Justin Bieber. Kylie Jenner. Khloe Kardashian.
These three celebrities have all participated in a system of cultural and racial oppression called cultural appropriation. They have all been spotted wearing dreadlocks, cornrows or box braids, which are hairstyles that are traditionally ‘black’ styles.
“Cultural appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the
culture of less privileged groups — often with little understanding of the latter’s history, experience and traditions,” according to racerelations.about.com.
When white people wear these styles and then argue that some black people straighten their hair, so they're doing a ‘white style,’ they're wrong for many reasons. First of all, often times people who straighten their hair have to do it to be seen as more professional or be respected, and straight hair isn't a trait specific to white people. These people may be wearing this style to get jobs, be respected, or just to fit in with the many Eurocentric beauty standards surrounding us.
Other sources define cultural appropriation as, “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people's
cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.”
This wouldn't be as big of a problem if black people were respected when they wear these styles, but they are often dehumanized and put-down for wearing these styles, while white people are praised and applauded for ‘changing up’ their look or trying a more ‘out-there’ style.
When white people, especially celebrities, wear these styles as their own or coin them as a new ‘trend,’ it erases years of black culture where these styles were popular before they were a ‘hot new trend’ for people who aren't a part of the culture.
One of the most commonly-cited, and controversial quotes is from when Zendaya Coleman wore dreadlocks and was told her they, “Smell like patchouli oil. Or, weed,” from Giuliana Rancic, a TV personality. Yet, when white celebrities wear dreadlocks, they are told their hair looks great and are complimented on it.
In an article by Cosmopolitan, Coleman explained the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.
"You have to be very careful," Coleman said. "Some things are really sacred and important to other cultures, so you have to be aware, politically, about those things before you just adopt them. In order to appreciate something, you have to know about it and understand [it]. You don't just wear something just to wear it — you have to understand the history behind it.”
Coleman pointed out that just because a person thinks a style looks cool, or likes it, it doesn't mean that they get to wear it without recognizing all of the history and culture behind it.
Styles like dreadlocks are more than just hair in certain cultures. The styles have a history of oppression and some even have a spiritual background. People who just wear them because they look cool don’t recognize or understand these things.
And the issue isn’t just one or two celebrities wearing their hair a certain way. The issue is that people claim they have made dreadlocks or other similar hairstyles trendy. These styles have been around for hundreds of years and just because people are now taking a liking to them, doesn't mean that they are new or that you should be wearing something that isn't a part of your culture.