During the time I’ve written for this blog, I have made many posts that I later wished I’d worded differently. There are situations I wish I’d handled differently and there are topics I wish I’d learned a bit more about before speaking on them. With all that said, there is only one post that I’ve ever written that I am truly ashamed of. Not it’s message but it’s delivery. It is the only post that I wish I could make disappear so that I could rewrite it properly. The post on the cultural appropriation of dreadlocks. The point and purpose of the post was correct. However, the delivery, history and general forming of reference, not so much. I won’t be linking to the original post but it is still available on this blog if you are so inclined to find it. In the meantime, it’s time to correct that mistake of a post.
THE HISTORY OF DREADLOCKS
The very name, “Dreadlock” is attached to a vile and storied history. The name is traced back to days when enslaved people were being carted across the ocean. When they arrived, their hair was matted with blood, feces, urine, sweat, tears, dirt and time. When the captors watched them walk, crawl or be carried off the ships, they referred to the hair of slaves as “Dreadful.” This was a common word used to describe the locks that had formed during the many trips. The term dreadlock became prevalent to describing the hair formation.
The term was later reclaimed with the uprising of Rastafarian culture. Dreadlocks were a source of pride in one’s history, a symbol of laying down material and capitalist pursuits and a way to thumb disdain at white culture. The very name or rather it’s shortened version, locks, is a source of great pride for a history that may never be truthfully told.
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION OF DREADLOCKS
The most common comment of those who want to appropriate locks is, “Every culture had dreadlocks.” This is false. Any reference made to other cultures is about matting of hair. Sometimes in a lock formation, sometimes not. However, there are no other cultures that had “Dreadlocks.”
With minor research, one can find that the matting of hair in other cultures has never been, “Dreadlocks.” For example, the Irish had several names for their matted hair. Glibs, Glibbes and Gleebs were among the most common. In India, matted tufts of hair were labeled, Jata. Making the statement that “Every culture had dreadlocks” isn’t just factually incorrect, it’s disrespectful to the very history that bound each enslaved person’s lock in blood. The history of the “Dread” in dreadlock, is so vastly different than just the simple matting of hair.
Honestly curious here:
If a white person with european ancestry were to go for a matted hairstyle but instead of calling them dreadlocks, called them elflocks (first known use of the word, according to online merriam-webster in 1592), would that be okay? Would it be okay for someone with an appropriate understanding of the cultural-historical context of dreadlocks vs. european matted hairstyles (like polish plaits, for instance) to wear a hairstyle like this, or is the connection between matted hair (dreadlocks) and black history to embedded in the style?