Still not getting it.

And I’m still not buying it.  Remember the crafty white dreadlock-wig-making person?  She posted a response on her blog:

This post has triggered negative feelings in people, and I want to apologize. I created this dreadlock wig in 2006 as hair for a type of gothic, dark, forest fairy. I realize that by not sharing the costume in it’s entirety, I left it open for interpretation. And the way that it was interpreted was as an insensitive and racially charged project. I want it to be clear to everyone that I had no intention of mocking anyone, no intention of cruelty, and no intention of representing any group of people. It also very important for everyone to know that I do not condone using this project as a tool for perpetuating stereotypes.

Not cutting it. Because it’s not about “interpretation” or “intention.”

You took a hairstyle that has religious, cultural, social and political meaning for many people and reduced it to a Halloween costume. It’s cultural co-optation and commodification at its worst. And besides the dehumanization of using such a symbol as part of a Halloween costume (because people with locks are not Sponge Bob Square Pants), you also apparently chose this hairstyle because it represents the “other” for you. Your fantasy fairy. “Gothic and dark.” Which you referred to as as “Rastafarian tooth fairy.”

I had this same discussion with a white somebody who thought it was funny to put a dreadlock wig on a baby. And all I can ask is, “If you had Rastafarian friends, would you still do this?”

Because it occurs to me that most white people live in a white bubble. Therefore they rarely risk any criticism for their racist actions. I wrote before about encountering a woman dressed as my race at a Halloween party. It became very clear that her discomfort (and the discomfort of other attendees) had to do with the fact that they assumed the party would be all-white. Worse yet, to find that the person of color was fucking the boss. Heh.

In the same way, the craft community is a pretty white bunch. So white people will simply praise you for your wonderful, creative idea. And they will defend it. It’s merely a faulty interpretation.

But “interpretation” refers to the fact that you view our “interpretation” as wrong and yours as right. Obviously people of color do not have the ability to think critically or to have opinions that are informed by our life experiences. Or our nuanced viewpoints of race and racism. So when a white person tells us it’s about “interpretation,” what she is telling us is that we are wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

By the way, that’s not an apology, either. Next time you should consult with Dr. Sinoangle’s Service for Racist Apologies.  Dr. Sinoangle is distributing free apologies at the link.

I’d note that I would not include intention at all.  Whether or not you intended to further an ism, the fact remains that you did so.   Focusing on intention is a white perspective.  Focusing on addressing the wrong is an anti-racist perspective.

And how exactly did you think that people might use this project?  Well, my guess would be that they’d use it to create dreadlock wigs so they could be all hip and edgy with their racism.  But in this post-racial world, nobody is a racist.  Nobody had any intention.  It’s all about the faulty interpretation of those other folks.  Yeah.

25 thoughts on “Still not getting it.

  1. I’m very curious on an extension to this post.
    I see how dreads representing dark and gothic could be very offensive.
    What do you think about real dreads?
    As in, white (or other) people who wear their hair in dreads not for any historical, cultural, religious, or political meaning, but just as a hairstyle.
    Would you consider that to be cultural appropriation? Or anyone out there with dreads for such reason, what do you think of white dreads?

  2. My entirely anecdotal experience with white people with dreadlocks has been that they just don’t get it, and that I shouldn’t bother talking to them.

    It makes me uncomfortable – something about the fact that they so often look like hell, combined with the privilege that they can do that and still be treated gently by society, plus the sense that they feel like they’re connecting with some indigenous culture/spirituality/primalness by doing their hair that way. It’s a lot of assumptions to put on someone, sure.

    If I were to encounter someone who had them simply as a hairstyle, without wanting the other baggage, I’d still be very leery of them.

    Granted, this is from the Asian woman that once upon a time dreadlocked her own hair for a year or so. Not that there are any pictures of it, not that she’d admit to it in real life, not that she doesn’t burn with shame that she could have been so stupid.

    But yeah – I see white people with dreads and I assume they are as stupid as I was.

  3. That’s something I hadn’t considered. I guess there probably are many people that are *specifically* going for the cultural/’spiritual’ significance, which would easily seem to be appropriational, and largely stupid.

    And I too have seen some pretty butt-ugly dreadlocks, where the person seems to consider locked hair to go along with never-washing.

    So I will ask intentionally specifically then, for thoughts on making it a hairstyle and nothing more.

  4. Far be it for me to take any blame away from white folks appropriating another culture, but my Filipino cousins have also been guilty of dressing as a geisha and a Rastafarian. I have pointed out to them how offensive this was without them getting it. It was all in “fun” they said. So I guess co-opting isn’t only restricted to caucasians.

    “Intention is a white perspective.” Love it. Thanks.

  5. These kind of racial costumes invariably pop up during Halloween. It’s an example of cultural racism that is so normalized that people don’t want to question it. Instead, they will dismiss any criticism as an example of … you guessed it … Political Correctness.

