide if their actions are offensive or not. If one person who is a POC isn’t okay with something a white person is doing with an element of the POC’s culture, then that thing is not okay. One person being not okay with something is enough. One person feeling a little bit safer in the world is enough for me to not do something that oppresses them.”

“If it is just for “Form and Fashion’ it is 100% cultural appropriation. However if one is attracted to the meaning and African cultural relevance as well as ideological and spiritual meanings behind it, I cannot judge. I know some white-rasta’s who follow the tenets better than some Black folks.”

After 116 comments, I felt more confused than when I first made the post just 3 days earlier. Were my dreadlocks strictly for reasons of “form and fashion”? No. Was I attracted to their “African cultural relevance” and “ideological and spiritual meanings”? Yes. Was that enough? I wasn’t sure.

Since this conversation, I have given a lot of thought to my intentions in dreading my hair. I have tried to gather up all of the snippets of symbolism they hold for me, in order to piece together a narrative of spiritual and political significance that might outshine any harm or oppression they might cause or symbolize.

When I first locked up, I was living in Ghana and hanging out with Rastas who were very happy to give me dreads. I had more than their permission – I had their blessing and their enthusiasm, and it was their hands that did the deed. I was motivated by some resonance with some of the values and culture of Rastafarianism as I experienced it in that context. I also saw dreads as the most natural way to wear my hair — they required no product, no brushing, and minimal washing, which appealed to the environmentalist, the naturalist, and the time economist in me. And the feminist in me liked that they challenged ideals and stereotypes of female beauty.

A case could be made that my dreadlocks were an important symbol of my spiritual and political values. But this story wasn’t sitting quite right – it felt more like a creative, reactionary mash-up of partial truths than a genuine recollection of my own inner drive to be dreaded.

If I am being fully honest with myself, I acknowledge that one of my main motivations was aesthetics. I’d long admired how locks looked on other people before making the decision to grow them myself. To me, they represented anti-authoritarian and counter-culture politics, and I liked the edgy, creative, earthy image they helped me construct of myself. I didn’t associate this with fetishizing Black/Rasta culture, or recognize the implicit racism in these motivations, until the aforementioned facebook conversation pointed it out.

I think it’s important that we don’t paint all white people with dreadlocks with the same brush. My personal conclusion, based on my very specific circumstances and motivations, was to cut mine off. I think a lot of white folks with dreads have similar motivations. But I think it is possible for culturally aware white people to sport dreadlocks in a way that honours their origins and political/spiritual significance. As one Rastafari commenter noted, “I know some white-rasta’s who follow the tenets better than some Black folks.”

I’ve been dread-free for 24 hours now. So far I feel a lot lighter, a little colder, and now that this blog post is written, very excited to have the mental space to think about things that are not my hair.


62 thoughts on “undreaded: why i decided to cut my locks

  1. Shayna, thanks for the thoughtful post! I’ve really been thinking about this too, since I read that amazing discussion.

    My hair is long (pretty well to my waist) and heavy. If I don’t pile it on top of my head, it hurts my upper back. I wash it less these days than I used to, because it gets so heavy and it pulls so much. The heaviness and length negatively affect the sports that I play as well. But my dreads are low maintenance and cost-free in a time when I have no choice but to live cheaply, so I’d been weighing the pros and cons of the logistics of it all.

    I’m also known for my hair. I’m in marketing and I’m an entrepreneur, and it helps that people recognize me. Cutting off my hair could affect my livelihood. I’ve also found that people are more likely to see me as a creative person with the dreads. It’s a benefit that I never dreamed of, but I love it and this part is important too: it’s helped me actually become more confident in my creativity. Changed my life.

    But. There are other issues at play. I knew of many of them, but not all. I’m glad you posted it here, because this comment was the kicker for me, “This is how I feel, as a person of Dene and European descent: Its not up to the white person in the situation to decide if their actions are offensive or not. If one person who is a POC isn’t okay with something a white person is doing with an element of the POC’s culture, then that thing is not okay. One person being not okay with something is enough. One person feeling a little bit safer in the world is enough for me to not do something that oppresses them.”

    I felt horrified to read that. I don’t want to oppress anyone. I’m an underdog too! I’m a woman in tech who wonders if she’d be more technical if women were more welcome in male-dominated careers (shout out to my entire Grade 7 class, where I was the only girl who took Industrial Arts with the boys; you had to choose one or the other and the other girls all took Home Economics even though many of them already knew how to cook and sew). I’ve also read dozens of articles about how people of colour and others have it even worse in tech (you will likely find this site interesting: http://modelviewculture.com/). I’ve spent the past year working on becoming educated on these issues.

    I know these issues. It never dawned on me that I am personally hurting others. And not only am I hurting other people, I am benefiting from my dreadlocks in a way that they specifically do not. Talk about cultural appropriation!! Talk about white privilege.

    I locked my hair for many good reasons and I love them for many more. But they won’t last long now. Though I am not ready to do it immediately, the decision was made after I read the discussion on your Facebook page.

    Thanks friend ❤

    • “If one person who is a POC isn’t okay with something a white person is doing with an element of the POC’s culture, then that thing is not okay”.
      Exactly why? There may always be “one person” who is not okay with something, for whatever reasons and their opinion may not be representative of their group. And in every culture (white or colored), there are some individuals who will take offense very easily.
      I acknowledge the problem of cultural appropiation, and in particular I’ve always felt uneasy about white “fashion Rastas”, who just adopt some cherry-picked elements of Rastafari culture, usually being particularly enthusiastic about the us of “ganja” 🙂
      But in Shayna’s case, she actually got her Dreads from Rastas and seems to have both knowledge about and deep respect for their culture. Those guys in Ghana probably thought felt very positive that she wanted to adopt something from their culture – still according to above logic, she still was obliged to but to cut them off already as soon as she met one POC who didn’t approve of her wearing dreadlocks.
      I am not critizing Shayna’s decision to cut off her dreads, nor do I say you shouldn’t – but I don’t think this particular argument is a good one.

