‘…a case study in white privilege’; seriously? check it out

Yesterday a few of us watched various Twitter accounts to try to keep up with the Chicago teachers and allies strike in Chi-town.  One account I followed was Black Youth Project 100, given that they are the young ‘uns (millennials) who will inherit the world soon, and that being self-described black queers and trans, and they’ve only recently been starting to make sure their voice are heard, and good on them.

Toward the end of the day I kept seeing Tweets ‘n reTweets of the above, written by ‘the managing editor of BYP100’, Jenn M. Jackson.

The link goes to her ‘The ‘White Boy In Locs’ Movement Isn’t Just About A Hairstyle’

Had she not mentioned the video having gone viral, and seeing that she was correct, I began looking through the various links, as well as comments under the videos.  It may be a tempest in a 3 and a-half-million-views teapot, but let’s say…it didn’t serve to broaden a conversation about ‘cultural appropriation’.  And it’s been bugging me in off-moments, so here I am, writing it up, as goofy as it may seem.  Jackson:

“At some point, we have to come clean about the toxic ways that whiteness works to perpetually erase, pacify, and root out blackness in the United States. And we have to be honest that cultural appropriation is a deeper ideological commitment than just a desire to emulate hairstyles, vernacular, food, and clothing.

A video emerged this week showing a confrontation between a Black woman and a White male who was wearing dreadlocks or locs. In the video, the young woman is expressing concern that his hairstyle is a case of cultural appropriation. While the confrontation itself has been the focus of many mainstream stories covering the incident, what is more concerning about the footage is the White male’s indignance in asserting his God-given right to not only wear the hairstyle but to uproot the Black woman from her own cultural identity in the process. In essence, his arsenal of witty responses to deflect and undermine the (justifiable) concerns from the Black woman confronting him is precisely why she was approaching him in the first place.

The video, which took place at San Francisco State University, was posted to YouTube and has since gone viral. In the video, the Black woman is heard explaining to the White male that he is appropriating her culture.”, and repeats some of their dialogue, which she finds fault with.

When the young man attempts to leave, the confrontation gets more intense but it is hardly the “assault” folks have framed it to be. Meanwhile, a student is filming the incident and says he is doing it for “everyone’s safety.”

She then lambastes him for the white student’s “down body language”, and for mocking the black woman for ‘poking fun at African American Vernacular English (AAVE).  Okay…eye of the beholder and all that.  But my sense is that comments on the woman’s behavior must have mentioned her ‘assaulting him’ often, and Jackson’s defense/excuse is the larger issue:

“The video really wasn’t as concerning as some people have suggested when you consider the ways that Black people’s bodies are violated in public spaces every single day. Black women’s hair is patted down, excavated, and disturbed at airports for “safety.” Black folks with locs are barred from certain jobs and opportunities because locs are seen as unkempt or dirty. Overall, this video just shows a privileged White kid getting questioned about his odious mimicry of dreads. People only really care because he’s White.”

Ack!  Goddess knows that her first three contentions are the truth, and that examples of white privilege are epic (including my own), but don’t come close to justifying her accosting the student verbally and laying hands on him, then maybe mugging for the camera with: ‘Do not put your hands on me’.  He didn’t, as far as I was able to tell.

“The young man later gave an interview to the Golden Gate Express. In it, the young man, identified as Cory Goldstein (22), claims that the altercation was unjustified because, he “didn’t feel the need to explain [him]self. My hair, my rules, my body.”

He continues to work his hardest to distance the young woman from the very culture she was attempting to defend. He says, “It’s not even a part of the colored community’s culture.” According to him, Irish (not a culture), Vikings (also not a culture), and Victorians (still no, not a culture and probably a lie) wore dreadlocks. He then says, “when people wear Native American headdresses, I feel like that is cultural appropriation because that is something that solely is within their culture. That they use for [empowerment]. Only people of high standing within that community with high standing can have headdresses. That would be cultural appropriation.” You know, because all Native Americans wear headdresses and they have one single community…and he gets to decide what appropriation is…not the people whose culture’s are being appropriated.

In an attempt to whitesplain what locs are, he says, “Hair tangles naturally.” The interviewer then says “is that something that naturally happen to your hair?” To which he replies, “No.” But, because he is White, he gets all the things apparently.” 

She adds additional barbs, and yes, it’s easy to say he could have spoken better, and may have had he had time to reflect had he not been so verbally and physically accosted.  His facile remarks about ‘the colored community not knowing’, yada, yada, were ignorant, but what the journalist leaves out was that in the next interview he says that two flights up, the young woman had ‘looked at him and told him “Sorry, we don’t want woman with your hair here”.  Now given that she and her friend followed him down the stairs, and engaged in that sort of (ahem) ‘discussion’ with him, I’m fully prepared to believe it.