    “Because it occurs to me that most white people live in a white bubble. Therefore they rarely risk any criticism for their racist actions.”

    Yes, this White bubble is the un-reality that most Whites (including self-styled White “Progressives”) live in to one degree or another.

    To oppose this White social reality is to question very legitimacy of European American’s (racist) values and way of life in general.

    Any dissent or criticism of this perverse White Bubbleworld is thus met with false sympathy, glib dismissal, or outright discomfort and hostility.

  6. You just red-flagged one of my ignorances, I didn’t realize there was more to dreads than looks. I’m off to do research…and as usual, dreading Halloween.

  7. @Kai — I don’t have a problem with whites with dreads– after all, as it says in a book by the author of the Karma of Brown folks, blacks’ dreads were inspired by Asian Indian dreads. Dreads can be found in so many cultures I don’t have a problem with whites wearing them — or Asians like you Katie since Asia is one of the places dreads originated.

    My problem with the wig is that it was a white woman wearing the black dreads of a black or Asian person. If the dreads had been brunette or blonde I wouldn’t have minded.

    @Resistance — Great post but this gave me a teeny pause, “In the same way, the craft community is a pretty white bunch. ” It kind of reminds me of how people try to insist sci-fi/fantasy readers are a pretty white bunch and end up erasing the (heavy) presence of people of color. POCs are a creative bunch who are hugely represented in the crafting community. No excuse me while I go sort through bugle beads ; )

  8. Sorry flower, I was dragged along to some crafting event by a friend and I thought I’d dropped into 1950’s white suburbia. I know people of color craft; I don’t see them represented. Not sure how to word this exactly, suggestions welcome.

    And Melanie, I tend to think of that as absorbing racism from the majority.

  9. I see what flower is saying; that discussion has come up in my household too. My eldest daughter is an artist/writer/musician type, my younger daughter likes some crafting. The eldest also participates in an online fantasy writers’s site – where she’s constantly getting into it with white writers over the “characters of color” controversy, that’s another story.

    Anyway, I do have to say that the crafter thing has become somewhat of a standing joke in our household. Whenever we go into into our local craft stores (we have a Michael’s and a Jo-Ann’s), it is so white it’s weird, I mean blatantly noticeable. It’s like you’ve been dropped into a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting or something. The last time we dragged my son in there, he kept whispering, “I see white people…”, a la Sixth Sense. (Yeah, my family’s weird).

    Anyway, yes, I guess it’s a stereotype, but where we live at least, the crafter community is blindingly white.

  10. I see what both of you are saying. I guess instead of saying that the craft community is very white, I would say the craft community is very segregated across lines of color, discipline, etc.

  11. I think you are far too sensitive brotha(or sista). While dreads are a part of a religion for many people, they are simply a hairstyle for most Americans. And even after the woman explained and apologized, that wasn’t enough for you? What do you want her to do? Undo it? She can’t. Some black people are soo sensitive over nothing.

  12. thatteowonna, I’m wondering if there is an issue that you’re sensitive about, and how you feel about being dismissed.

    flower, thank you for your input.

  13. Yes, there are issues that I am sensitive about. White people with fake dreadlocks just isn’t one of them. As far as how I feel about being dismissed: well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

  14. Just for the record, I figure I should mention that there are now 2 commenters here named “Kai”. I’m the one who blogs at Zuky. The other one, ain’t me.

    Peace.

  15. Or doesn’t blog at zuky, as the case may be. *cough cough*

    First-comment-on-this-post-Kai, might you add an initial or something to differentiate? Thank you.

  16. Huh. Now that’s not something you see every day. I can’t go back and change my first two, to my knowledge, but I’ll keep that in mind in the future.

    To thatteowonna:
    I see dreadlocks as primarily a hairstyle. My earlier question was relating to this. I have only european bloodlines as far as I know (though a pretty hefty chunk of europe is represented), yet my frizzy, kinky hair longs for dreads. I’ve not actually discussed how black people dread their hair, though I understand it’s actually rather more involved. If I fail to brush my hair for a few days, it’s already well on its way. I’ve considered dreading it before, so as to let it go that way, but nicely, rather than the ‘my hair has become a matted tangle of gross due to neglect’ look. I never have, due to ambiguity, and the level of committment, but I came close at one point.
    I see where dreadlocks can be more for other people, but I would be concerned to read an opinion that dreadlocks on whites is appropriation. It seems the hairstyle is open to anyone whose hair will do it.

    But wearing dreadlocks, and costuming them are different.

    If this girl had dreads, and a ‘dark fairy’ costume, i don’t think anyone would bat an eye. But the sense that a ‘dark, evil’ costume would logically have dreads, does, I think, suggest something as to craftygirl’s thoughts on them. ‘Dreads make me gothic and dark’. So too for people with dreads every day? It may not have been a conscious intention, but it is a statement. And not a good one. Sure, it’s not at quite the same level as walking around flinging epithets at anyone with dreadlocks, but it still shows perhaps an unconscious differentiation.