      Disclaimer: I am a white male with short hair, working in science and at least partially aware of my numerous privileges. I don’t adapt elements from other cultures easily, but I don’t think that it is a bad thing in general as long as it is done respectfully – even if some people might not approve.

      • Ari, you must be psychic. But hey, hope you feel better now having had the opportunity to wittily express your disdain for me. You’re welcome 🙂

      • Ari, isn’t that kind of the point though: that individuals identify their sources of privileges as a way to begin to account for the unequal opportunities they provide? I’m not sure why you felt Jake’s acknowledgements were, in any way, for your (the embedded plural of using “us” implying you can speak for others: check your privilege) benefit.

        Perhaps to better understand where you are coming from, I would really like to hear your thoughts on Jake’s original statement and what flags this narrative as being distinctly white, and male. Can you also glean from this comment other markers of socioeconomic status, such as: sexual orientation, biological markers of gender, gender performance, language, age, physical abilities, any psychological disabilities, education levels, and residential affluence levels?

        I, was unable to really hone in on these markers (gender could have gone both ways as the colloquial use of “guys” could be a nod to a masculine identity, but perhaps not)

        Also, what race/ethnicity & gender am I? Mostly however, I’m interested in your thoughts regarding the content of Jake’s comment.

        Were there any points of interest that you picked up on and found of importance, or was it simply to difficult to look past someone’s gender and race?

        You’re saying quite a lot in that one sentence.

    • I just want to say I’ve been dreaded for some five years…and just got rid of them. I resonated with a lot of what you said about it being your identity and inspiring creativity and attracted those likeninded…when I was deciding to do it I wanted a fresh start Because of a lot of recent changes…but as I went back and forth many of those same reasons were keeping me dreaded, then j realized how much of it had to do with other people. Its my identity? To others. Others will see me differently. I won’t attract others that o want. I won’t stand out to others..people won’t instantly know what kind of person I am. I realized how easy it is to let your dreads become your identify and how I was hiding behind my dreads. I am myself with or without them as natural as they feel to me. I will attract like minded souls reguardkess if the universe sees fit. I realized dedreading would make me voulnerable, and that alone takes courage. I did it and it was emotional, and even tho physically it feels good, I do miss the look, but wow…I am excited for this newness…to go in public and see what really happens.

  2. “they required no product, no brushing, and minimal washing, which appealed to the environmentalist, the naturalist, and the time economist in me. And the feminist in me liked that they challenged ideals and stereotypes of female beauty.”

    Same can be said for your new buzz cut. congrats.


  3. I feel that it’s ridiculous to change your hair because other people might take offense, quite frankly that’s THEIR problem and not yours. Everyone should be true to themselves and what they love and identify with. It’s not about other people, it’s about you. Self expression is something that should never be denied. It’s like saying that it’s offensive for gay people to be married because some christians would get offended by it. Ridiculous and not right. Be true to you and that’s all you can do. Don’t worry about pleasing the rest of the world because that’s not what life is about. Life is too short to try to please everyone else and deny yourself. Just my thoughts. Take it or leave it.

    • Caring if your hair/style/words/actions offend other people (who are oppressed under colonialism) is just a nice way to live, and not “pleasing the rest of the world”.

      Secondly, marriage is not solely a Christian institution. This point is moot.

      Third, this was spoken like a true, clueless, white person (my apologies if you’re not a white person), who’s never had to deal with the blatant mockery, and then theft, of their culture, or contend with the history of a bunch of white folks murdering/enslaving your ancestors.

      Do you not understand that the context is totally different? Clearly not.

      • As a Native American who has experienced these things you are saying + 10 times worse, let me butt in a little bit.

        These locks are a mere hairstyle that have been created and adapted LONG before the Rastafarian movement. They had no significant meaning in the times of Egyptians or indigenous tribes who wore them. Did you also know some Native Americans had them? And anyways, let me put two contexts together. You know how some men wear long hair? Well what if Native Americans said it’s not right for a white man to do it because it’s something of meaning to Native Americans, and white men just do it for a style? Well, that’s ridiculous, because although it did have meaning in our culture there were men all over the world who wore long hair without meaning.

        Now, if the Rastafarian’s created something a sacred as Native American headdress I can get why they’d be angered. And to be quite frank, many black who complain about non-colored people wearing dreadlocks, aren’t even for the Rastafarian movement. You want to get rid of racism? Then stop with being angered by something as silly as a hairstyle.

    • “It’s like saying that it’s offensive for gay people to be married because some christians would get offended by it.”
      Korrigan, this is actually a terrible analogy and a very privileged position to take; I would challenge you to take a moment of self reflection like Shayna has so bravely done here. As she stated, it’s not just about some random person “taking offense.” It’s the fact that, in her whiteness, she could assume this identity that culturally and historically belongs to oppressed peoples, without suffering the same scrutiny and judgement they would. It is also an issue when someone assumes such an identity without availing themselves of the historical and cultural context, and instead, makes it about a “fashion statement” (not that this was why Shayna locker her hair, as she explained).

      As a fan of analogies as a learning tool, I’ll offer that this case is more like the “tribal tattoo” fad of the 90s/00s.

      • Nikki, as Jess so eloquently pointed out, dreadlocks are and were not exclusive to Rastafarians. People do things for fashion all the time. This is not new. People invented cultures, countries, and the sense of separatism that you are contributing to with comments like this:

        “It’s the fact that, in her whiteness, she could assume this identity that culturally and historically belongs to oppressed peoples, without suffering the same scrutiny and judgement they would.”

