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The Wall Behind Cultural Appropriation

31/03/2016 12:12 | Updated 31 March 2016

San Francisco is in the news again, but this time it's for what is being called an assault on a white guy for having dreadlocks. I saw the video and got upset. It's 47 seconds with no beginning or end. That frustrates me. It's the lack of context. Who is this black woman? What kind of day is she having? What is her story? Who is this white guy with the dreads? I like his trousers. What books are in his backpack? Why does he sound so hood?

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In college, I was a hippy. I became accustomed to white guys with dreads, white guys who think they are going to save the world with their poetry, and white guys who still didn't know what to do with me - a black woman. Seeing a white person with dreads has never really bothered me, they're nice people, friends of mine, some of my best friends actually. That is because I grew up in East London, where my race was never an issue and my neighbour was white and so was my first boyfriend. What is racism? And why do I always hear of it in places like "the workplace," or "the Tube?" College changed that because I met people from all areas of London and I learnt a lot. I realised that even black men can sometimes exhibit what I call "black misogyny," telling a black woman she isn't beautiful because she's dark skinned, wears weave or goes natural. I realised some people could "never date a black girl." I realised sometimes blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos really don't mix together. I realised that people are ignorant and that I would start to feel inadequate for having black skin, black hair and a fuller figure. I'm sure the black girl in the video has realised all this too. But unfortunately for her, America isn't the kind of nation that is going to tell her that it's nonsense. She's living in a nation where people who look just like her are treated unfairly by the system that exists to protect and develop them. And some white guy wants to pick his favourite part of her culture and wear it as a fashion statement through his hippy phase? Knowing it's likely he will never experience the strife she faces as a black person? I understand that making her mad.

I will state: I have no personal problem with anyone having dreads. Though I am against cultural appropriation: bindis, Native American headdress, blacking up (yuck), etc. They trivialise something that is literally everything to a group of people and reduces it to some fun for a night out where you get drunk on three single vodka mixers and act a bloody mess. Dreadlocks are a bit trickier to label for me and I generally see them in a more relaxed manner. They mean different things to every black person. But will I ever tell a black person they have no right to be mad about dreadlocks? Never. Just because we're black doesn't mean we're all the same. My experience is different from hers. I'm English for one, London-born, and I genuinely believe that has benefitted me in terms of personal growth, my interests and my own self-worth. The system here doesn't make me feel oppressed just because I'm black (though I feel that too), it's usually more because of classism, patriarchy and the Tories. Those are things I can handle for the most part. There are other black people from England who will feel racially oppressed depending on the lives they've lived. They have the right to be mad. Just like this girl in the video probably does - though she didn't need to put her hands on him.

The guy in the video surprised me. I couldn't deal with the language he was using when addressing her. The "yo" and the "bruh." Where did you get that from? Is that language you have acquired because you're talking to a black girl? I have had that countless times. People spudding me too, telling me to "keep it real," telling me not to stab them, calling me "exotic," saying my hair is nice "for a black girl," reciting a song or a joke and using the N-word to me, seeing my skin colour and telling me they have been to Kenya (I'm a British-born Nigerian so I don't care if you've been to Kenya really. I've been to Ireland before, do I need to tell you?) This is 'innocent' annoying behaviour by people who are ignorant, they have snapshots of black culture and they think they know. It's frustrating at best.

Some have said "black people have been straightening their hair like Westerners for decades, no white people complain." Are 'black people' and 'Westerners' antonymous? Western culture is not white culture anymore, I'm afraid. So if we straighten our hair, it's not because we're trying to be white, it's because we can straighten it. And straight hair is not exclusively white anyway. Straight hair just isn't culturally relevant or important to the West in any way, but dreadlocks are culturally important to some people and if that was understood I'd have to roll my eyes a lot less when reading Facebook comments. Since we all "came" over, we are Westerners. You cannot reclaim the West; we're already here, thank you. The best thing about being a Westerner of colour is we have the experience to choose. We have foreign ancestry and we have lived here for all/most of our lives. We can pick and choose from the cultures that we have experienced. Sorry, not sorry. Freedom is important and freedom is a world I'm working towards, I hope everyone else is too. Freedom is likely what the girl in the video wants too. We all need understanding to combat the circumstances that make her and many others so frustrated, so things like dreads won't matter anymore.

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