Yep, that’s Justin Bieber in the photo, but I’m not writing specifically about him. Frankly I don’t even like him. The topic here is his hair, his dreadlocks, dreds, or locs. It’s created quite a controversy recently because, many claim, it constitutes “cultural appropriation.”
Oh, gasp! Personally, I dismiss cries of cultural appropriation. Maybe that’s just because I’m an old, possibly un-woke white woman. I try to be aware and keep up with what’s going on around me, but I just can’t sympathize with complaints about cultural appropriation.
I was raised to think of America as a melting pot, where all the inhabitants just blend together into homogeneous Americans. Since then, of course, it’s become apparent and understandable that people might want to honor and preserve their cultural heritage, whatever it might be. And that’s fine. But I don’t think anyone has a patent on or an exclusive right to their traditions and styles (with the notable exception of religious ceremonies, objects, and raiments).
I was also raised to think that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If I dress like you, it’s because I like the way you dress. If I adopt your hairstyle, it’s because I admire your hairstyle. In fact, back in the ’70s, I did exactly that — along with many of my female friends. We all got really curly perms — Afros if you will, although I never thought of it that way. It was just a cute, new, very easy-to-maintain hairstyle. And as best I can remember, I never heard the term “cultural appropriation.” I suppose others, then and now, would accuse me of that.
Today I am hearing the term more often, but I still don’t have much sympathy for the sentiment. After all, what is it when Black people straighten their hair? I’m not going to have a hissy fit about it. My hair is pathetically straight, but if you like the look, go for it.
Jazz and reggae originated in Black communities but are loved and have spread throughout American culture. Is that cultural appropriation? What about St. Patrick’s Day when “everybody’s Irish”?
What about team mascots? These days some of them are not considered “politically correct.” So we’re not supposed to name our sports teams “Chiefs,” “Indians,” “Braves,” or “Redskins.” I understand the latter is a derogatory term used by early settlers in the West. But the other names were probably adopted because the teams admired them and wanted to think of themselves as brave fighters and warriors. (If I recall correctly, it wasn’t even Native Americans who first objected to the use of these team names.) I still remember, back in the Dark Ages when I was attending the University of Oklahoma, our mascot was “Li’l Red.” His real name was Kirk Kickingbird. He was 100% Native American, proud of his heritage, and he danced at our games. He wore a beautiful red-and-white feathered costume that he’d made himself, and danced a real tribal war dance. Or did until somebody somewhere decided it was not politically correct for him to do so.
I’m reminded of those people who take offense at almost anything and have twisted society into knots trying to avoid “offensive” Halloween costumes or “triggers” on college campuses or any place in public. It begins to feel like the tail wagging the dog.
Okay, that’s a lot to chew on. But the Bieber thing really set me off. What are your thoughts? Is it cultural appropriation? Is cultural appropriation bad?