        So Whiteness, automatically = Racial Ignorance? I think NOT.

        You know, Nikki, ‘whiteness’ is a state of being of a certain (physical not racial) color….. Not a blanket statement to describe white people who are racist or ignorant. Check your logical fallacy, and check your own privilege in the context in which you used that word. ‘Whiteness’ does not automatically equal racism or ignorance to another culture’s history, but you seem to think it does. Your use of that word in that context is not ‘reverse racist,’ it IS racist.

        The phrase ‘Whiteness’ and how you use it smacks of the idea that ‘white people’ are culturally homogeneous. Not all ‘white people’ are snobby fat wasteful stupid rich racist sexist fascist evil rapeculture males who proudly go forth, conquer, and leave a trail of destruction.

        I am just a person just trying to live and learn and make my way in the world. When I look at myself in the mirror — on a good day — I see my thoughts and emotions, memories, history, hopes and ideas and thoughts for the future. I don’t see my skin color or gender.

        When’s the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and didn’t see your own color or culture? What part of your Self is genuine and not an artifact of ‘Black culture” or “Feminist culture” or some other culture or group or trend?

      • In response to HanaiKeoKeo,

        I would argue that Whiteness does automatically mean a certain level of racial ignorance. As someone with white skin, I can learn and listen all I want, but I can never know what it feels like to be oppressed due to my race.

        The fact that you wrote “I don’t see my skin color or gender” is a clear indicator of your own privilege, which blinds you to the parts of your identity that give you that privilege. Folks of colour tend to be reminded, on the regular, of the colour of their skin by strangers and systems and well-meaning-but-still-racist “friends” who use it to discriminate against them. They don’t have the option to “not see it.” Same with transgender folks; you saying that you don’t see your gender tells me that you must be cisgender – assigned a gender at birth with which you identify – because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to *not* see your gender.

        Also, your comment comes off as super condescending. I don’t get the impression that you are actually trying to “learn” as you say you are. Learning requires us to listen, especially to people who are telling stories about personal experiences that you can never have.

    • Take or leave those two cents, Korrigan? We can’t. Opinions like yours hold people back from contributing to their communities. For every person who thinks like me, 10 or 20 think like you. Why should we only please ourselves? That makes the world a hostile place and for what? So the majority can selfishly decide to take what they want from the world and meanwhile ignore the associated harms?It hurts to think about our impacts at first but soon we accept it and minimize any of it we can. Then we become happier because we’re being honest. That’s what being true to yourself is. I have a working relationship with my white privilege.

    • Korrigan, we live in a society, and our cultural choices have a history. She decided to listen to others because she wants to live more harmoniously with them, rather than being an island of individuality. I don’t have locks but I’ve long considered having them, and it is this great resistance that racialized people have to white people wearing dreadlocks that have held me back. I’m not an absolutist about it; I still want locks. Frankly it seems that Shayna got her locks in one of the best contexts that a white person would get them, and did her solid homework. Yet, she still cut them off. Think about that.

      Shayna: I think that there’s nothing wrong with wanting locks for aesthetic reasons 🙂 The rebellious part is where the Gordian knot lies though… It’s like wanting the hairstyle of the oppressed, without the skin colour that leads to that oppression. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you .” (meme going around FB the other day)

    I’ve always been fascinated by hair myself. It’s such a unique expression of both cultural associations and personal style around the world! It has even been imbued with magical properties, and shunned as a result ( i.e., in some European cultures it was traditional for midwives to unbraid their hair to ‘prevent’ entanglement of the umbilical cord during child birth…loose/wild hair has long been associated with women’s power and thus witchcraft as a result, and to this day women are expected to cover their hair in the Catholic church). In more recent times of course, cutting off one’s ‘womanly’ locks came to be associated with the rejection of male-defined norms…defiance of patriarchal objectification, gendered stereotypes, etc.) Anyway, how hair is displayed (or not) has rarely been insignificant!

    Your dreads were lovely, Shayna, but your unique beauty shines through without them. I applaud your decision to follow your conscience and shed that which was both literally and figuratively weighing you down. Since privilege is often most invisible to those who have it, it takes a lot of honest introspection to first recognize, and then own it. I don’t know that anyone can understand the wrongness of cultural appropriation and then ACT on that understanding without first understanding privilege. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful process.

  5. Did you know shaving ones head is also religiously significant to Buddist monks, Hajj Pilgrims, and members of the Hare Krishna movement? As well as a right of passage for all military members in the U.S. at least (That is an entirely different culture from civilian life, I can vouch for that.) That’s totally cultural appropriation of all those cultures as well. If you can’t tell already my point is that’s bullshit, everything that exists today is significant to somebody. If it wasn’t then nobody would have bothered to ever come up with the idea. And if were going to limit people to only being able to use things first created by people of their own skin color… Well good luck to all POC because guess who came up with almost all of modern medical science. Besides appropriation is to take something for exclusive use. You appropriate funding, by taking funding and putting it somewhere else. Taking someones jacket from them is appropriation. Seeing the jacket and thinking wow that’s a nice jacket, and buying one for yourself is not appropriation. And the kid might get pissy with you for copying him. And that’s all these “cultural appropriation” police are. Little kids getting pissed off at other people for enjoying something they want to keep for themselves. Almost every culture that exists today has been assimilating and emulating other cultures because its beneficial for society. You can’t expect every subset of people to reinvent the wheel on their on. Except these people aren’t even doing that. Even if you came up with the idea on your own. You had no idea Rastafarian’s had dreadlocks. You just came up with the idea and liked the style these people shame you for it. Weren’t the first one to make thge wheel? Good luck with your fucker trapezoid, Fucking sharing people, do it. It speeds up the progress of all mankind.

