Talk Back

Justin Bieber’s Dreads: An Insult to Black Fans

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On any given Sunday, if you were to ask me about Justin Bieber’s choice of hairstyle I would file it in the “who cares” section of my brain and never look back. On the list of social justice issues that need to be addressed, Bieber’s dreads certainly fall at the bottom.

Certainly the idea of white dreads are absurd, but most definitely not something to come to blows about. However, after recent reports of an altercation between a Black woman and white man with dreads in San Francisco, one can’t help but feel the timing of Bieber’s hairstyle is a bit suspect, especially for somebody who hasn’t taken the time to address any recent Black political issues.

Oh, except for the time he defended Kylie Jenner’s corn rows.

For the last few years, activists have been tackling issues of police brutality, reparations, anti-blackness, representation, and many more. Artists like twerkin’ Miley Cyrus, rappin’ Eminem, and soul singin’ Justin Bieber, along with dozens of other artists who regularly collaborate with Black entertainers and straddle the line of appropriation, have remained relatively silent on these issues. I won’t sit here and deny that most of these artists are talented forces in their own right; Justin Bieber had one of the best albums of the year in my book. That being said, it is still a shame in this day and age, that artists with an apparent love of Black culture haven’t yet learned to speak up about racial politics.

It would be great if urban white artists used their celebrity to shed light on some of the political struggles that Black Americans face in the same way they don the latest African American trends and defend each other’s use of said trends, without giving credit where credit is due.

Bieber’s dreads have come at a time where cultural appropriation is a topic of discussion in many social circles. Rarely will anybody agree with what went down in San Francisco, but most would agree that white dreads, although relatively harmless, are ridiculous. Some might argue that people can wear what they want, and I wouldn’t say I disagree, but let’s not forget that the history of dreadlocks, which dates back to 2500 CE, is rooted in spirituality, and worn by ancient Egyptians, Rastafarians, and ancient Indian deities as a sign of strength, knowledge, and power.

I would argue, that if the person wearing them understands and has reverence for that history, then more power to them. But something tells me Justin Bieber and other pop stars aren’t so well studied. When a figure like Justin wears dreads after a controversial discussion on appropriation, it cannot be viewed as anything other than a political statement. One that is devoid of all the reasons white people shouldn’t steal Black trends.

Many have argued that it is okay for white people to wear Black hairstyles because of the fact that Black women wear weaves. This argument is a terrible one at best. There has never been a moment in history where a white person had to wear a Black hairstyle to be more office appropriate. For brevity’s sake, I will leave that subject alone for now, and save that discussion for another time.

Celebrities have the freedom to make their own choices. However, smart ones consider their fans before acting out in public. Justin, in wearing dreads, is telling his white fans that it is okay to perform acts of cultural appropriation while at the same time completely disregarding Black people who listen to his music. Believe me they’re out there.

Considering the sensitivity of the issue, he should have made a statement prior to debuting the look, explaining his reverence for African culture. He could have urged his Black fans to take pride in their hair no matter what texture and provided his white fans with a lesson in Black history. Instead, he disappointingly rocked the dreads like he invented the look.

Elizabeth Aguirre is a technology professional with more than 8 years experience working in the software industry. Currently, Elizabeth is pursuing an M.S. in E-commerce at DePaul University and works as a consultant for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in Chicago. She is on a one-woman mission to empower small business owners through the use of technology. When she is not being a “cool mom” to her daughter Esther, she enjoys tweeting and meditation.