New Dreadlocks Show Justin Bieber Didn't Learn Anything From His Last Dreadlocks
It’s not the first time we’ve been here with Justin Bieber. In a series of photos the singer posted on Instagram on Monday, he debuted a new hairstyle that looks suspiciously like dreadlocks. Bieber already has a history of wearing traditionally Black hairstyles like cornrows and dreadlocks (2016 was a big year for cultural appropriation in the Bieber camp), and it seems like he has a short memory, even if the Twittersphere doesn’t.
People are mad, especially coming off his new album Justice, which features clips of Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches, which some have pointed to as an example of performative activism. His new hairstyle, and the calls of cultural appropriation it’s evoked, has not helped the woke image he so desperately wants to have.
Let’s get this out of the way first: are these actual dreadlocks? Probably not—they look more like twists—but it doesn’t matter. Real or not, these conversations are less about the hairstyle itself than what it signifies. Dreadlocks, like many other types of traditionally Black hairstyles like braids, twists, and natural afros, carry cultural meaning. Many Black people and people of color are unable to wear these hairstyles or their natural hair in professional settings, at school, or other spaces. Just last week, a biracial elementary school student’s curls were cut at school without her parent’s consent—and that’s just the most recent in a list of similar instances that goes back hundreds of years. Hair discrimination is real and still legal in many parts of the country. It's something the Crown Act is hoping to change, but dismantling generations of legalized, and often unspoken, discrimination is not fast.
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Which brings us back to why it’s a problem for Justin Bieber to not only wear dreadlocks, but do it twice. The first time he was called out, he responded that “it’s just my hair.” That response in itself shows a complete lack of understanding about what this hairstyle actually means, and the discrimination that is so inextricable from it. To adopt the style again, years later, shows that he didn’t learn anything from the experience the first time around. In a society where Black people, even celebrities, are routinely criticized for wearing actual dreadlocks, for a white celebrity to wear them with such clear disregard for their cultural significance is the definition of white privilege. To do it twice is inexcusable.
Hair has power, and no one should know this more than one of the most-watched celebrities on the planet, much less he who launched a million swooped bangs back in the early aughts. Bieber is certainly not the only celebrity to get into hot water for appropriating locs—the list is long and includes everyone from Miley Cyrus to Marc Jacobs—and he likely won’t be the last. You would think that at this point, people would think twice before doing this. If you have to ask yourself “is it a good idea for me to have dreadlocks?” the answer is probably no. But the problem is not enough people, or at least not the right people, are asking themselves that question.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.
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