    • Alright. Deep breath. Let’s go through this, point by point:

      – Shaving one’s head is the only practical way to remove dreadlocks. It’s sheer idiocy to claim shaving one’s head to remove dreadlocks (which appropriates Black culture) is in itself an act of cultural appropriation. You don’t appropriate one culture by de-appropriating another. I can’t believe someone would even ATTEMPT to make such an asinine argument.

      – You said: “And if were going to limit people to only being able to use things first created by people of their own skin color… Well good luck to all POC because guess who came up with almost all of modern medical science.” An incredibly privileged, uninformed and boldly racist statement. In fact, I’d argue virtually all of medical science developed in the late 20th century was done on the back of “enslaved” cells stolen from the terminally ill Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cells were the first successfully replicated in a lab. Her family has never been compensated a dime for this literal appropriation of this woman’s body for the financial advancement of the medical-pharmaceutical industry. But medical science was advanced solely by white folks, right? Read a book and learn something before you disparage Black folks with your racist ignorance.

      – The Merriam-Webster non-financial definition of appropriate is: “to take or use (something) especially in a way that is illegal, unfair, etc.” I see nowhere in that definition the word “exclusive.” Unfairly taking someone else’s culture for one’s own use is, in fact, appropriation. The rest of your argument that cultural appropriation is not actual appropriation is therefore rendered idiotic, just like the previous arguments you made in your post that I’ve already annihilated.

      – Finally, you argued “Almost every culture that exists today has been assimilating and emulating other cultures because its [sic] beneficial for society.” There is some truth to that statement, however, learning from each other and stealing from an oppressed culture to continue oppressing them is quite another. As a person of Jamaican heritage, I have no problem with white folks enjoying a plate of rice and peas with jerk chicken and plantain on the side. That doesn’t oppress me. But when Black Jamaican folks have their lives severely circumscribed because they wear dreads but white folks wear them because they look cool, and do not suffer the same ill effects of this choice that Black folks do, that’s messed up and totally unacceptable. That’s a situation rooted in racism and acted out as discrimination against people who look like me and come from the same place as me. And last time I checked, that kind of action is not anything close to resembling “sharing”. If this is how you think we should speed up “the progress of mankind” then let me off that bus before it drives off a cliff.

      In conclusion, I believe your post to be irredeemably racist and tragically uninformed. Education is an excellent anti-racism tool. I hope you’ve learned something today.

      • These are honest questions. Why do you say “white folks.. do not suffer the same ill effects of this choice that Black folks do?” You believe that a white person suffers no ill effects of choosing to wear dreadlocks? And how does a hairstyle “severely circumscribe” the lives of Black Jamaican folks (I’m only asking about the hairstyle here)?

        FYI, there are other ways to remove dreadlocks than shaving your head. I think you are going out of your way to make this person feel like an idiot. Don’t you think your attitude might be perpetuating hateful perspectives on race? Promoting the continued segregation of humanity into hateful oppressors and those who are oppressed? (personally it seems like misdirected rage to label a peace-loving hippie as racist just for having a hairstyle that NATURALLY OCCURS IN HAIR THAT IS NEGLECTED regardless of race)

        Also, hypothetically speaking, what if I were an Asian woman and I chose to dread my hair? What if I were a Black woman but I was blissfully unaware of Rastafarianism and I just liked how they look? What if I were of mixed race?

        Do you also have such a vehement attitude towards people who do Yoga?

      • Elly,

        In the real world, Black people with dreadlocks suffer discrimination because of their race and their hairstyle. It happens in terms of housing, employment and services. This is something that has been documented and I really don’t feel like I need to go into extreme detail about it except to say that racial bias, prejudice and racism against Black people who wear dreadlocks is real. White folks do not face the same systemic barriers that Black folks do. If you’re trying to argue that somehow white people are the victims of racial bias based on their hairstyle in a way that is proportionate to the issues Black people with dreads face, you’re fighting a losing battle.

        If you have the several hours required to try and pry your hair out of the natural knots that dreadlocks entails then, yes, there are other less practical ways to pull them out. But in the real world, again, most people shave them off because it’s the only practical and efficient way to remove them. Especially if you’re Black – unravelling your dreads is virtually impossible.

        I went out of my way to point out that the comments were racist and idiotic. I did not say the person was an idiot. I did, however, encourage education so the person could disabuse themselves of these ideas that are rooted in racist ideology. I make no apologies for refusing to tolerate racism and for calling it exactly what it is.

        Misdirected rage would be to call you a misogynist without a shred of evidence, right now. I have no call to do that. However, if a “peace-loving hippie” is engaged in cultural appropriation, my rage is not misdirected IF IT’S MY CULTURE THE HIPPIE IS APPROPRIATING. So yeah, I have a strong opinion about dreadlocks and the appropriation of Jamaican culture, and you have no right to tell me my rage is misdirected.

        Also, pretending there is no cultural context to having a hairstyle that “naturally occurs in hair that is neglected” is completely irresponsible. Nice try, but there isn’t a soul in this country who doesn’t know that dreadlocks have a social and cultural context. I love how you try to frame my arguments as me “perpetrating hateful perspectives on race.” I’m not a racist, but I’ve met a few and if they had their way I’d be deported to Africa, stripped of Canadian citizenship, or worse. They are the perpetrators of racial hatred. I’m trying to fight it. I think you weren’t paying close enough attention to what I was saying in my first post.

        Finally, your hypothetical questions again exist outside the realm of reality. In the real world someone who started to wear dreads would quickly be informed of any social or cultural context they may have been ignorant of at the time. It is then when they must decide whether to keep or remove the dreads based on information about how they are being perceived in Canadian society, just as Shayna did. I stick to my view that if you wear them, you better be able to justify it or I consider it appropriation, no matter what colour you are – which is why I don’t wear them, either.

