This is one of those stories when I realize how much white supremacy permeates American society, even in a racially-diverse, seemingly liberal area like the San Francisco Bay Area. By now, most people have heard about or seen the video footage of a black female employee at San Francisco State University going off on a white male student for wearing dreadlocks. She called it ‘cultural appropriation’ and it has unleashed a firestorm of criticism against the black woman for calling it appropriation and accusing her of assault. ‘Cultural appropriation’ is not about creating something first or being allowed to wear something of another culture. It is about how people of certain groups suffer discrimination for wearing a staple of their culture, while other groups wear the same thing as a fashion statement or ‘to look cool’ and it is called beautiful.
Let me point out, the woman in the video should not have put her hands on him at all. But her argument is valid and one that should be listened to. The male student, whose name is Cory Goldstein, was interviewed by Golden Gate Xpress where he attempted to explain himself and in the process displayed his ignorance and insensitivity to African-American cultural history. Mr. Goldstein is correct that dreadlocks are not solely a staple of African/African-American culture. Dreadlocks are an ancient style seen in Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient Greece, pre-colonial Africa, the list goes on.
But Mr. Goldstein is completely ignorant to the history of black Americans wearing dreadlocks and other natural styles in North America. He incorrectly states that wearing dreadlocks is not a staple to African-American culture, calling it ‘something they just wear on their heads’, further establishing his ignorance to the cultural hierarchy that led black Americans to wear dreadlocks and other styles to embrace our hair’s natural texture, rather than manipulating it with heat and chemicals, for the sake of being acceptable in American society.
Dreadlocks, commonly associated with Bob Marley and later Whoopi Goldberg became popular among black Americans during the 1970s-1980s as a way of us accepting the naturally curly texture of our hair. During slavery and after Emancipation in 1865, eurocentric features such as white skin and straight hair were held up as the most desirable features–and still are today. For a century after slavery, black hair care revolved around making our hair straight as possible, despite the damage in doing so. Dreadlocks, twists, braids and other natural styles symbolize African-Americans realizing that our hair is beautiful kinks, curls and all, in spite of the omnipresent messages that it’s not. However, embracing our natural texture comes with a price.
Many comments defend Mr. Goldstein’s right to wear his hair the way he wants, say that it is beautiful and it is not appropriation. But for black men and women in the work place, wearing our hair in locs, braids, twists or any natural hair style can mean we do not get the job we’re more than qualified for, or we do not get the promotion we worked extra hard to get. Until the courts stepped in, it meant we might be subject to extra security at the airport. Mr. Goldstein will not incur any penalty in the workplace nor elsewhere for wearing his hair the way he does. But put a black man or woman in his place and there is a double standard in the perception of white people wearing dreadlocks versus black people wearing dreadlocks.
That is why Mr. Goldstein wearing dreadlocks is ‘cultural appropriation.’ Dreadlocks are not ‘beautiful’ only when white people wear them. They are always beautiful. You just wouldn’t know it from the many black men and women who suffer from prejudice on the job and elsewhere.
Mr. Goldstein says that “differences should not separate us but bring us closer together.” I agree differences should not divide us, but since the 18th century when Europeans created the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’ to categorize people and establish a racial hierarchy with white people at the top and black people at the bottom, differences have divided us. These differences were present at the nascent of the United States’ birth, permeating every aspect of American life, continuing to this day. ‘Differences’ are what led people to defend Mr. Goldstein and demonize the black woman in the video, call her a racist and publish her name, address and phone number on the Internet, despite numerous students confirming that Mr. Goldstein initiated the confrontation by calling her a b– when she handed him a flyer. Differences divide us when people say black women culturally appropriate white culture by straightening our hair, ignoring the fact that mainstream American culture tells us that straight hair is ‘good hair’ and tightly coiled hair is ‘bad hair’.
It goes without saying that Mr. Goldstein is not an authority on what is or is not ‘cultural appropriation.’ He does not get to decide what is a staple of black American culture. WE [black Americans] do! The audacity of Mr. Goldstein to liken African-Americans embracing the hair God blessed us with to “something they just wear on their heads” and a fashion statement “just like the bindi” which by the way, is NOT a fashion statement either, see #savethebindi, reflects his idiocy toward black and brown cultures and the double standard of white supremacy.