If this isn’t a case study in white privilege I don’t know what is. This young man would rather use ancient cultures (of whom we have no way of knowing if they ever had “tangled hair”) to justify his appropriation of living, breathing people whose actual cultures he is hijacking right now. Not only that, he claims to know what Black people do and do not know about themselves. Apparently, Black folks just wear locs on our heads as a hairstyle. He is doing something different and more sacred because research and stuff.

For this young man, who is sorely in need of more books, this “hairstyle” is about his right as a White man to take whatever he wants from whomever he wants. That he identifies the “colored community” as an actual thing is evidence that the conception of cultural appreciation is lost on him. But, even deeper than that, his inability to see this Black woman’s concerns as valid and informed by a particular cultural experience in the United States is precisely the definition of White privilege. His propensity to cherry-pick history, bending reality to fit his whims suggests that whiteness will go to any lengths to insulate and reproduce itself even if that means trying to convince Black people their culture isn’t even their’s (sic) to protect.

Frankly, this video makes me sick to my stomach. It is the kind of combination of toxic masculinity and toxic whiteness that just make you feel as if our work here will never be done. And maybe it won’t, but I’m glad this young woman tried.”

Now Goldstein may indeed ‘need more books’, but maybe Jackson could have hit the Google/Bing before she wrote.  The Wiki has a bit of a section on the many present and historical cultures and kingdoms in which locs were worn by holy people, warrior societies, etc.  More modernly, with the advent of Rastafarianism and Bob Marley, they’ve been sported by prominent authors, actors, athletes and rappers, hippies, cybergoths, and any old ’counterculture adherents’.  Wiki says: ‘In 2012, about 180 National Football League players wore dreadlocks’; you decide what their reasons might have been other than that they’re ‘a spiritual power tradition’?    ;-)

Jackson does advise us to read Evette Dionne’s coverage of this issue at The Revelist so that we can see for ourselves what a knothead of a culture hijacker he is, but the journalist prof Lori Tharps she quotes extensively brings more nuance to the issue, and even recommends having forums about the origins of locs, perhaps ending persuading whites not to wear them, rather than accosting another person.  Why isn’t it seen as ‘honoring’ cultures that wear locs? Yes, hair can be very political, as those allowing their hair to grow into ‘naturals’ know only too well.  And as for black hair being ‘a source of tension and provocation’, I can attest to this throughout our son’s life, and the stories aren’t one bit pretty.  Or when his would-be orthodontist said that ‘if we extract these three upper teeth before bracing, he won’t appear so…Negro’….  (bye-bye, Dr. Schaefer, don’t send us a bill…shall we get him some rhinoplasty, as well?)

Please feel free to disagree with my take; I just needed to vent.

And since dreads are Rasta, and this is Café Babylon: Jah Guide!

23 responses to “‘…a case study in white privilege’; seriously? check it out

  1. You are leaving me in the weeds on the first and second readings of some of your posts, wendyedavis. Most likely an age associated problem with me, but keep it coming because you never fail to test my comprehension skills and waking abilities to otherwise successfully cogitate meanings. Sorry to be absent from your discussions.

    I am unabashedly caught up in some very local but state-wide consequential issues regarding anti-capitalism, citizen rights, clean air and clean water and free access to them, leading up to Tuesday’s local ballot selections.

    My acquaintance MAL, I see, has listed your site in his sidebar auto updates and I will phone to thank him.

    Back upstairs to re-read what is always an enlightened perspective from you to me. Thank ya so very much. (Weird weather wonders, yesterday for the whole daylight was approx 15 minutes of bright cloudless sunshine followed by equal periods of total cloud cover, 90% white-out snow showers. Not exaggerating.)

    • ha ha! i’m older ‘n you (iirc), and thank the goddess i don’t even have the wherewithal to worry if they make sense! (wide grin) an old friend from the wayback phoned the other day; we traded emails, websites, tra la la. just heard from him and he sayed “you sure are prolific!” but see, i’ll say, if i had a real life out in the world, i could hush my doggone mouth once in awhile… this crap just bugged me, is all, the subject of the diary i mean.

      good luck with all those key issues on tuesday, nonquixote. and srsly, ‘wd’ is fine. when one is as crap a typist as i…shorter matters. the diary you’ll love though is the ESA space images one; sublime.it’s from a few days earlier.

      well bless Mal; thank him for me, too. guess he doesn’t so much mind how eclectic the subjects are, eh?

      oh: the weather. we’ve had some similar days, just plain weird. and high winds, but out of the north.

  2. What a waste of provocation.

    • i tho’t this post was fun. i just started seriously losing my hair. not the next year plan but the 3 to 6 (please, lord) yr plan. zip! adios.

      • tut, tut, tut, mon ami. i even gave ya da wiki to show how to make fake dreadlocks; i may try them myownself soon. i used to plait my temple hair ‘n hang beads n bells n gold earrings in the braids. you know, moar cultural appropriation.

        hope ya get the 6, darlin’.