        PS – Yoga is a whole other discussion, as it is about a lifestyle that is not personal to me. But yes, I believe that in many cases, Westerners have appropriated yoga in a faddish way, to be cool / fashionable / hip / progressive, and do not respect or understand its cultural significance to those who created it. But again, that’s a whole other conversation.

      • Allow me to rebuttal point by point. As for shaving the hair, my entire point was do you consider it appropriate for people who don’t belong to those groups I mentioned to have shaved hair or should she be forced to grow it out into a different style. Because to say Dreads=bad because its significant to your cultural history and Shaved head=Ok its pretty damn hypocritical of you. That would be basically saying black culture is the only one you think matters.

        Henrietta Lacks grew a tumor that scientists were able to keep alive for a long time and clone. All of the actual scientific research, and everything beneficial for society was done by the medical community. Most prominently in the U.S. and western Europe who white people make up the majority. If you’re honestly suggesting growing a tumor is more important then centuries of scientific research you need to rethink throwing around the word education to anyone, but still should consider that seeing as how you Cherry picked 1 thing in all of medical science(with no sources mind you) and think you have made you’re case. Its even called western medicine, http://listverse.com/2011/09/11/10-people-who-have-improved-western-medicine/ All contributed way more than a tumor. And why would her family deserve any money? Being an organ donor doesn’t mean when I die my family gets compensated for whatever the hospital takes. Do you even know how she felt on the topic? Did she refuse to let the hospital take anything from her after she died? If she did then yeah that’s fucked up and they shouldn’t have taken samples but without a source I’m not just gonna take that on faith. If she was OK with scientists taking samples from her to potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives then her family is owed nothing. Because this may come as a shock, but to some saving lives and the advancement of the species is more important than money.

        Way to cherry pick definitions as well. : “to take exclusive possession of : annex ” Also from Merriam Webster, right below the one you used. But for the sake of argument I’l just use your definitions. Having dreadlocks isn’t illegal so that leaves just unfair. we’ll go to Merriam Webster again. “treating people in a way that favors some over others”. I can have this, but you can’t certainly seems to favor some over others. Regardless of the reasoning. Since I know you’re going to pull this card, because you have like 16 times already. Yes racism exists. Racists still exists. Some people being treated unfairly doesn’t justify treated others unfairly even if its not as severe. Just because there is a stigma attached to dreadlocks, one that white people do still deal with. One of my friends has had dreads since he was 16 and has been told point blank at job interviews to go get a fucking haircut if he wanted a job. Now if you don’t think being denied employment for having a certain hairstyle is having to deal with a stigma, sorry that’s idiotic. And you are aware the the Rastafarian movement was not the only nor the first people to wear dreads correct? http://www.knottyboy.com/learn/dreadlock-history/ Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Vikings, and Celts, all adopted that hairstyle long before that. So by your own definition the Rastafarian movement has appropriated their culture. And since my friend has family traced back to Celtic origins, technically by your own logic he has more right to wear them than you.

        And lastly just think about what you’re saying there, you’re mad at white folks for judging and condemning black people with dread locks. Than you get upset when other white people like them and wear them. You’re aware white people aren’t a hive mind correct? We didn’t sit around and decide, hey fuck all black people with dreads. Some people are bigoted and judge others for things like that, that is wrong. But the same white people you’re getting mad at are the ones fighting for your cause. They like your culture, they see nothing wrong with dreadlocks. If everyone had the same mentality as them the stigma around dreads wouldn’t exists. But you feel the need to lash out at them, you’re alienating your own allies. And just some food for thought, do you know any other demographic of people that judge other human beings for something like a hairstyle besides Bigots? I can’t think of any, so unless you can…maybe stop doing it yourself.

        But you were right about one thing. Education is very important, maybe you need to exercise that more than preach it though. Starting with this, rac·ism noun \ˈrā-ˌsi-zəm also -ˌshi-\
        : poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race

        : the belief that some races of people are better than others
        Again Merriam Webster. Nothing I have said fits into that definition. But you have referred to me as one about a dozen times now and therefor implying I am against civil rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. But if your idea of civil rights includes telling people what they can and can’t do with their own hair, Nah let me off that bus right now.

  6. Dreads are a traditional Native American hairstyle as well. It is not appropriation, as it is a phenom that happened in many cltures all over the world. Australia, Siberia, America (north and South), China, India(very famous for it), Africa & yes.. even Europe. All of these races have people that wore their hair in dreads. Not wearing hair in dreads is actually a ‘newer’ idea.. it followed the mass production and use of combs and shampoo. Historicaly people alll over hte world all wore dreads.. it is the way hair behaves in its natural state.

    So sorry.. you cut off you dreads due to anotheer persons opinion that ‘dreads’ are a black only tradition. European nomadic tribes (yes,they still exist) to this day still wear thier hair so as they trek and herd their reindeer. As do Native Americans in the southwestern/mexican tribes.. minus the reindeer, add some sheep.

    • I’m Native American and I can attest to this. I wrote something up there, but got no responses. Probably because it shined light on how dreads had no meaning a hundred years ago when tribes and other people had them, so for them to get raged over a hair style is silly.

      • What I think I read in the history everyone is sharing:
        Dreadlocks held little to no meaning, then an oppressed culture appropriated them as a meaningful aspect of self and political/cultural identity. It seems to me, like the whole popular awareness regards dreadlocks as part of Rastafarian culture.
        Peoples reasons for having Dreadlocks can be diverse. People have little historical awareness/sensitivity. People are encouraged these days to be individualist, and that does not highlight the need to respect groups of people, or try to understand them.

        This blog is a testament to the confusion, ignorance, brazen disrespect, and also well meaning parts of Canadian (I think) culture.
        Maybe I’m wrong about the cultures who are participating here.

