DeAndre Arnold, a black Texas student, was suspended from his school for refusing to cut his dreadlocks off. The school claims it was not racially motivated and was a dress code issue, despite black people statistically and metaphorically being the minority. However, they failed to take into account that dreadlocks have been a part of a few cultures in the east and west since 2500 B.C.E, and different cultures have used their hair as a form of symbolism or rebellion. Dreadlocks have been deeply embedded in African roots and traditions, and the school telling Arnold to cut off his dreadlocks is practically the same as telling him to cut off a piece of him.
Approximately three percent of the school’s population is made up of black students, and 8.5 percent of the population of Mont Belvieu, which is where the school district is located, is made up of black residents. Arnold is unable to walk across the stage for graduation because of his hair, despite him showing an aspect of his true self and heritage, which shows how people of black and African descent are bashed for their culture.
On the other hand, in early 2016, Justin Bieber wore dreadlocks, to which he responded with “It’s just my hair.” Many of his supporters saw it as unnecessary to call him out on cultural appropriation, but others that called him out compared how he was being treated versus Zendaya, who was told her dreadlocks made her look like she “smells like patchouli oil or weed” by Giuliana Rancic on “Fashion Police.” While Justin Bieber was being called “hot” or “attractive” for his hairstyle, Zendaya was being made fun of for publicly representing her culture and family.
This is where the problem lies. Black and African culture is being used by non-black and African individuals, and they are praised for it, and then those in the culture are being bashed and discriminated against for wearing their own hairstyles. This interaction is called cultural appropriation, and it is something many people still take part in today. Some believe it is something that is behind us, but in reality, minorities are still being affected by it.
Cultural appropriation is when certain parts of a culture are adopted by an individual who is not in that culture and does not use it appropriately. What makes it problematic is when someone takes a part of the culture that the members are openly discriminated against and try to turn it into something different and claim it as their own. Cultural appropriation is something no one should partake in, and although minority groups can appropriate other cultures, it is worse when the majority, the one group that has not been oppressed and is known throughout history to oppress other groups, takes part in it.
If the culture is still unable to freely express themselves, no one should have the right to adopt that part of their culture. Blacks and African-Americans are bashed for their protective and natural hairstyles meanwhile non-black celebrities are congratulated and start a ”new” fashion trend, such as Kim Kardashian wearing cornrows, and renaming it “Bo Derek braids.” Native Americans traditional clothing and headdresses are used as costumes and people wearing said outfit look at it as “cute” or “trendy,” meanwhile Native Americans to this day can not express their culture freely.
Cultural appropriation can be described and interpreted in many different ways, but at the end of the day, it is insensitive. We, as a society, need to better educate ourselves on this. Learning the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation is one of the first steps we can take to help tackle this problem, but it truly will never end. Our generation has been much better when it comes to calling out cultural appropriation, but it is something minorities still face today, and possibly forever.
Unfortunately, unless everyone miraculously educated themselves on the different cultures and their history, appropriation will forever be a problem minorities will have to face. We as a society have the power to understand its existence and educate those who partake in it, but not everyone is willing to listen. We as individuals have the resources to help further our knowledge and educate ourselves on how to avoid appropriation by doing things such as promoting diversity or not stereotyping different cultures, but at the end of the day, it is a matter of respecting others and their cultural differences equally.