    • mebbe i mistake your meaning, but if not: exactly. also what a waste that so many are glorifying the waste (and worse, imo) of the provocation.

  3. Three words : Peace. Love. Understanding.

    Or: Jimi Hendrix Experience

    OR, Imitation; SINCEREST Flattery.

  4. Another example of the birth pangs of post-racial America.

    Mutual cultural appropriation is the cultural foundation of social integration.

    Appropriation is not remembering that heavily black-peppered dishes, okra, rice, and yams are African foods spanning multiple cultures. That tomatoes, potatoes, cornmeal, grits, and peppers are indigenous American (for lack of a pre-contact general term) foods. And that spaghetti and marinara sauce would be impossible without the imperial hiring of Italian sailors in the 15th through 18th centuries. Or maybe we should give up all of these human inventions until we have permission of the descendants of the original inventing culture. In which case, non-Europeans will have to give up pork, hard biscuits, green peas and denim.

    More sources of cultural identity are the markers of class when the culture was oppressed and later enforced as a marker of positive identity. And then elaborated through splits in cultural traditions. For people seeking power over their own lives through forceful expression of their identity, I can see why dreadlocks might be seized upon a focus for cultural defense.

    For a person who views the world as a global citizen and seeing borrowing as honoring not appropriating, I can see why this conversation should seem confusing and out of place.

    The social relations that brought these two to that point are the result of a social and personal history in which conflict is encouraged in order to divide and expropriate and white privilege was the questionable reward for collaborating or remaining silent in that expropriation. Is rhetorical but not actual “black power” becoming that same sort of hollow reward?

    Even in this speed bump in California personal interaction, who actually benefits?

    • after three reads, i’m sorta grasping what you’re saying (as a sociological interpretation.) but heh, the chinese are quite positive that they invented long pasta. ;-)

      “Is rhetorical but not actual “black power” becoming that same sort of hollow reward?” well, that may be the thing, as well as ‘who benefited?’ from the many comments, all of this was indicted by many blacks (if one believes avatars), brought the trolls out, of course, and may have served to divide more than ally, sadly. a similar piece at the Ind.UK brought similar responses.

      if the university does ‘investigate’ the incident, woe to all, i reckon. isn’t it odd that the young black woman and her friend with the high fade haven’t been identified? sure seems as though at least she would have wanted some time to expound on the issues that the several women authors did. i had to laugh at the list of ‘not a culture’ s that the young man had mentioned. ;-)

      sorry comrade, i did play the video in your marked places, but am not able to decode the conversation.

      night all, let your lights shine; this is indeed another speed bump in racial relations, as thd said well.

    • i should have asked you who you believe benefited from this.

  5. Sorry, did I miss an example of glorifying the waste? I suspect that those glorifying the waste keep their glee low-key.

    Hey. :)

    [16:45-17:01 Colia Clark:] I’m trying to remember the writer who talks about the coming of the European and the societies falling apart because what they took was the outcast; they came in and gave the outcast power. Well the Europeans certainly could not have been the first in doing that …

    And not the last, either … She’s probably referring to Achebe and “Things Fall Apart”.

    The life of the clan had always been rooted in traditional close ties among related people; Christianity now allowed disaffected individuals to break those ties with their families and clan and join the Church instead. The early members of the Church included the outcasts and dregs of the clan, not respected leaders in good standing. However, this was a source of the Church’s great appeal for those outcasts — rejected by the clan, they were welcomed by the Church. Obierika pointed out that once these outcasts of the clan joined the Church, which separated them from the clan:
    “….our clan can no longer act like one. [The white man] has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

    This technique can be applied recursively …

  6. [26:45-27:01]

  7. sorry comrade and tarheel dem, but you’ve both lost me. guess i’ll go watch a pbs mystery and try to grok a bit later. but thank you, in any event, for weighing in.

  8. Another example of this same phenomenon IMO.


    The presence of blatant actual racism seeking to be legitimized has heightened sensitivities that sometimes latch on false positives.

    • quite a stretch to call it racist. i like ‘false positives’, thd. now ogden nash he’s not, but still… tom rich at his ‘the stranger’ site showed the lines having to do with chow mein.

      oh, and upthread you’d asked “who benefits”. did you have an answer to the question?

      you’d likely seen that mississippi’s gov just signed their new ‘religious freedom’ bill. i swear.

      • I don’t have an answer, which is why the whole phenomenon puzzles me. It seems like oversensitivity to slight, unless there is some specifically personal going on between the parties that doesn’t get surfaced in the media.

        Mississippi just couldn’t let NC have anything worse than theirs. Once again NC says, “Thank God for Mississippi.”

        • i’d looked back at the woman’s twit account, but found nothing else about it, so…i dunno. but i think it was there that i saw a tweet about deray, nettaaaa, miz packyetti meeting with Lo-retta lynch.

          “Once again NC says, “Thank God for Mississippi.” Crow! yer on a roll, ya tarheel; wonderful.

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