        That’s what I’m reading in between the lines

  7. Dreadlocks are the NATURAL FORMATION of hair of ALL TYPES of hair. Many cultures from Asia, Europe, Mediterranean, Celts, Africa, Americas, etc had/have dreadlocks. It’s simply what hair does when you let hair do it’s own natural thing, no specific race/ethnicity “owns” the rights to have dreadlocks. Just let the social justice warriors cry about how racist it is to let hair naturally do it’s thing. Damn nature is racist.

  8. “It’s not about other people, it’s about you. Self expression is something that should never be denied. ”

    Yah, this is the argument of assholes. In particular,privileged, narcissistic assholes.

  9. my first thoughts/feelings pull me the other way than this, ““If it is just for “Form and Fashion’ it is 100% cultural appropriation. However if one is attracted to the meaning and African cultural relevance as well as ideological and spiritual meanings behind it, I cannot judge.”

    If what I do for me has to do with form (I’m not one for fashion, aesthetic- yes), like simplicity, tidiness, ease – it is just the form of my hair. I am a ‘long hair’ man, since 14. Probably some alt/counter culture in the original leaning. It’s my hair; my hair is long; it’s tough to care for; it dreads/knots. Can I say “dreads”? it works it’s way into one big dread. I have heard that my culture had knotty hair at times.

    If I have dreads, as a caucasian, because I’m attracted to ‘some cultural artifact’ – African… I’d call that appropriation.

    I was certainly made uncomfortable (threatened) more than once, as a white guy with dreads, by black men with Rastafarian colours, and lectured about my being ‘rasta’ or not. My response was that I didn’t know much about Rastafarianism, nor did I think myself Rasta.

    On a side note, I am Celtic. of the lost race Celt. the colonised folk now absorbed into the ‘white’. Having dreads was a part of me coming to know my self and culture. I had no idea that thin blond/ginger hair was dificult past a certain length. I was pleased to learn to care for my locks. including later on braids. I wear braids now. one, two, french… for myself, it feels good to was/comb/braid these fine locks. Not compared to dreads. I used to enjoy tightening and washing my dreads, pulling them uop in a ponytail, or letting them down and shaking them. I have felt uncomfortable near Indigenous folk with my hair in braids. I guess that’s the subject… same question… how to handle that.?

  10. Fascinating read. As a straight Caucasian male heading (hopefully) into a Masters of Counselling Psych, I’m intensely interested in the marginalization of all peoples. What got me in your article was the concept of fetishism and fetishization other cultures. I’m concerned that if we reinforce the boundaries between groups that we continue to operate in silos. In many ways I think this comes down to a moral issue. Are you wearing dreads to honour the traditions from which the style comes? You said your purpose was mostly aesthetic – I get that and I find it hard to understand how that negatively impacts others. By keeping the style separate it seems to continue to echo the original wrong that was done to the Rastas. It’s that age-old question about when do we forgive the group in power for the wrongs they have done. And as part of the group that has arguably done the most wrong, it’s a question that weighs heavily. I’m not sure there is an answer here – but I’m also not sure you were duty-bound to remove your dreads. Given that you felt it was the right thing, it probably was for you – but I’d venture to say that others who feel they do honour to others by keeping them, that we could respect that.

  11. It’s ironic that you probably had more claim to those dreads than 99% of white people with dreads (I mean, how many white people can honestly say their hair was originally dreaded enthusiastically by Rastas they were hanging out with in Ghana?). The tricky thing about cultural appropriation is that ultimately your specific instance of the symbol (in your case, the non-appropriative context that you got your dreads) cannot override the overarching cultural meanings associated with it. Or, to put it another way, even though for you the meanings associated with your hair were still connected to that non-appropriative context, there was no way for other people to look at other you and know about that context.

  12. You assume too much that we, black people, will actually give a damn crap and get offended about someone else using dreads. To me that’s way more racist than anything your social justice crowd will claim to be.

    • Thank you for speaking on behalf of all Black people to reassure others that we, in fact, don’t give a crap. Here’s a news bulletin – you DON’T speak for me. In the same way not every white person in dreads is an appropriating Jamaican wannabe, neither is every Black person as sanguine about this issue as you clearly are. I give a crap. Just because you don’t doesn’t mean I shouldn’t, just as I don’t think it’s a problem that you’re untroubled by this topic.

  13. I had dreads while I was traveling because my hair is thick and curly and I had a hard time brushing it 5 times a day and only showered every few weeks while hitch hiking. I didn’t “dread it”, it just dreaded on its own (meaning dreads are the natural state of my hair.) I got thrown out of stores, stared at, accused of stealing and panhandling when I actually wasn’t, treated as sub-human, mostly by cops and people with money (both black and white). It’s kind of ignorant (and racist) to assume that because my skin is light I can wear dreads without discrimination. It’s also ignorant and racist to assume that because a person is light skinned their anscestors owned slaves. Mine were poor, Italian grape farmers who came to America in the 1930s to escape fascism and Nazis. My great grandpa had only the little money in his pocket and 11 mouths to feed. They were far from privileged.

    • Your perception issues when people saw your dreads in a shop when you were out travelling and the centuries of racism directed at Black folks, reinforced by a power structure that literally claimed ownership over Black bodies to systematically enrich white people is not at all the same thing. While not all whites owned slaves in North America, virtually all Blacks brought to North America in the period of the transatlantic slave trade showed up in chains. Again, these issues are about context, and no, white people are not the victims of racism. Ever. Not in North America. Sorry. It doesn’t happen that way. The ignorance I see in the post is the belief in an application of racism that doesn’t bear out in real-world situations.