  17. Non zuky Kai: believe it or not, I personally don’t have a problem with white people and dreads. I have even come to respect them. Are they are as attractive as locs on black hair? Probably not, but I recognize their own brand of beauty. I have not always felt that way. It was because of the personal (and thus spiritual) growth of my own locing process that I came to RESPECT other people’s dreads. Just because they don’t look and uniformed as mine don’t mean they should have them. You are so right that after a few days of without proper care, your hair already starts to matte or tangle. Let’s be clear here people… that’s all that a dreadloc is… tangled locs of hair! Uniformed tangles! Purposeful tangles! People try to make it out to be some kind of big mystery that it isn’t. If you are white and seriously locs, I suggest you think long and hard about it. While it had grown to be an acceptable hairstyle for black people, a white person showing up for a job interview with locs would most likely result in referse racism. Trust me, you don’t want that!
    About dreads representing a dark gothic look for that young lady… big deal. That’s what it means to her. Worry about what it means to you and what you project. Black people, stop being so damn sensitive. Even a dreadloc wig is offensive. That is too much. If anyone is interested, check out the radio interview on in which I spoke about the oversensitivity of black people. It can be found on my blog. Thatteowonna.com. There are some valid and serious racial issues, but a dreadloc wig isn’t one of them.

  18. Non-Zuku Kai… other than those considerations, if you want locs, I say Go For It. I love to see people do their own thang…regardless of their race. But be aware that you may be shunned by white people and black. That’s a toughy…

  19. Sorry for all the typos earlier… I was typing at 5am from my blackberry. I hope you can figure out what I was trying to say!

  20. Resistance: I simply expect people to be open-minded enough to consider another opinion. In my blog post ‘Racism will die when old people die’ I was blasted by black people who just couldn’t see past their own opinions and teaching to see the validity in my theories. I’ve long developed a thick skin but with my often contrarian views, I’ve had to take it to another level.

  21. “About dreads representing a dark gothic look for that young lady… big deal. That’s what it means to her. Worry about what it means to you and what you project. ”
    Is it really so difficult to understand why this would be a problem? You don’t think a black woman showing up to a job interview with dreads, rather than chemically relaxed ‘whitened’ hair, would be at a disadvantage from an interviewer that believes dreads make her fairy evil? If what it means to a person listening to that explanation is hurt, why do you rule that invalid?
    It’s not the fact of a dreadlock wig that’s an issue. If someone were trying it on haphazardly, with a flapper wig,and a bouffant, or whatnot, that might not be the same issue. I think it is looked at offensively *because* a common black hairstyle is being turned into a ‘dark, gothic’ ‘other’.

    “Let’s be clear here people… that’s all that a dreadloc is… tangled locs of hair! Uniformed tangles! Purposeful tangles! ”
    Yes, though I think there tends to be a difference between something neat you form, wash, and maintain, and when your entire head of hair turns into one huge mess of a mat.

    “While it had grown to be an acceptable hairstyle for black people, a white person showing up for a job interview with locs would most likely result in referse racism. Trust me, you don’t want that!”
    I don’t think it would be ‘reverse racism’. (A term I don’t care for, but that’s irrelevant.) I think the average traditional-job interviewer sees white dreadlocks as dirty, meaning the person does not take care of their hair, or is trying to be a hippie, or alternative. I think the average white-with-dreads would be dismissed as a ‘granola’ rather than ‘trying to be black’ or something.
    So yes, problematic to one wanting a traditional business-y job, but not for racial reasons.

    I have not been held back on letting my hair lock up due to fears of cultural sensitivity – just got curious on that point when it came up. I, who has never changed my hairstyle in my life, have simply been hesitant to commit to something I can’t change back, concerned about the slow pace at which my hair grows, and concerned about job prospects in the fairly traditionalist sectors I have contemplated working. I never did decide to go for it at the time I was thinking about it most, and have not since. I don’t rule it out someday in the future, but for the time being, it’s not high on my list of decisions to contemplate. :)

  22. Non zury- for fear of taking this on for days, I will make my final point: I know the term is ‘reverse racism’. Fat-fingering keys is common when you are typing from a blackberry. And finally (for real this time) your points have been well made. My opinion just differs.

  23. Oh, i wasn’t correcting your error. I just think the term reverse racism is silly. I make typos too.

  24. [Hello, I didn’t thoroughly read this article or think through it critically. I just wanted to rebut it without providing any kind of cogent explanation other than “but it’s not racist.” Also I don’t understand at all that intention doesn’t really matter, or that the world is full of unintentional racists who support a racist system. I tend to view this post as “picking on” that poor little girl. Bye for now!]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s