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!