  14. Way to be thoughtful..but maybe a little too thoughtful. Saddhus in india wear dreads for completely different reasons…and you can wear yours for whatever reason you want. You are entitled to your self expression and if you feel like you are genuine in yourself, who cares if you are using the symbol in a way that works for you? I like my thai fisherman pants, do I feel guilty for being a white girl who does not fish? Hell no. Half the time people from the cultures where certain symbols come from have less of an idea why they do things than people who borrow them. Cultural appropriation becomes a problem when you are doing something disrespectfully, or making light or fun of anothers important traditions. ..but if you simply have your own spiritual reason to use a symbol, than rock on and fuck what others think. They can judge. You can ignore. Being white does not mean you have to wear anthropologie and drink lattes. You can eat dahl and wear a sari if you find it comfortable. Lets all chill with the oversensitive crap, eh?

    • “Lets all chill with the oversensitive crap, eh?”

      Spoken like a person who doesn’t suffer the slings and arrows of someone who thinks it’s okay to just “rock on and fuck what others think” even if such behaviour is injurious. Nice to know you don’t have to worry about the repercussions of your actions, eh? That’s for someone else to deal with while you live however you damn well please! This level of malicious self-absorption can, in fact, be the source of more destruction than could ever be justified by this apparently unfettered right to self-expression. Unfortunately, you don’t have the right to do whatever the hell you want, and you bear a responsibility to behave respectfully towards others in a community. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand; you don’t get to enjoy one without the duties inherent in the other.

  15. learning lots here! I have had dreads for over ten years, white canadian live in grenada, west indies for over twenty years, married to a beautiful rastaman from Grenada and we have a daughter whose dreads sprouted soon after she born. she looks just like her dad but is closer to my skin colour then her dads. she is considered white here most of the time at school and in our community. it will be interesting to see how she figures out her spiritual political racial hair. I chose to dread my hair naturally as I have my dad’s irish steely hair and well for me perhaps it was a statement against the oppressive ideals of beauty I grew up with perhaps it is because I feel as though I found myself growing up here in grenada, grew up to be a social, political, women activist and well my hair perhaps at the beginning was a statement. it also rooted me to my community here and I was no longer looked on as a tourist but a sistren in solidarity. my first thought when I read the blog post was I hope she doesn’t give up spoken word too. I respect why she cut her locks but I couldn’t help wonder if she really needed a reason or if the time was just right for her to shed her locks. I also believe if wearing dreads is more then a style, if it touches something in you that is spiritual and real well let us be spiritual and real but also respectful and conscious!
    thanks shayna for being so courageous and thanks to the posts here for opening up the dialogue and learning always learning! one love.

  16. Hey,

    Read your post in passing and as someone else who has dreds, I think your putting wayyyy to much thought into this. I wear dreds because I like the look. Mine are synth dreds and go with my overall style. I take them out often and can was them in the washer which keeps them bright, good smelling, and super clean..as well as reusable. The idea that they can in some way be racist or in some other way offensive boggles my mind. I wear them for me. If some one else has an issue with them, then it is exactly that…their issue. end of story. dreds are part of my current self expression and i wont except anyone else s limitations or definitions in that regard. If you shaved off your dreds, with your friends help.Then great , power to you and i hope it truly was a positive experience. But if you did it because there was an off chance that someone, or a few people might be offended…..well i wont congratulate you for that line of thinking. Instead I’d say don’t forget to live your life in the way you choose while you still can!!

  17. Hey woman
    There is no difference between black people and white people. We are all humans, skin color is the only difference and that means nothing. There is ancient tradition of locking hair in white Jewish community too, skin color has ZERO to do with dreadlocks. People who say white people should not wear them do not really know what they are talking about. How exactly do you think all the people wore their hair for mellenia BEFORE the comb was invented? Locking is what hair does naturally.
    Stop separating the world into black and white and the world will be a better place.
    FYI Bob Marleys Father was white, does that mean he should not have locked his hair?

    • I’ve enjoyed reading this forum recently and taking in all of the different opinions and poignant insight of a few people in specific. I’m sadly never surprised to hear this misinformation about the filthy nature of dreadlocks. I’m mixed ethnicity, with long, healthy, neat, CLEAN locks. This misconception of people with locs not being able to wash their hair is foolishness. Dirty people are filthy whether they have locks or not. And the same goes for clean people. Clean people with locks wash them whether it’s with shampoo or vital water from the earth.Whether it be Rasta, belief, an akeedah a respect for natural growth, belief that the ashee carries inner strength or simply a lazy dirty person, there are so many different reasons for locks let’s be educated and see the truth and not the myth. Enjoy reading and sharing thoughts on this!

  18. FYI
    locks have to be kept clean..anyone growing them without washing is creating only a mess, they will break off at points where lint and dirt gather. Dreadlocks form when CLEAN, dirt hinders their formation and growth.

  19. Let’s get real — you just grew up, and grew out of that hairstyle. Most people do — especially white people who have them.

    Fact is, dreadlocks are considerably “high maintenance,” especially compared to the short cut you have now. And no hair style should give you backaches or heat stroke, or have you worried of smelling like mildew.

    Hair is meant to be cut. Just like fingernails and toenails. Would it be “natural” and “spiritual” to not cut your toenails — or just high-maintenance and potentially disgusting?

    My personal theory about hair is that, unlike animal’s fur, it continues to grow — down to the ground if you let it — because part of its purpose is to be cut, as a means of expression. Hair in many cultures expresses class affiliation, clan affiliation, etc.

    Just like eyebrows keep water out of your eyes — but are also highly expressive, in their mobility — haircuts are a form of communication, cultural communication, in their necessary cutting and styling. Even dreadlocks are just cultural communication.

    …So cutting your hair is as natural as not cutting it (and a lot more low maintenance, so even more natural).

    I think you look cute without your dreads, younger too. (Though a bit like a skinhead, so I wouldn’t guess that you’d be smoking weed with rastas in ghana…)

    Just one giant black man’s opinion.

