Chances are you’ve come across one or two white women or men with their hair loc’d. You may have even caught yourself staring. Most people in general give them the side-eye for being suspected pot-smoking, pseudo-Rastafari, anti-establishment hippies, which isn’t always too far off the mark. Locs, however, on the whole are frequently interpreted as rebellious despite being a part of African culture for thousands of years. It is true that many, including black people, do wear locs as a form of rebellion against societal norms, as a political statement, or for religious purposes.
Sadhus, Hindu ascetic holy men found in South Asia, grow locs as part of a religious ideology of casting off materials things and superficial practices.
Locs came about in Western culture as a during the height of the Rastafarian Movement originating in Jamaica (most notably associated with Bob Marley), which is in part a political movement as well as spiritual ideology, or way of life. In the context of the movement, locs are not worn for fashion purposes in any sense. They are a symbol of the Lion of Judah and, in fact, it is believed, from a spiritual point of view, that they are a connection to God, which is supported in the literal interpretation of the Bible verses below:
All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
Locs, during the height of the movement as well as today, were a symbol of defiance against the dominate Eurocentric ideals of beauty that often degrade and devalue the African culture. Wearing locs became a sign of black pride and an unwillingness to conform and assimilate to a European dominated society, a symbolism that still rings true today, which brings us to the controversy at the center of this post: Is it acceptable for white people to loc their hair?
The main argument against this form of cultural appropriation comes from not just the African-American community (AAC), but non-blacks as well. The prominent opposing opinion among the AAC uses rationale to the tune of feeling as though locs are just one more thing white people have taken from our culture. There is also an opinion among both the AAC and non-blacks that whites have trivialized and adulterated the true ideology and cultural magnitude behind locking, turning it into a purely aesthetic hairstyle and a way to be “cool,” join the cyber goth subculture, or be quasi-Rastafarians. This sentiment is unfortunately true in many cases and it is not uncommon with white American society to bastardize and commercialize an aspect of another culture (bindis, yoga, hookah, henna tattoos, “ethnic” Halloween costumes, etc). All too often we see occurrences of uninformed cultural appropriation, taking on aspects of another culture without regard to their significance to the group of people it comes from. So are the people who hold these opinions vindicated in their assessment of whites and locs?
Then there are those who subscribe to the school of thought that, aesthetically speaking, Caucasian people just can’t pull off locs and that they look ratty, dirty, and like nothing more than huge, matted chunks of hair reminiscent of feces. Harsh sentiments expressed in this open letter to whites with locs.
Well, allow me play devil’s advocate for moment. Can we, as black people, honestly persecute every white person with locs or faux locs as disrespectfully appropriating our culture? In truth, whether whites loc in the spirit of political nonconformity, religious practice, or just for kicks can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. And yet, can we not point the finger at a large populace of our own (African-Americans) who wear locs and faux locs purely for aesthetic reasons with no regard to the history or political and religious magnitude? Do they not also adulterate the significance of locs as nothing more than a style?
Furthermore, who are any of us to dictate what someone else does with their hair? Why do some of us feel that black people have the cultural copyright to locs?
Admittedly, I’m not a fan simply because there are very few non-black people, in my OPINION, that look good with locs, but again, it’s not my hair. The picture below is of faux locs, but I think they look cute on this woman.