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The hair-raising truth? Dreadlocks don’t belong to one ‘culture’

1 April 2016

12:18 PM

1 April 2016

12:18 PM

Hardly a day goes by without some hen-brained millennial student telling us that something that we’ve enjoyed for centuries has suddenly become racist. The Rhodes statue. The bronze cockerel from Jesus College, Cambridge. Sombreros. Kimonos. Native American headdresses.

The Cultural Appropriation Brigade has now decided that dreadlocks cannot be worn by white men.We know this because a video has gone viral, in which a female African-American student at San Francisco State University called Bonita Tindle seems to attack a white man with dreads called Cory Goldstein. In the video – which has been viewed more than three million times  – Tindle says Goldstein cannot have dreads, as the hairstyle comes from ‘my culture’.

Yes, it’s another nontroversy, a microstorm in an unwashed student teacup. But perhaps it’s time to stop this before it mutates into something more dangerous. So let’s get really pedantic: what ownership do African Americans like Tindle actually have on dreadlocks? In the video, Cory argues that the favoured hairstyle of Rastas, crusties and tramps originates from ancient Egypt. He’s partly right.

The pharaohs wore dreads, but their first literary mention is said to be in the Hindu Vedic scriptures dating from around 1700BC. The God Shiva wore ‘matted’ dreadlocks. So it is perhaps the Indians who have the dubious honour of ‘inventing’ dreadlocks, and we could reasonably conclude that the African Egyptians culturally appropriated dreads from them.


Next came the ancient Greeks. In the Archaic period of 800-480BC, sculptures show men wearing dreads. The pharaohs wore dreads, and in the Bible, Samson, perhaps the most famous long-haired geezer of them all, had ‘seven locks’. Next came the Vikings, proving dreads weren’t always about peace and love, man. And Rastafarianism wasn’t even created until the 1930s in Ethiopia.

Now while I’m no Mary Beard, even I can work out the pharaohs pre-dated the Rastas. So by the cultural appropriationist’s absurd logic, does it mean Bob Marley was a closet racist for stealing Shiva’s hairstyle?

Naturally, this is preposterously pedantic, and almost certainly factually incorrect. There is a fair-to-middling chance that early cavemen’s hair had matted into dreads millennia before Shiva. But with these people you’ve got to fight fire with fire.

For their reductive mindset seems to be: let’s trace everything back to its very beginning, then ban the rest of the world from appropriating it. So let’s give India its dreadlocks back. Brighton will be a cheerier place, as fewer people will smell like damp sheepdogs. And, painful as it may be, we may as well kiss goodbye to curry.

But it would only be fair to ask for a few things in return – stuff India ‘culturally appropriated’ from Britain. Let’s start with the civil service and a world-renowned train system. Not forgetting the establishment of English law and language. Oh, and cricket, especially as the Indians have a pesky habit of beating us at our own game.

Nonsense, of course, but where does this crusade against ‘cultural appropriation’ end? Taken to its illogical extreme, will eating an Israeli-grown avocado mean you effectively fund the war on Hamas? Does drinking Russian vodka mean you rubber-stamp Putin bombing Syrian hospitals? Oh, please. It’s time to put a cork in this – ethically sourced from Portugal, of course.


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