    • If it was natural to cut your hair we would have fangs or nails to cut it with.
      Dreads are not high maintenance anymore than keeping your hair clean and dreads are not harder to clean than any other hair. And dreads do not cause backaches or heatstroke, you are making all that up from your imagination not experience.
      White people feel no differently about their dreads than black or brown people, again you speak not from experience but from imagination.
      And calling cutting ones dreads “growing up” is frankly insulting, as I am sure you intended it. Maybe you need to grow up a little bit.

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  21. I agree with Jake. You’ll never please everyone all of the time. I also believe that how you see these things is totally subjective to your environment. I’m a black woman who has had locs for the last two years. They fall just past my shoulders now :-). I had relaxers put in my hair my entire childhood/adolescence. By my late teens I was beginning to understand the slave mentality that keeps so many black women in bondage to European standards of beauty. At 19 I chose to reject those ideas and wear my natural hair, no more chemicals. 10 years after that I chose to loc my hair. Partly as an expression of cultural pride, and partly because the style just fits my character. I’m an artistic free spirit. I answer to God (Jehovah), absolutely. But I also live my life unrestrained by societal standards established by people who discredit and condescend to anything that doesn’t resemble themselves or makes them uncomfortable. My hair reflects that. And it’s pretty lol.

    But where I live, locs are less of a religious choice and more of a cultural choice. For black people they symbolize an acceptance and love of one’s own culture and a sort of middle finger to the man. When I see a white person with dreads, I don’t think, “Who does he think he is?” or, “She has no right to wear a hairstyle so specific to my culture.” I’ll admit, sometimes it looks ridiculous to me, because typical Caucasian hair just isn’t made to lock up, and with insufficient grooming and care it can just look like a matted mess to me (sorry, just being honest). When the hair looks dirty and/or the person wearing the hair looks a lil funky, I get annoyed because that person is giving everyone with dreads/locs (because most folks lump it all together) a bad name.

    But on the other hand, I have seen some white people with dreads that don’t look bad at all. And aesthetics aside, just do you man. Everything isn’t that deep. Rastafarians didn’t invent dreads. People all over the world have worn them for centuries for reasons specific to their own culture. Again, just do you. There will always, ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like what you do. Displeasing just one person is not reason enough to change your life every three hours. Please don’t live by that. The result is perpetual white guilt, and that gets old on both sides.

  22. Ohhh but let me also say that you look great both ways! Your dreads were very nice, but you are rocking that head honey!

  23. I understand the desire not to offend, but no culture owns dreadlocks. Tribal Europeans also wore them. Virtually every culture has, since it’s just what hair does. It may be offensive to some, but no one has legitimate cause for offense. Don’t overly concern yourself with the begrudgers.

  24. Obviously, she didn’t learn enough about the history of ‘dreadlocks’ and only their context within modern North American society. No, European men didn’t keep their hair short and face shaved throughout history, it’s not our culture.
    No, Africans didn’t invent the idea of allowing your hair to grow naturlally into knots rather than constantly brushing and combing and cutting it into form.
    People of European ancestry have had their culture so brutally supressed for generations that our ‘academics’ have us convinced that institutionalist state conformity is our culture, and that every aspect of our culture that’s not dictated by institutionalists is ‘stolen’ from someone else.
    No, having dreads isn’t ‘racist’ and you’re not ‘enlghtened’ for cutting them.

  25. Her fundamental point is simply untrue. Her belief is untrue. Dreads are entirely aesthetic, they have no actual religious significance, in and of themselves, even to Rastafari and Hindus and others who ‘keep dreads’ for ‘religious reasons’, the dreads themselves are incidental and there is nothing wrong with anyone having them for whatever reason.
    This false attachment of long hair to indigenous people or ‘dreads’ to black people is so blatantly racist, against those cultures as well as against white people. If some middle class, university educated, radical ‘rastafari’ of any race decares that dreads on non ‘rastafari’ offend him or her for ‘religious’ reasons, they are lying, or they’e been programmed to grasp for excuses to act offended because they’ve spent too long in school learning left/liberal excuses for finding things offensive because of the growing cultural of victimhood as a virtue within modern liberal institutionalist academic culture.

    We all have hair. Every culture. And it would have been pretty ridiculous from ancient people to be cutting their hair and grooming it constantly the way people were forced to and later adapted to as a ‘culture’ in militarized, colonial, institutionalist societies, starting in China and India and later Europe.
    Dreads, and long hair as a ‘cultural’ signifier, are pre-colonial, pre-militarized, pre-industrial, pre-institutionalist, they signify that the individual is rejecting the absurd cultural norms of a colonial/militarist/industrial institutionalist society and it’s leaders pathological obsession with symetry and order in aesthetics. It also connects to crowded conditions of institutionalist societies, the difficulty of lice, etc., in large armies and urban centers.
    I’ll pull away from hair to give you the main point of why this entire ‘appropriation’ fable is so ridiculous. Basically, the idea of burning stuff that smells nice is found in every culture, and often this is done in religious ceremonies because of the notion of the object of worship being present at such ceremonies and having human likes and dislikes, is more likely to be pleased at the ceremony if it smells nice.
    Do we decide who can burn what nice smelling stuff based on whether they worship a non-existent deity that is said to like the smell of it? That we can’t burn nice smelling stuff because it smells nice but have to believe in non-existent deities or somehow we’re ‘stealing’ something of significance?
    That is essentially how the argument goes.

  26. Blond haired vikings, dreads is the most natural thing. To not have dreads is not natural. Everyone wants to have an opinion but fact is is we come from nature and all our ancestors have had dreads at some point in history. The tradition of cutting hair first started with slaves, same as circumcision and in later generations made it a proud heritage costume. Long hair gives you a type of 6 sense. Here is a link to inform you of the significance of hair. http://www.quantumbalancing.com/spiritualhair.htm

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